Because we have a screening this Sunday (11/18) of the film Babette’s Feast (First Presbyterian Church, St. Petersburg, Sunday, 2:00 p.m. in the Youth Center, discussion to follow, and it’s free), I’ve been thinking about “Christian” movies. I just googled “top 10 Christian movies,” and found pretty much what I expected. Included on nearly every list were such films as the Chronicles of Narnia series, The Passion of the Christ, The Ten Commandments, Ben-Hur, Barabbas, and The Gospel of John. Now I have nothing against any of these movies, but rather than the telling or re-telling of nice , edifying stories, I want something that makes me think…that pushes me to more deeply examine my faith…to consider just exactly what Jesus’ message was and is…something that speaks to life as I live it in 21st-century America.
Which brings me to Babette’s Feast…which wasn’t on any of those top 10 lists. The film’s subject matter is overtly religious: it tells of a late 19th-century Danish Christian sect and focuses on two pious women whose life experiences are defined solely by their religious beliefs. Director and writer Gabriel Axel based this 1987 film on a short story by Danish writer Isak Dinesen. It won many awards, including the 1987 Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film.
What I like most about this film is the many levels of meaning that one discovers and the depths of that meaning. As one scholar put it, “[Babette’s Feast] could be viewed as a critique of religion itself. But one doesn’t have to scratch the surface of the film very deeply to find this a limited view. For Babette’s Feast is saturated with religious symbolism of the most specifically Christian kind and read through the lens of the symbolism the film is simultaneously an exploration of the foundational Christian myth of death and resurrection, a study of competing Christian views of reality, and an affirmation of the ultimate sacramentality of the created order.” (Wendy M. Wright in Journal of Religion and Film, Vol. 1, No. 2, October 1997)
We’ll have a brief (believe me, not nearly long enough) discussion following the screening. Some of the questions raised by the film are: “What does it really mean to live the hope held out by the Christian faith? Does it mean that one is to endure the present world as a place of testing, where the forces of evil are loose, tempting one to turn one’s eyes from a truer, not yet realizable fulfillment? Does discipleship consist of moral rectitude, avoiding sin and doing good works? Or is the Christian life perhaps about the realization, at least partially, of that fulfillment here and now? Is discipleship about celebration? About the recognition and embodiment of that final banquet? Is the world a sacrament, a visible means of access to what is yet invisible?” (ibid.)
I hope I’ve tweaked your interest. I’ll just let you know that this is an “art” film. It has subtitles. It would not be appealing to children (but we will have child care available). It is not filled with beautiful music. You will enjoy it, but just don’t expect The Sound of Music. The popcorn is free. I hope to see you there.