Winter’s Tale — Christian Movie Review!
The story of Winter’s Tale begins at the dawn of the 20th century. A thief named Peter (Colin Farrell) falls in love with a terminally ill woman named Beverly Penn (Jessica Brown Findlay) during his last heist before leaving town to escape the clutches of his evil former boss Pearly (Russell Crowe). Peter’s love for Beverly persuades him to stay in town with her, despite the dangers. His fateful decision to pursue love instead of fleeing to safety plunges him into a century-long battle with forces of great darkness. The film stars some of the biggest names in Hollywood, including Russell Crowe, Will Smith, and Colin Farrell, along with veteran talents like William Hunt and Jennifer Connelly.
Parental Guidance Issues at a Glance…
Sexual Content: No nudity, but a shadowed silhouette of a woman’s naked body is seen in detail as she stands behind a curtain. There is one extended sex scene that lasts several minutes and shows their bodies without showing nudity. In general, this film stays within its PG-13 boundaries, but it is definitely not a movie for anyone under 13.
Violence/Gore: A demon character disguised as a human violently murders a waiter — a scene with much blood. He then uses the blood — with a manic, psychotic smile on his face — to draw a picture on the table. It’s violent and somewhat disturbing. We see a man brutally shot at point blank range. A man is stabbed in the neck with a piece of metal.
Language: A fair amour amount of “mild” profanity (b-words, s-words). No f-words.
Alcohol/Drug/Smoking Content: There is a moderate amount of social drinking depicted.
Frightening/Intense Content: Because demons masquerade as humans, there are some horror movie-styled moments where the demons suddenly contort their faces to reveal their demonic nature. A creepy looking elderly man, the butler of the demonic headquarters, has a mouth that is sewn shut, and it looks bizarre and unsettling. Occasionally, the film makes you jump unexpectedly with frightening images like a horror movie might try to do. It doesn’t have the gore of a horror movie, but it exudes the same creepiness in certain parts.
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Entertainment Value and Film Craft
The strengths of this movie are 1) its actors — who all do an excellent job; and 2) its sound editing (not the music; just the audio effects). I especially liked its ambient noise in certain scenes. Some movies don’t put much effort in making you feel the general auditory atmosphere of a location. The external scenes have a real sense of being outside in the blustery air because the sound editing includes little things like wind passing through bushes and trees and leaves scraping the sidewalks, even when those sounds have very little to do with the plot. It’s all very subtle, but — especially in the first parts of the movie — I enjoyed all of the outdoor scenes because of the sound editing.
The weaknesses of the film are, unfortunately, blaring at times. It’s frustrating being an actor, I imagine, because you put a tremendous amount of effort into your lines, delivery, and expression, and you deliver a splendid performance — as all the actors did in this film, especially Russell Crowe as the villain — and then your great performance is completely trampled over by the poor decisions in post-production.
In this case, it was the music score that ruined it. The moment the film started, it made no attempt to warm up the audience to the actors or the (very) wild and fantastical story. It immediately lunged for your heart strings and started yanking at them with all the subtlety of a WWE wrestler. Before the plot even got going, the film score was soaring with epic string melodies usually saved for the climax of the movie. I suppose the plot itself started this way too. It’s as if you were on a first date and — before you even learned their last name — your date was kneeling with tears in their eyes and saying that they loved you. Much of the movie was just overrun with tear-choked, heart-swelling music. Seriously, it did not let up. I began to wonder if someone had merely sampled two minutes of music from Titanic and just put it on loop for the whole movie.
There was only one scene in the movie that had enough emotional power and connection with the characters that it actually brought some brief tearfulness to my eyes; and it was a scene that had very little music in it, interestingly enough.
Less is more, people.
The story itself is taken from a novel. It’s a very imaginative story — I will give it that. It might be too sentimental and wildly fantastical for many people (including all the critics), but I found parts of it charming at times. I was walking into it knowing that the plot was going to border on ridiculousness, so just be prepared to suspend your disbelief to incredible lengths. It is a fairy tale, and a wild one at that.
What makes the fairy element so wild and even a little weird and awkward is its marriage of Christian theology with paganism. Probably the absolute worst scene in the movie is a conversation between two characters that is meant to be serious but sounds absolutely ridiculous and even hilarious. A wise sage is trying to explain to a character the mysteries of the universe with a capital “U.” According to the sage, God is called the Universe, and the Universe guides people by sending them spirit guides who appear in the form of children or animals. Good grief. Really? Okay, well, granted this is a fairy tale so, whatever, right? Not so fast. The problem is that the movie then brings the Bible into it. It portrays Lucifer and his demons doing the work of Hell in a dramatic portrayal of spiritual warfare that is loosely (in a very general sense) consistent with the Biblical worldview. But then it throws this mash-up New Age brew of teachings into it, complete with animal spirit guides and ancestor worship. (In regards to “spirit guides,” according to the Bible if any being appears to you and claims to be your “spirit guide” it is a demon masquerading as an angel of light, and you should resist it in Jesus’ Name immediately.)
Many Christians will find the odd mash-up of religious beliefs annoying and distracting as they try to enjoy the movie.
Redemptive Value and Conclusion
The one thing I actually really liked about this movie was its portrayal of romantic love — not counting the parental guidance issues mentioned above, of course. In most modern Hollywood love stories, the movie bows its head in worship to the god Eros (i.e. the Greek word for romantic love). Hollywood love stories are always depicting romantic love and finding your soul mate, etc. etc. as the highest bliss and the most pure truth that exists in the human experience. It is as if romantic love is a sacred, holy rite that is the best thing we can pursue on earth. In other words, romantic love — the pursuit of true love — is God, according to this view.
However, romantic love and, ultimately, the marriage between a man and a woman that is supposed to come from that romantic love, has always had a higher purpose: to bring life to others. Whether it’s a husband and wife having children or a husband and wife teaming together to bless others in their church and community, the union created by romantic love was always meant to create life for others and be an outward-focused endeavor — something that always overflowed until the love spilled out, blessed others, and produced life. That is how God intended romantic love and marriage to work, at least.
This movie actually hit this truth right on the head. It is perhaps one of the only Hollywood love stories I’ve ever seen do this. If I were to summarize the overarching message of this movie, it would be this: romantic love exists to bring life to others, not to please ourselves. Although in the beginning the love might exist solely for the joy of the two people involved, eventually it is meant to spread outward and bring fruitfulness and life to others.
If you can get past all of the New Age mumbo jumbo and other problems in the movie, this portrayal of romantic love is a rare gem that you will not often see on the big screen.
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