“The Song” — Christian Movie Review
When Jed King (Alan Powell), son of famous musician David King, follows in the steps of his father and begins a music career, he meets a woman named Rose (Ali Faulkner) along the way. As they fall in love, he writes a song for her that becomes a sensational hit and catapults him to fame. But when new temptations follow in the wake of his success, they threaten to unravel his marriage with his beloved Rose, his family, his faith in God, and his career.
The film The Song (#SeeTheSong) is a modern re-telling of Solomon’s Biblical story as told in the Song of Songs and Ecclesiastes. Solomon was also called Jedidiah in the Bible, so we have a character named Jed King. And, of course, Solomon’s father was King David, thus a character named David King in the film. You can learn more about the film and its showtimes at its official site.
I had the chance to interview both the director, Richard Ramsey, and the actor who plays Jed King, Alan Powell.
Richard pointed out that many adaptations focus on the warfare of these famous Hebrew kings, but not many focus on their musical activities. Both David and Solomon were songwriters, worshipers, and they organized priestly musicians to worship before the Ark.
Alan described the challenges of diving into some dark emotions that the character endures, and he explained how his trust in God’s direction over his life aided him as he took on his first acting role.
The press for the film hails it as the “sexy” movie of the Christian movie industry. Its PG-13 rating is evidence of that. After seeing the film, I agree. It maintains a strong Biblical worldview while addressing sexuality and marriage in direct, unflinching ways uncommon for Christian films.
Parental Guidance Issues at a Glance…
Sexual Content/Nudity: No actual nudity. A married couple kisses and embraces and sex is implied, though nothing is shown or heard. A male character is given an invitation by a female character to spend the night in her hotel room. We see him enter her room and close the door. They wake up together in the morning, and sex is implied. Nothing is shown. A married couple discusses and argues about their sex life in direct terms, though without any vulgar terminology or excessively suggestive descriptions. In the context of this argument about their sex life, the female character uses the word “whore” repeatedly in anger. A character attempts to commit suicide by cutting his wrists, and we see a large amount of blood gushing onto a shower floor in a bathroom.
Violence/Gore: A character has a dream in which his wife’s father, who is a hunter, guts a deer carcass with a huge knife, and then stabs the character who is having the dream. We see, for a split second, blood gush from the deer carcass when it is gutted, but it is very quick and not detailed. The stabbing of the character in the dream has no gore or blood, but it is implied as the camera cuts away. A man smashes an instrument to the ground in rage. In another scene, a character smashes windows and walls of a chapel in rage.
Language: Several uses of the word “whore.”
Alcohol/Drug/Smoking Content: The party life of a band on the road is shown, including the use of alcohol, smoking, and the use of narcotics.
Frightening/Intense/Emotionally Heavy Content: The dream involving the deer gutting is the most intense and frightening moment, and the wrist-cutting scene is certainly not for children. In general, the film deals with the carnal party life of a band on the road as well as mature sexual subjects that married couples discuss. Even though it is a Christian film, it was not made for younger Christians. It reminds me that film ratings really mean what they say. Definitely no kids under 13 should see this film.
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Entertainment Value and Film Craft
As the director Richard Ramsey pointed out in my interview with him, the script really began to soar when they added the voice-over Scriptural readings from the books that involve Solomon (Ecclesiastes, Proverbs, Song of Songs). Their careful use of these passages — the timing and the verse selection — added a mesmerizing gravitas to the film. The readings were skillfully weaved in and out of scenes that had a brooding, melancholy atmosphere throughout the film, and those two elements — the intense Scripture and the quietly brooding melancholy — fed off each other.
The third element that brought it all together and made it work was Alan Powell. He has a quiet, riptide undercurrent style to his acting — an acting style where you can see a lot of emotions happening beneath the surface without the need to overact, a style that is reminiscent of Joaquin Phoenix (and not just because he looks like him). Alan’s acting style perfectly complemented the brooding atmosphere of the film and magnified it. Somehow, and I’ve never seen a first-time actor do this, he was able to squeeze all of these complex atmospheric moods from the movie into very simple moments using nuanced facial expressions and tone. You didn’t feel like you were watching an actor trying really hard to be conflicted, sorrowful, and brooding. It flowed naturally from Alan’s performance without any hint of fabrication.
I was totally convinced, in other words.
The same convincing power flowed from Ali Faulkner as Rose, Jed’s wife, and Caitlin Nicol-Thomas’s performance as Shelby, the lead singer of the band that has that wonderful rockabilly-Americana hybrid sound. The actors absolutely convinced me and swept me up into the story.
However, I should qualify my comments about the melancholy tone. The film has plenty of sunshine too, like spending a sunny afternoon on a Kentucky farm eating pie and listening to a band at a fair. It has stunning vineyard landscapes, and it features the South — and its music and culture — like another character in the film, and this just adds yet another layer of richness to an already atmospheric movie.
What it also does especially well is avoid a preachy tone. It lets the story speak for itself, and it doesn’t over-emphasize the Biblical lessons or throw them in your face to really make sure you’ve gotten the point (just in case you missed it). I’m sure some secular reviewers will disagree with me because some of them out of there will accuse any movie that has the word “God” in it as heavy-handed. But this film is not heavy-handed with its Biblical worldview. It’s also not a compromising, light-weight Bible-based production either. It has more Scriptural references than probably any Christian movie I’ve seen — with the exception of The Passion of the Christ and The Bible series — but the film weaves all of it effortlessly into the story so that it doesn’t clunk you on the skull like a ten-pound Bible.
An Amazing Soundtrack
The other five-star quality of this film is the spectacular soundtrack. It channels the Americana vibe of T Bone Burnett’s masterful O Brother Where Art Thou soundtrack and combines it with the melodic rock sensibilities of The Beatles and, perhaps more accurately — as far as the film’s roots rock genre — Mumford and Sons. I especially loved the rockabilly-Americana hybrid of Shelby Bale’s band in the film.
After seeing the preview screening, I heard several audience members say that the songs could easily be huge radio hits. That’s how good the songwriting and melodic hooks were. I especially loved “The Song (Awaken Love),” “Chasing the Wind,” and the rather sensual (lyrically) “Confetti,” which features a spellbinding performance from Caitlin Nicol-Thomas as Shelby Bale.
And if all that weren’t enough, the filmmakers managed to snag the lead singer of the legendary band The Byrds, Roger McGuinn, who cut a new version of his iconic “Turn! Turn! Turn!” just for the film’s soundtrack.
Worldview and Themes of Redemption
The film, as you guessed, has a Christian worldview, with an emphasis on Old Testament. (And that’s not a complaint. I wish the Western Church spent more time in the Old Testament.) More specifically, it focuses on the Biblical lessons found in the life of Solomon, that “even the wisest man was a fool for love,” as the film’s marketing slogans say. Solomon’s story was not a pretty, clean love story, and neither is this movie. Solomon — and folks so often forget this — eventually became a full-on idolator, a man who burned offerings to the pagan gods of his many wives. Let that sink in for a moment. The wisest man on earth, the most successful king of Israel, ultimately failed in his devotion to God.
In a similar way, this film does not pull any punches, and it doesn’t offer any nice, sweet, sanitized Sunday School safety nets that catch the hero’s fall from grace. We see the ugly consequences of his fall in full detail. The film isn’t afraid to wander off into the dark and shine a light on what’s hiding in the shadows.
The emotional pain of the characters and the impact of the story, as a consequence, carries a hefty punch. The story get under your skin, and the music from the soundtrack, the haunting melodies and Southern Americana timbres, will stay with you.
I think most professional filmmakers will agree that The Song is a cut above many films, particularly because of the way it uses the film locations, the vibe of the story’s setting, and the film’s soundtrack almost as characters. There are layers of atmosphere stacked in the film, in other words, from the superb acting to the memorable music.
And for Christian adults, there’s no reason why they shouldn’t love this movie. It tackles mature content with Scriptural depth, it addresses sexual and relational topics that Christians and married couples can appreciate, and it explores all of those themes with powerful filmmaking craft and acting performances that are comparable to films like The Passion of the Christ, The Nativity Story, and Heaven Is for Real.
And, perhaps more importantly from the perspective of culture, it’s a film that a non-Christian can enjoy. The film presents the Bible’s view of sexuality and romance in a powerful, artistic way that won’t turn people off with overt heavy-handedness. The film, in other words, shows how amazingly relevant and powerful the Bible is for today.
The film only has a limited release in theaters, to my deep dismay (was really hoping for a wide release), but once the faith-based crowd gets wind of it — whether through word-of-mouth while it’s in the theaters or through its DVD release — it will be a surefire hit.