"Paradise," the upcoming film by director Diablo Cody of "Juno" fame, portrays the story of a Christian girl who rejects her roots and finds joy in "worldly" things. But a Christian film reviewer cautions that "Paradise" will just lead viewers astray to a life of emptiness and misery.
The film, which is available on DirecTV on Friday and in theaters Oct. 18, revolves around a young female evangelist named Lamb (Julianne Hough), who renounces her faith after severe burns in a plane crash. She then leaves for Las Vegas, pursuing earthly pleasures – "sex, drugs, and rock and roll."
"I've got a heart full of rage and an L.L. Bean tote bag full of cash," Lamb says in the trailer. "I just want to experience worldly pleasures for the first time…the basic abominations," she declares. Later, she looks longingly at a "Napkin of Sin" which lists a porn store, burning a flag, a tattoo, and a strip club.
"Really?! Those are supposed to be more satisfying than a walk with Christ?" Bob Waliszewski, director of Focus on the Family's Plugged In film review department, asked in a Thursday interview with The Christian Post.
The story of this young evangelist reminded Waliszewski of another story – the biblical narrative of The Prodigal Son. Jesus narrates the story of a young man who sells his inheritance to party with prostitutes, forsaking his father's "dull" existence for the party scene.
Of course, it doesn't work out so well for the Prodigal Son. Poverty forces him to take a job among the lowest of the low, and he even longs for the food he gives to the pigs. Running back home, he finds joy in reuniting with his father, who represents the love of God by accepting the Prodigal Son back.
Waliszewski explained that he himself fell prey to the temptations of the world, and found it unfulfilling. "I can tell you from first-hand experience as a former prodigal," he said, "it's sin for a season, and it's very empty and very shallow and it's not fulfilling."
The reviewer lamented that the audience will likely see only one side of the story. "There won't be anybody there to say the message of this film is empty," he explained.
Waliszewski also mentioned Hannah Luce, the daughter of Teen Mania Ministries founder Ron Luce, who suffered a plane crash in May 2012. While on her way to a teen outreach event, the plane went down, with her and four men. Hannah alone survived, and the experience tested her father's faith severely.
Nevertheless, Hannah Luce is holding on to her faith. Waliszewski told CP that she plans to write a book about the experience, and will encourage others to hold on to their faith through desperate times.
"Hannah Luce was not saying 'I want to experience all the abominations,'" the Christian film reviewer pointed out.
He added that many men and women in the church have struggled with worldly desires, and have lived out the Prodigal Son story in their lives.
While "Paradise" may introduce an empty illusion of fulfillment, another film, also debuting in October, may provide the cure, Waliszewski noted. In the upcoming film "Grace Unplugged," former Disney star and rock singer AJ Michalka plays Grace, a girl who leaves her family – and her faith – to become a rock star.
At the pinnacle of her success, however, Grace finds a hole in her heart. She sings a song – released separately last week – which expresses her need for God. "Lord, All I've ever needed was your love," she sings.
"Without seeing either film at this point," Waliszewski said, "it looks like one film offers truth to the big question" of purpose, "while the other one offers a very shallow answer and concludes that it trumps what really is truth."