Note: The following commentary includes details from the movie Bella. Do not read on if you prefer not to read about the film before viewing it.
When you go see the movie Bella, you will be struck by a series of simple but powerful images: a child running on a beach, a man dancing with a little girl, a butterfly sucked down a sink. The use of evocative imagery helps transform the film into something more than what it looks like on the surface—just a story of two people spending a day together after getting fired from their jobs.
You may be surprised to hear me focusing on Bella's use of imagery, because if you have heard of the film, you undoubtedly know it is "the pro-life movie" that many Christians have been talking about and promoting. Most people in the faith community have been focusing on the message of Bella—which is great. But we should also commend the movie—the way it has been produced. This is what will draw non-Christians to see it, and it is what has earned the movie a surprising level of success at the box office and an award at the Toronto Film Festival.
You see, what has gotten the movie to where it is are things like the imagery, the characters, and the story. This is the great thing about Bella: It works as a movie. Many of us Christians are just now starting to realize how important that is.
For too long we have thought that movies with Christian themes were supposed to be sermons, but that is precisely the kind of thinking that makes a movie fail on every level. People do not go to movies to be preached at. They go because they love and need good stories, and that is what good movies give them. Of course, a movie's worldview is a vital consideration, but we must get over the idea that all you need for a good movie is a good worldview.
Bella shows this so well. Look at what the critics have been saying. Secular critics have been focusing on the cinematic aspects of the film—the slow pace of the movie, for instance, has been criticized by some who like their movies livelier. But these are criticisms of Bella as a movie, not as a sermon or as propaganda.
The really funny thing is that some pro-lifers have become suspicious of Bella because, they are saying, if it has been so successful, how could it be truly pro-life? Wouldn't the critics and the public bar the door against it?
No, this is proving they cannot when it is really good art—because when a movie works as a movie, it touches everyone.
Consider the strength of the film's characters: The young mother-to-be and the chef who tries to help her are not black-and-white figures or caricatures, but deep, complex, flawed human beings. When Jose, the chef, sees his friend Nina get fired from the restaurant where they work, we see him gaze after the troubled woman with compassion, and then we see him impulsively risk his job by leaving the restaurant and running after her. When he finds out she is pregnant and wants to abort, we see his deep concern for her as well as for her child.
We see, in short, a man to whom every human life—not just the child in the womb, but its mixed-up mother as well—is deeply valuable and worthy of love. That is the kind of character, and message, that can reach everyone where they live.
That is why secular audiences and critics may be glimpsing through this movie the power of a worldview that values every human life. And that is also why Christians may be learning from Bella what a good movie should be, and what a really good movie can do.
From BreakPoint®, November 6, 2007, Copyright 2007, Prison Fellowship Ministries. Reprinted with the permission of Prison Fellowship Ministries. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced or distributed without the express written permission of Prison Fellowship Ministries. "BreakPoint®" and "Prison Fellowship Ministries®" are registered trademarks of Prison Fellowship