A much-need revolution
Depicting the ‘Jesus movement’ of the late 1960s and early 1970s, Jesus Revolution is a film that aims to personalise a grand sweeping movement. While the film is not at all subtle and is at points overwrought, its relevance to the present day makes it worth seeing.
The film tells the story of how Lonnie Frisbee, a hippie with a passion for Jesus, finds his way into the struggling church of preacher Chuck Smith. Bringing much-needed numbers with him, Lonnie invites his hippy friends to join the congregation, which sees it grow and transform.
As Lonnie and Chuck work together despite their differences in style and approach, they find their work bearing fruit, with hippies from around the country flocking to church and enjoying the non-judgmental home it provides.
The film also follows high school student Greg Laurie, a young man with a traumatic background and an absent father. Greg struggles to find his place in the world, eventually leaving military school to hang out with hippies, falling in love with a girl named Cathe. Together, they decide to give Lonnie and Chuck’s Christian movement a chance and find their lives changed forever.
Over time, however, the movement suffers due to egos getting in the way. In particular, Lonnie begins to consider himself the centre star and prophet, seeking to take the glory for himself. In an all-too-familiar scenario for churches, a promising plan for church growth finds itself held back because of failures in leadership.
Jesus Revolution comes at a time when a film like this is needed. It depicts a contentious time in US and global politics, and a struggle over who the church allows into its buildings and who it alienates. While the film does not directly make comparisons to current culture wars, the resonances in the current climate are there.
What has god (over)wrought?
While Jesus Revolution succeeds in many areas, nuance is not one of them. Contrasting the film’s dramatic moments with subtle ones is a difficult task, as there are no subtle moments. Every event is one that happens in a high key.
As the introduction, ‘based on a real revolution’ suggests, this is not a film that serves to dissect or analyse the Jesus revolution. Nor does the film stop at any point to analyse the movement’s theology (or suggest that it is somehow different to mainstream churches’ ideas). While egos and disputes are put in focus for the world to see, there is no real critique of the Jesus movement to be found here.
Approaching the film as a piece of heliography for a religious movement that impacted a lot of people’s lives might be the best way to watch Jesus Revolution. Despite any flaws, the film is touching, dramatic, and no one who watches will be able to leave the cinema unaffected in some way.
Jesus Revolution is now playing in theatres.