MARY REICHARD, HOST: Today is Friday, March 27th. You’re listening to WORLD Radio and we’re so glad you are! Good morning. I’m Mary Reichard.
MEGAN BASHAM, HOST: And I’m Megan Basham.
Of all the at-home entertainment film studios and networks are suddenly making available for cooped-up kids, none will be so welcome by Christian parents as The Pilgrim’s Progress from Revelation Media.
The full-length movie was originally released to theaters as a Fathom event last Easter. Now it’s newly available to watch at home. Even better, unlike all those big studio movies going for twenty bucks for a 48-hour rental, it’s available absolutely free. At least until April 30th.
CLIP: We have to get out, Christiana. It says so in this and I believe it in here.
And war will destroy the entire city? So we must flee and get to the—
The Celestial City. The city of light.
It’s a book Christian.
If you’d only read it. You would understand.
The Pilgrim’s Progress would make a good option to help get little hearts prepared for Resurrection Day under any circumstances. But especially now as they may be missing lessons they used to get at Sunday school.
Though the movie stays blessedly faithful to the allegory John Bunyan wrote in the 17th century, it makes a few thoughtful concessions to modern tastes. The book gives us little information about how Apollyon—the stand-in for Satan—operates. The movie, however, gives his designs to enslave humankind a vividly gothic backstory.
CLIP: Many years ago, in the realm of Apollyon. Past the garden of four rivers. And in the region of Abaddon, there stood an old city. It’s name in the ancient tongue was Noit Curtsed. But time and space and the mind of a brilliant man named Luxe soon settled on the more pleasant name of Not Cursed.
In filling out the backstory, the filmmakers seem to have turned to another beloved Christian author—J.R.R. Tolkien. Though Tolkien by way of Dickens. Like Lord of the Rings villain, Sauron, Apollyon has made his relentless, smoke-billowing city of Not Cursed a machine in which people toil like hamsters on clanging wheels. The spindly, smoke-billowing workhouses that line the crooked alleys crush the souls of inhabitants who know nothing of a loving Creator or His Celestial City.
Until, that is, a man named Christian Pilgrim stumbles upon a book left by a man who escaped Not Cursed. A man named Faithful Pathfinder.
CLIP: We followed his footsteps beyond the borders you see. To the Swamp of Despondency.
So that’s where he ended up.
Well, that’s where the no part fits in.
What do you mean?
Well, you see, his footsteps, they sort of led in and out of the swamp. Toward the outer realms. It seems that Faithful is alive.
From there the story follows Bunyan’s tale closely, though it does mine humor out of sometimes-clueless Christian’s interactions with characters like Evangelist and Help.
A few of the characters are imagined as overly used tropes, like a nagging wife or snooty fop. But more than a few moments delight with ingenuity. Christian’s encounter with Mr. Legality in the village of Morality is especially creative.
The literal mountain man flings down chiseled tablets engraved with, as we might expect, demands for religious rule-keeping. But he also cleverly mixes in more modern commandments like, “You will not waste one second,” and “Be the best.” In other words, the law of self-empowerment that is no less burdensome in the impossibility of actually keeping it.
A few other scenes, however, show the seams of budget constraints, like when Christian battles Apollyon. The movie could hardly have skipped over the iconic moment, but something more creative than the straightforward approach might have ended up looking less like a 1960s Godzilla movie. But these gripes are surprisingly few, given that the film’s financing started on Kickstarter.
Really the only thing parents with more sensitive kids might need a warning on is that Apollyon and his minions are truly scary.
Though, for my part, I wasn’t sorry for it. In a world that so often makes cuddly cartoon characters, or snarky wisecrackers out of evil, I was glad for a correction. For a chance to explain to my daughters that the accuser isn’t cute, and he does want to devour us.
CLIP: You deceiver, you liar, you usurper of all that is good.
I served under you and found nothing but misery.
My allegiance is with the Celestial King.
Is it? How many times have you already failed him on this journey? You’re a disgrace to this King of yours.
Which makes his mercy and forgiveness all the sweeter. You are a deceiver who binds your subjects with invisible chains.
As Tolkien’s friend C.S. Lewis said of scary things in stories for children, “Since it is so likely that they will meet cruel enemies, let them at least have heard of brave knights and heroic courage… Let there be wicked kings and beheadings, battles and dungeons, giants and dragons, and let villains be soundly killed at the end of the book.”
Well, spoiler alert, the villain is soundly killed at the end of the book.
It’s a good thing to tell kids we don’t need to fear though we walk through the Valley of the Shadow of Death. It’s a better thing to show them.