THE CASE FOR CHRIST, US, 2017 starring Mike Vogel, Erika Christensen, Faye Dunaway, Robert Forster, Frankie Faison, L.Scott Caldwell, Brett Rice. Directed by Jon Gunn. 112 minutes. Rated PG (Mild themes and occasional coarse language).
Since The Passion of the Christ, there has been an American market for faith-based films and they have been quite successful at the American box office. There are some limits on the audiences overseas, although there are many evangelical, Pentecostal, community churches beyond the US which supply a niche audience for this kind of film.
The Case for Christ is more interesting than many of the others, the central character being an investigative journalist and the film showing his pursuit of a police case, a frame up, his believing the police evidence and then challenging it. This is intercut throughout the whole film which is based on the atheism to faith journey of award-winning Chicago Herald Tribune journalist, Lee Strobel. The action takes place during the 1980s.
It is also a family story which makes it more appealing to the average audience, the marriage of Lee (Mike Vogel) and his wife Leslie (Erika Christensen), their daughter Alison, Leslie’s pregnancy. Emotions are affected early in the film when Alison suddenly chokes in a restaurant – and her life is saved by a nurse, Alfie (L.Scott Caldwell), who had changed her mind about where she was going to eat and come to this restaurant. She uses Jesus language and talks about Providence so that Leslie, grateful, is challenged to think about her childhood churchgoing, prayer and faith. Lee rejects any kind of transcendent intervention.
Leslie becomes more and more involved in reflection on faith and prayer, brings a gift to Alfie at her hospital, is persuaded to go to the Community Church for a service, decides to go back. The main difficulties is in telling Lee who is angry at his wife’s decision, saying that he wanted his wife back. In a moment of concession, he does go to church with Leslie and Alison but confronts Alfie and warns her off. When Leslie experiences a baptism of immersion, Lee observes from a distance but then leaves and angrily drinks.
A complication is that Lee is alienate it from his father, Robert Forster, which means that this experience of his father serves as a model for his imagining God whom he rejects. It is only when his father dies and he attends the funeral that he discovers his father’s wallet with the article about Lee’s career and a whole album containing articles by him. His also challenged by psychologist (Faye Dunaway), an agnostic who picks that is anger against God is due to his relationship with his father.
While he is investigating the police case, he asks questions about belief in Christ, focusing on the resurrection. Taking the resurrection as the key issue, he sets up an office with a white board, tacking up notes with his questions and his investigations. He goes to a number of experts, religious ministers with faith, the Catholic scholar, Father Marquez, who was an archaeologist but gave it up for priesthood and explains to him textual criticism, the antiquity of texts, the many fragments from the Gospels, the psychologist with whom he discusses mass hysteria, a doctor who is able to explain and analyse the effects of the scourging, the carrying of the cross, the physiology of crucifixion and the piercing of Jesus’ side.
Meanwhile at the office, he is supported by a friendly father-figure journalist who urges him to support his wife no matter what he feels, and is challenged by another journalist who reminds him that he sees only what he wants to see and refuses to see anything else.
Ultimately, all the evidence, the core experience of disciples seeing the risen Christ no matter what the differences in detail in the narratives, persuades him and leads him to faith. His particular kind of faith, based on facts, investigation, experts, is a very rational faith. This is by way of contrast with his wife’s profound experience, the saving of her daughter’s life, the community experience of church, the witness of a friend.
Since the 1980s, Lee Strobel has been a minister at Community Churches and has written a great number of books including cases for faith, grace, hope…
Hoyts/ Pure Flix
Released May 4th
Peter Malone MSC is an Associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film and Broadcasting.