Review by Nate
As I began to watch this movie I wondered what it would be about. I was told it was a silent film which, to me, meant black-and-white title screens and a lilting, up-tempo piano soundtrack. The Good Book, written and directed by Sharon Wilharm, is actually more in line with a music video with some brilliant imagery and an even greater cinematic score.
I must admit it feels a bit odd to write about a film that has no dialogue and no real subtext; but I do have some observations that I would like to share.
First, the cinematography is very well done. Kudos on the camera, lighting, and close-ups in partial focus. There are some excellent and beautiful nature scenes as well as time-lapse footage interposed between the various stories as they play out. I initially thought that Daniel (Evan Fielding) would be the main character as the movie begins with him and his family. But I quickly realized that the Bible itself is the main character; that is, every time it crosses paths with someone the story changes to focus on them. Thus the word of God is the constant that is discovered amidst the changing vignettes.
The film begins as such: Young Daniel accidentally starts a fire in his house which impels him to run away from home and join up with a homeless camp. One day a Christian youth group gives Daniel and his new friends some Bibles. Daniel is soon reunited with his family only to leave the Bible with Alex (BK Bomar), after which the Bible continues to
serendipitously providentially interact with various other characters. This, in a nutshell, is The Good Book, the story of God’s word as it moves through the hands and hearts of those with which it comes into contact.
One of the things I really appreciate about this movie is its message (albeit implied due to lack of dialogue): God’s word is living and active and piercing to the bone and able to judge the heart (Hebrews 4:12). The Good Book reflects this biblical principle as some of the people that come into contact with Scripture are moved rather deeply. Some, on the other hand, are not swayed after interacting with the Bible. This is (unfortunately) all too realistic. Some people find that reading Scripture alone compels them to take Christianity seriously. Others are not at all impressed with Scripture nor does it change their worldviews accordingly. So instead of easily forcing everyone into some kind of canned conversion sequences, Wilharm seeks to reflect real scenarios with regard to God’s influence via His Scripture.
I think Alex and Marion’s (Apolonia Davalos) story of loss and new hope is touching. Perhaps I related to their story the most because I am a relatively new father; but I do not think so. Davis’ performance in particular is the best of the bunch. She emotes very well and thus is the most believable among the rest of the cast.
The Good Book captures the spirit of the church well. That is, there are those willing to reach out through various ministries to be a light to others in need. Three times, in this movie, we witness ministries (or individuals) reaching out to the homeless feeding, clothing, and witnessing. There are also moments where we see some in the church refusing to show grace and kindness towards outsiders. This is unfortunate but also a reality in many churches. Again, instead of forcing some kind of pat view of universal hospitality within the church community, Wilharm takes care to show that reality is more nuanced. Not everyone will open their seat to the homeless woman coming in from the street to hear the word of God preached. But some will; and praise God when brothers and sisters remain diligent to follow Jesus’ teaching in that regard (see Matthew 5; 20:16).
This movie is not entirely problem free. Certain situations in which the characters are placed happen too quickly and unbelievably to swallow. One of the more obvious examples of this is when Esau is assaulted by a couple of random kids that show up to their campground out of nowhere with a knife, while a cop just happens to be standing a few feet away. It is not entirely clear what Wilharm was going for in those scenes but they could have been handled with more realism and less Charlie Chaplin-style timing. There are also one too many of these inauthentic scenarios in this movie to be simply overlooked.
However, what balances its shortcomings is the film’s relative success as a concept and artistic piece. Wilharm has created a conceptually clever film that oftentimes succeeds in connecting with its audience. I suspect the shortcomings of The Good Book is perhaps not due to Wilharm’s creative limits but in the production’s budget, which makes me wonder whether Wilharm’s artistry could be better served with stronger financial backing.
Rating: 3 out of 5
For its conceptual style, artistic cinematography, a pretty good soundtrack, and realistically conveying the selectivity of God’s influence through His word, The Good Book gets a rating of 3 out of 5.