With the Vatican’s Extraordinary Synod of Bishops on the Family beginning this weekend, the timing for City on a Hill Production’s first feature-length film, The Song (which opened Sept. 26) — a movie about the joys and sorrows of marriage and family life — seems inspired.
“The beauty of the faithful love of husband and wife is showcased in a moving portrayal of a man and woman who fall in love and conquer the world’s challenges,” Louisville, Ky., Archbishop Joseph Kurtz, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said about the film in an endorsement.
“This movie … leads the viewer to yearn for a faithful love of such deep and lasting beauty and helps us appreciate the sacrifices such a love in this life requires and deserves. Our world needs such a compelling witness, which is too often missed in the glitter of today’s fast-paced culture of impulsive and shallow relationships.”
While The Song fits in the faith-based film category, it’s not your father’s faith-based film. It’s darker, grittier and edgier than most, unafraid to show the effects of human frailty and sin.
The movie blatantly and purposefully rips its story directly from that of David and Solomon, although with a modern setting. Promotional materials for the film cite that it’s based on the biblical love story “The Song of Songs.”
Whereas many faith-based films attempt to sermonize or place the story at the service of Scripture, this one does something different: This story is saturated with Scripture. It begins with a passage from Ecclesiastes: “I have seen all the things that are done under the sun; all of them are meaningless, a chasing after the wind.” Then the story unfolds, using Scripture as the backdrop. It’s an effective technique, and it works because the action of the film helps the Scripture verses from Ecclesiastes, Proverbs and The Song of Songs come alive and makes them relevant to viewers.
Struggling musician Jed King (Alan Powell) — think Jedidiah, or King Solomon — plays the son of David King, a former country musician who fell from grace in a manner reminiscent of Scripture’s King David. Jed not only needs a break professionally, but he also struggles in the shadow of his father’s fall from grace. He accepts a gig at the Jordan Winery harvest festival. There, he meets Rose (Ali Faulkner). They date and fall in love.
At one point in their courtship, Rose asks Jed, “If you could ask God for anything, what would you ask for?”
Mirroring Solomon, Jed responds, “I want to be wise, so that I can live right. … And if I did sing, it would be because I have something to say.”
She encourages him to ask God for that, and he does.
Soon, they marry, and after, inspired by Rose, he writes the breakout song that propels him to stardom.
But along with his celebrity status comes temptation. Frequently on tour for long stretches of time, Jed and Rose’s marriage is strained. When Jed’s manager pairs him with opener Shelby Bale (Caitlin Nicol-Thomas) — think Queen Sheba — the situation is ripe for Jed to stray like his father. Bale dresses provocatively and has tattoos and a piercing. She smokes, drinks and abuses what appears to be prescription drugs.
“Beware the woman who is a snare … whose hands are chains,” Jed narrates from Proverbs.
Faced with fame and fortune, Jed finds that he’s not satisfied by anything that the world can provide.
“Do what you want and don’t feel guilty about it,” Bale urges him.
Unfortunately, Jed succumbs to infidelity. Racked with guilt and anxiety, he finds that he’s unable to sing the song. Human sin — lust, adultery, suicide, abortion and drug addiction — is on full display in this film, though handled in a way that doesn’t glorify it. Eventually, Jed falls into alcohol and drug abuse, too.
“There is nothing new under the sun,” Jed narrates from Ecclesiastes.
At times, the film is painful to watch. When his infidelity is discovered, Jed blames Rose for his problems.
Faced with what his actions have done to his family, Jed is forced to make tough decisions in his efforts to reconcile with his wife. It’s here where the film is weakest, as it tries to wrap things up too quickly.
In the post-Christian age we find ourselves living in, there are many people who have forgotten, or who simply don’t know, some of the Bible’s most basic stories. The Song ably tells a story that Christians will be very familiar with. The unchurched, however, will encounter it as a compelling story of the rise, fall and redemption of a man. Viewers will be reminded of other similar music-based films, such as Walk the Line or Crazy Heart. But they’ll also be reminded of important morality lessons: Every time we sin, in little or large ways, we fall from grace, and God stands waiting and ready for us to return to his always-open arms.
If there’s a downside to this movie, while the actors do a fine job, the characters are rather one-dimensional. The viewer is always prescient of exactly where the film is headed. However, the writer seems to have done this on purpose, revealing an ancient story of a real man, Solomon, by giving his story modern-day relevance.
Overall, The Song works well. Don’t expect the proverbial come-to-Jesus scene or the moment where our main character is told that all he has to do is accept Jesus Christ as his personal Lord and Savior. The film doesn’t proselytize in this way.
“A man makes plans, but the Lord directs his steps,” Jed says early on.
The Song is a reminder that married love requires hard work and sacrifice and that it is a reflection of God’s love and sacrifice for each one of us. Marriage between one man and one woman is in great need of strengthening. If the film inspires even one couple to more fully live out the promises they made when they entered into the sacrament of marriage, then it will have fulfilled its purpose.
Tim Drake writes from St. Joseph, Minnesota.
Caveat Spectator: Suicide; implied abortion; implied infidelity; depiction of alcohol and prescription-drug abuse. Older teens and adults.