Actor gives believers a bad name
Kirk Cameron is no stranger to terrible reviews.
His cornball ode to marriage Fireproof pulled in an unremarkable 40% critic score on Rotten Tomatoes. 2014’s Mercy Rule snagged an abysmal 2.5/10 on IMDB (from an equally abysmal 159 users).
Undeterred, Cameron has produced a new film just in time for Christmas – and with a score of 0% on Rotten Tomatoes, it’s quickly being dubbed the worst movie ever made (literally).
If this were all just a matter of little Mike Seaver trying his hand at film and falling on his face, his cinematic exploits wouldn’t get so much attention. It’s not. Many people, I suspect, don’t even know that Kirk Cameron still makes movies, but they probably know that he is an outspoken born-again Christian – the same one who starred in the Left Behind series about “the rapture” after leaving “Growing Pains”; who goes on TV and radio with Ray Comfort to talk about “crocoducks,” the providential design of holding bananas, and other “evidence” against evolution; who predictably announces his moral and religious beliefs in every interview. Kirk Cameron is not so much a filmmaker as the face of squeaky clean, politically conservative Bible believers in Hollywood.
This, unfortunately, is the only Christianity many will ever know – and the fault isn’t all Cameron’s. First, the lack of Catholics and mainline Protestants (with some notable exceptions) in popular culture means the apparent lack of any viable alternative. For average people looking for movies with Christian themes, Kirk Cameron and his ilk can seem like the only game in town. Second, those looking to mock movies with Christian themes don’t exactly seek out the exceptions. Recent classics like Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life are largely ignored or maligned. Kirk Cameron, on the other hand, is always there – and always has a gigantic bullseye in the middle of his forehead. The French film Of Gods and Men – another post-2000 classic – is a pulsating, dramatic crisis of faith: do I give everything to God and my fellow men, or do I save myself? The devil-we-know presents us with a more palatable choice: do I believe in Kirk Cameron’s God, or do I save myself from being like Kirk Cameron?
The tragic outcome of all this is that this face of “Christianity” is slapped onto bad films until the two nearly become synonymous. For some sorry soul out there, the rich philosophical and artistic tradition of the Church may be buried forever under the trauma of Saving Christmas, and the possibility of the light of faith suddenly eclipsed by Cameron’s face reciting stilted lines. Worse still, Cameron copycats are emboldened by his niche success, resulting in Courageous, God’s Not Dead, and countless other poorly acted bores that turn the “Faith and Spirituality” section of Netflix into a den of timidity.
In the long term, there’s reason for optimism. Between Darren Aronofky’s Noah and Ridley Scott’s Exodus: Gods and Kings, we’re witnessing an ongoing revival of the Biblical epic which could change the landscape of Hollywood for decades to come. Malick is back with Knight of Cups, which looks every bit as steeped in religious sense as To the Wonder. And Martin Scorsese is finally adapting Shusaku Endo’s spiritual thriller Silence for the big screen. Big things are happening at the crossroads of faith and filmmaking.
Kirk Cameron, however, is not one of them – and I wish, both for his sake and ours, that he would put down the camera and call it a career.
Matthew Becklo is a husband and father-to-be, amateur philosopher, and cultural commentator at Aleteia and Word on Fire. His writing has been featured in First Things, The Dish, and Real Clear Religion.