Release Date: In theaters one night only, September 24, 2013. Tickets available at: http://www.fathomevents.com/#!unstoppable/more-info/details
UPDATE: Due to overwhelming demand, a pre-recorded encore presentation of UNSTOPPABLE: A LIVE EVENT WITH KIRK CAMERON will broadcast to select movie theaters on Thursday, October 3, 2013 at 7:00pm local times.
Rating: Not Rated
Run Time: The full live broadcast event includes musical performances and an introduction, and runs approximately 2 hours (approx. 1 hour of which is the actual film).
Director: Darren Doane
Cast: Kirk Cameron
"Why does God let bad things happen to good people?"
In interviews and trailers promoting his upcoming one-night-only event Unstoppable, actor and evangelist Kirk Cameron poses the above question as the starting point and foundation of the film. Cameron has excitedly promised an answer to this age-old dilemma, and he asks his audience to join him on an excursion of faith-cementing significance.
But while Cameron delivers on the hope and victory of the Gospel message in this video-diary of sorts, the journey of watching Unstoppable actually left this reviewer feeling mostly unsettled and unanswered. By the time Cameron talks a big talk at the film's summit, the questions being answered are different from the original ones posed.
The movie – showing only on Tuesday, September 24 in theaters around the U.S. – begins with reiterations of questions asked in the promotional material: "Is there any justice in the world? And why do bad things happen to good people?" Cameron sits (in his living room, on his front porch, in the desert) and tells the story of a family whose young son recently died of a prolonged illness. They are friends of his, and it's easy to tell the devastation of their loss was a catalyst for Cameron to make Unstoppable and tackle the problem of evil and suffering.
To do this, insists Cameron, we must go back to the beginning. We cannot properly understand the pain around us, the pain of today, unless we have a proper understanding of how we got here. This resolve, which would function effectively as a prologue or introduction, actually turns out to be the chief content for roughly 45 minutes of the film's hour-ish length. The "journey" spoken of in the trailers is not a personal pathway of theological reflection, sifting through thoughts and feelings of interviewees, but rather a prolonged foray into Genesis 1-9.
Cameron provides voice-over for the biblical creation narratives. Lengthy, slow-motion artistic re-enactments occur. We see a dramatization of Adam emerging from the mud, depictions of the stories of Adam and Eve, Eve and the serpent, and the Fall of Man before moving on to Cain's murder of Abel. Though the film at this point is different from what I imagined or expected, some of Cameron's points are beginning to shine through:
- From the very beginning, humanity has chased after sin.
- And as we've disobeyed, rebelled, and murdered, God has shown us mercy and faithfulness.
Though these lessons are discernible as the overarching aim of the film, the moral meanders quite a bit, and not always for the best.
For example, instead of simply telling the story of Noah and making his points about it straightforwardly, Cameron delivers a contrived scene where he walks into a Hollywood studio and pitches a movie idea for "Noah and the Flood" (aside: an actual major Hollywood release coming out early next year) to a table of cartoonish movie executives. The scene drags on in an overly dramatic fashion, simply to underscore the notion that a God who would kill off an entire civilization of people by flood is not a popular modern deity, not "a story people want to hear." Cameron (with a devastated, martyred expression) continues to try and convince the executives that they must stick to the biblical story, all the while being interrupted by execs who try to twist his pitch into a kid's movie or a cartoon about talking animals.
His point here, as well as in the earlier dramatizations of the Bible's first family, is to remind us that "sometimes we become so familiar with [old stories] that we get confused because we overlook details that actually make the story make sense." For example, according to Cameron, the important detail in the Garden of Eden story is that God showed mercy to Adam, Eve, and Cain when they deserved none. The flood story, Cameron argues, "was not about God destroying the world. This was about humanity destroying itself… all they needed was more time. But God mercifully steps in and cuts that short. He puts a period at the end to stop evil."
In the final 15-20 minutes of the film, Cameron introduces the Jesus part of God's plan, but unfortunately by now things are getting a little draggy. Once we arrive, however, Cameron introduces the Gospel in all its glory: Jesus is the promised descendant of Eve who crushes the serpent's head. God is a God of mercy who fights for us against the powers of darkness. As Jesus suffered and died to atone for sin, sometimes we must struggle with pain and hardship (and death) in order for new life to come about.
It's a beautiful reminder of the God we serve and the Christ we worship.
But for such a big project, it's too little too late.
While Cameron preaches the Gospel, he effectively dodges the question he promised to answer. In the film's final montage he even states outright, "I won't even try to pretend I could answer a question like that." Well, then… what was the point?
Yes, God is merciful and big and mysterious, but Christians have been giving pat answers to each other for time out of mind. And those same questions still surface after watching Unstoppable. Yes, we suffer from bad choices because of the sin inside us, traceable to Cain's brutal murder of Abel. But what of the innocent cancer patient who never killed anybody? Yes, the world was wicked, and perhaps God was merciful in sending the flood. But what of the innocent children and the nursing babes who suffocated under floodwaters for the sins of their neighbors? What of Jesus who denied the suggestion that a man was born blind because of somebody else's sin?
Unstoppable touches on much, but delivers on little, possibly because of some fatal flaws. Primarily, the problem of pain cannot be answered without asking several other questions first. And knowing "how we got here" means more than rehashing stories from Genesis. One must gradually build a theological framework based on answering questions such as free will/determinism, eternal destiny, spiritual warfare, etc. Cameron touches on some of these, but not in direct, coherent ways, and sometimes he seems to flip flop on his own opinions (like evil and free will vs. God being in control of everything). If we don't take the time to clarify what we believe about foundational issues, any approach to the problem of pain will fall flat.
On the whole, Unstoppable probably would have had more punch if it had been 20 minutes instead of an hour, and was marketed to churches specifically instead of anyone and everyone who's ever wondered about pain. I hope that the message Cameron does deliver is able to reach and encourage many who struggle with this issue, although I can't unequivocally recommend bringing a seriously, deeply struggling friend to the viewing.
Unstoppable may be lacking in many ways, but it does preach the Gospel and remind us that asking the tough questions is incredibly important to building a steadfast faith. Every Christian must face them at some point. Through your questions, experience and study, may you find, as Cameron affirms, that "God is good. We can trust him. And his purposes are unstoppable."
Publication date: September 13, 2013
Debbie Holloway is Crosswalk.com Editor for Family content.