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C.S. Lewis: the most reluctant convert

Biographical drama
93 minutes / 2021
RATING: 9/10

If you already know Lewis you’re going to love this film; if you don’t, this film will soon have you loving Lewis for the way he could put into words the wonder God works in his and our own hearts. This is the story of Lewis’s conversion from ardent atheist to “the most reluctant convert,” bowing his knee to God not because he wanted to, but because he couldn’t do otherwise.

It’s also a story superbly told. There are three different actors playing Lewis, one as a boy, another as Lewis in his twenties, and the third, portrayed by Max McLean, as Lewis in his fifties. McLean’s Lewis, the Christian Lewis, is actually the film’s narrator, “breaking the fourth wall” by talking directly to the audience and explaining the thoughts being thunk by the other younger still-kicking-against-the-goads Lewises. It’s all shot on location, so we’re able to walk along with the older Lewis through the halls of Oxford as he takes us, for example, to a pivotal discussion his younger self is about to have with J.R.R. Tolkien. What an absolute delight!

The showing I went to with my brother-in-law started with a 12-minute documentary, The Making of the Most Reluctant Convert. It was an odd way to begin, and a friend mentioned that this featurette was likely supposed to come afterward. But because the film itself has a non-stop intensity – not from car chases or explosions, but from the young Lewis’s constant wrestlings with God – it was a help to have this slower introduction. Like the blurb on the back cover of a book, the featurette summed up what was to come, prepping us before we were launched right into it. Whether intentional or not, front-loading the featurette was brilliant, and if it doesn’t come that way on the DVD, I’d recommend heading to the special features to begin with the documentary first.

Lewis fans will quickly notice that the dialogue is taken almost entirely from his books, all stitched together seamlessly by McLean himself. The dialogue is similar to the script he wrote for his one-man play C.S. Lewis Onstage which was the seed for this film version. But while the play is very good, the fully fleshed-out film is downright fantastic.

What makes this an amazing film is that the excellent acting, writing, and craftmanship are put in service to the more excellent work God did in Lewis’s heart. God took a man angry at God and determined to run from Him, and transformed this rebel into the foremost Christian apologist of the twentieth century. And then He used that man as a spark for many thousands (millions?) more such transformations.

Cautions

The closest thing to a caution I can offer is that Lewis doesn’t offer complete answers to the theological difficulties his atheist self raises. That might be disconcerting to some, even as it is also one of the film’s strengths. The fact is, there is no completely satisfactory answer to, for example, the problem of pain, and the film doesn’t pretend otherwise. God has given us reason to trust Him, but He hasn’t told us all, so sometimes we do indeed need to trust Him.

I’ll note also that Lewis was no 5-point Calvinist. However, his conversion story makes him sound almost like one: the account he shares is of God grabbing hold of him. Lewis takes no credit for it himself.

Conclusion

From the twist right at the start to a conclusion that left us wanting more, this was a story superbly told. Add in a subject worthy of this craft and creativity, and I can’t imagine how this could have been better; it is certainly one of the best films I’ve ever seen. And, lest you think I’m getting all gushy, I’ll add that my brother-in-law liked it even more.

Watch the trailer below, and check out the movie website here to see how you can rent it online, from now until January 2. It’s $20 which might seem a bit steep, but not so bad if you make it a group movie night.


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Book excerpts, Book Reviews

When C.S. Lewis was an atheist...

An excerpt from Douglas Bond’s novel War in the Wasteland Editor’s note: This excerpt takes place during a prolonged Germany artillery barrage that has the British hunkering deep down in their trenches. Private Nigel Hopkins ends up deep underground with his two of his Company’s junior officers, 2cnd Lieutenant Johnson and 2cnd Lieutenant C.S. Lewis. With nothing to do but wait the two officers restart a conversation they began some days before about the meaning of it all. Lewis, at this point in his life, was an atheist, and, in some ways, a thoughtful one. But in this exchange (in which we come mid-way) Johnson exposes how Lewis’s argument against God is not, as Lewis seemed to suppose, a matter of cold logic, but rather emotion. **** For several moments, listening to the continuing barrage, sitting in total darkness, no one said anything. Lewis broke the silence, his tone sober, brooding, almost simmering: “My mother was a rock, the fortress of our existence. When she died our fortress crumbled.” “I am so terribly sorry,” said Johnson softly. “You were how old?” “Nine. Almost ten.” “Tender age,” said Johnson. “Such a pity. How did you cope?” “I became an atheist.” “Why an atheist?” “Why not? I had prayed – nobody could have prayed more earnestly than I. She died, my praying notwithstanding. God did not answer.” “I am truly sorry for you,” said Johnson. “You need not be,” said Lewis. “It’s just the facts. Facing them is the same as growing up, leaving childish ways behind.” “‘God did not answer,’ you say,” said Johnson, picking his way cautiously, so it seemed to Nigel. ”Ergo, He does not exist? It sounds to me as if you do believe in God, but want Him on a leash, dutifully at your side, a tame lion, coming when you call, doing your bidding.” “Balderdash,” said Lewis. “‘Facing the facts,’ as you call it,” continued Johnson. “I’m rather fond of facts myself. Enlighten me. Did you decide not to believe in God because you had grappled with the evidence and had concluded that no such divine being existed? Or did you – I mean no offense, mind you – did you decide not to believe in such a being because you were angry with Him for not healing your mother? Put simply, was your unbelief in God to spite Him?” “That’s more balderdash. It was –“ Lewis broke off, saved by a rapid staccato of exploding ordinance above them. After another uncomfortable silence, Johnson cleared his throat and began again. “One wonders if it makes rational sense to organize one’s metaphysics around the notion that by simply choosing not to believe in someone that this someone, thereby, no longer exists. If that actually worked, I’d commence not believing in the Kaiser – Poof! Away with him. Poof! Away with the firing their ordinance at us right now. Poof! Away with the whole dashed war.” “All right, all right. Perhaps, strictly speaking,” said Lewis. “Perhaps, I did not become an atheist. I do not know.” “I used to think I was one,” said Johnson, striking a match. “But at the end of the day, Jack, atheism is too simple, wholly inadequate to explain the complexities of life, a boy’s philosophy. That’s what it is.” Lewis, mesmerized by the flickering match light, sat brooding, seeming not to hear him. “Perhaps I had become something worse.” As he proceeded his voice was a strained monotone, each word coming like a lash. “Perhaps it was then that I began to think of God, if He exists at all, as malevolent, a cosmic sadist, inflicting pain on his creatures for sport. Or an eternal vivisector, toying with his human rats merely for curiosity or amusement.” It was pitch dark again. Listening to the exploding artillery rounds above them, no one said anything for several minutes. Nigel concluded that, furious as it yet was, clearly the main force of the bombardment was winding down. He wondered if one of the German howitzers had jammed, or if the British counterbattery fire had managed to take out some of the enemy’s big guns. It was Lieutenant Lewis who broke the silence. His voice was barely audible in the dark. “I wish I could remember her face.” If you’ve enjoyed this excerpt, be sure to pick up a copy of Douglas Bond’s novel “War in the Wasteland” which can be found at any online retailer. And you may also like "The Resistance," a sequel of sorts, which takes place during World War II....


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