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The Pilgrim’s Progress: “The Journey of Every Believer”

The Pilgrim's Progress

This is a rather special Christian movie which I hope the church’s teens and young adults will view thoughtfully, and that older adults will be spurred on by. The title novel was written more than 300 years ago by John Bunyan, a man harassed and imprisoned for his faith in Christ. In it, the author uses word-pictures and ‘similitudes’ to landmark key aspects of the life course of a humble soldier of the King.

This ‘most interesting of journeys’ is embodied by a man named Christian Pilgrim. The ordinary city worker with a wife and two children struggles with slavery to the endless struggle to merely exist. Then one day he comes upon artworks by a missing man who has clearly been dreaming of a better life far beyond the city borders. Christian steals the man’s book so he too can learn about the ‘mad’ hope of a great King of love and His ‘streets paved with gold’ in the Celestial City. Like many of us, he hungrily reads about the King’s explanation of life and the judgment to come. Christian is so struck and burdened by the sin all around him, that he leaves his wife and children, to travel alone towards the King he has met in the pages of the book.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=04WXlAcOtS0

Thankfully, Christian soon finds that he needn’t carry the great burden alone, or all the way, but can release it to his King. The road is still narrow and difficult though, and full of obstacles and distractions. Christian must respond—often rather suddenly—to a swamp filled with the mud of doubts and fears, a glimmering path presented by a Willy Wonka type called Worldly Wiseman and a mountain of morality with a condemning rock man atop it.

In each place, he learns at least one valuable lesson. These prepare him for the valley of humiliationtemptations of the Vanity Fair township and several final battles or barriers before reaching his destination.

Along the way, Christian also receives assistance from Evangelist, The Interpreter, Watchful and his 4 daughters (named Discretion, Piety, Charity and Prudence), plus other saints who have already completed their journey in The Way of the King.

Is it made for children?

Are all animated films made for children? No. This one has no main characters who are children. It totals an epic 2 hours. It mainly discusses adult topics. It contains frightening representations of demons (depicted as huge shrieking hairless bats) and Satan (a powerful dragon with rams’ horns, who is certainly intent on murder). There is frequent peril and a lot of cruel violence, including an implied burning at the stake.

Furthermore, young children are highly unlikely to be able to grasp its deep joys and encouragements, seeing instead only frightening imagery, because they are generally inexperienced in distinguishing between allegory and reality until the second half of their school years. As such, it could confuse a child’s faith. They may leave the cinema with a flurry of worried questions.

Nevertheless, in the Foreword, well-known hymn-maker Kristyn Getty teaches and prepares viewers about the importance of this generation equipping our children to face hardships bravely. I agree with her that wise use of stories and healthy imagination can build a picture of the inner workings of our faith. In this way, even children can be armed to travel the difficult road of life well. In my estimation, however, as an educator and children’s worker, it would be best to wait until the teen years to watch this movie with your children—and please talk through it with them, for it does not fully explain itself. The target audience appers to be teens and young adults with an established knowledge and understanding of basic spiritual truths

A Quality Production

No previous cartoons or films of The Pilgrim’s Progress strongly impressed me, so I did not have high hopes. Then this one smashed my cynical expectations! Not only does it feature a great leap forward in moviemaking achievement within the Christian film industry, it also remains firmly focused on the message. Though there will always be critics, undeniably a great deal of careful preparation has been put into this first CGI version, which is designed to be translated into 20 languages and distributed worldwide. Despite a modest budget, by secular standards, and a hardship-filled storyline, the story flows smoothly and is likely to enthrall and intrigue its audience.

The soundtrack is well-suited—tough and sweet—including some much-loved hymns such as “Be Thou My Vision” and “Blessed Assurance.” Voices are noticeably genuine, full of heart and clear wording is chosen, so few gems of good advice are missed. Some of the Olde English titles have been altered so they can be easily grasped, which ultimately serves to get the Good News across more helpfully. An atmosphere is built in which the viewer can share in the thoughts and feelings of Christian Pilgrim, so they can practice use of discretion to quickly work out whether each stranger can be trusted… because characters who are in the employ of Satan often initially seem normal, kind and fun.

Scenery is generally beautiful and meaningful. Clever lighting and special effects illustrate aspects that our technologies have rarely been able to communicate before now, though some scenes feel like they are copied from “…Narnia” or “The Lord Of The Rings.” The joy of journeying in The Way is depicted through the beauty of nature, warm smiles, heartfelt voices, tasteful decoration of clothes and homes, and the humanity of tears and touch.

Furthermore, the lessons and encouragements themselves successfully brighten every stage of Christian’s dangerous journey. The lessons are usually simply worded and kindly spoken. Teens are likely to connect with certain role models, such as 5 beautiful princess-types, and the heroic pilgrims. A few tame and funny moments for younger viewers also add to the appeal.

If you’re looking for a tame, safe, politically correct or perfectly-true-to-the-book film, you’ll have to go elsewhere, because “The Pilgrim’s Progress” unapologetically faces life’s crises head-on. It pursues its goal of using today’s language and technology to warn and prepare Believers for our lifelong Journey with Christ. It is a grounded depiction which leaves the rose-colored religious glasses behind.

Similarly, in the Bible, followers of Christ the King are promised many difficulties (“In this world you will have many troubles. But take heart! I have overcome the world” —Jesus in John 16:33; see also 1 John 5:4-5). Many of our most challenging obstacles involve vices, violence and verbal battles. Consequently, there is some of that potentially upsetting content in this film—but it is wisely handled, most of the time.

You will find our standard list of concerning content below this review. Please note that family abandonment, tempting but sinful pleasures, addictions and even suicide are touched upon. A few sentences of Scripture or Bunyan’s wisdom are brought to bear on each situation.

Despite all the heavy content, “The Pilgrim’s Progress” remains essentially a morally sound, helpful and uplifting film.

Messages and discussion topics

As a message-based film, spiritual content is paramount, and entertainment is secondary. I pray this will result in great discussions that help travelers to better grasp what to expect in the walk of faith, and how to react to whatever may come. If you would like to feature “The Pilgrim’s Progress” at a youth group or adult ministry, you may like to consider the following issues, and perhaps also take advantage of the Christian Answers links at the side of this page.

The most repeated lessons are, “Life’s tumbles can lead you to the most interesting of places,” and “The King shall give me strength.”

The other main messages forming the backbone of the story appear to be…

  • The Book of the King opens a person’s eyes to what is wrong and right.
  • We must go to Him to lose our burden, keeping on His straight path all the way.
  • Many things may divert us from our course, resulting in danger and sorrow for us and others.
  • Though we sometimes don’t follow our King’s instructions, if we repent, He immediately forgives and makes us clean.
  • We will face hardships, but are also provided with all the help we need to overcome them in Jesus.
  • We grow as we learn to trust His help and say no to fakes.
  • We must be content to wait for the things the King has promised
  • The final barrier is death, but as the King has always proved trustworthy, so also He can be trusted to pull us safely through it to the Celestial City beyond.

There are other more complex issues that can be discussed, such as how the film depicts saints who have died, and each member of The Trinity, and whether it is okay to defy local authorities sometimes. But, of course, no earthly text or film can perfectly explain the wondrous plans of a God whose mind and ways are so much higher and greater than ours.

One could also easily become caught up in comparisons to the original text of The Pilgrim’s Progress, and on personal preferences, or dissection of analogies and how each element is positioned and balanced… but instead, let us begin by humbly acknowledging that both the film and our faith point back to the Scriptures, the Holy Bible, as the final word on matters of faith.

Summary

“The Pilgrim’s Progress” is a movie for most of the family to watch together—though be warned: it is too mature and scary a story for children to properly enjoy or benefit from. Nevertheless, this is one of the most wonderful Christian films I have ever encountered. It matches well what I have experienced of the Christian journey. It reminds the King’s people of the spiritual realities that are difficult to see in troubled times. It feels very personal and real. Several moments are incredibly moving and healing, especially for those in the church who are in great suffering. It provides great encouragement to battle onward with unswerving faith, keeping in mind the King’s guidance through His ‘map’ (The Bible).

Truly awful attacks occur, so keep this in mind as you decide about whether to view it. I remember that, as children, our father read aloud to us the illustrated Pilgrim’s Progress storybook, which was dark, colorless and confusing. It scared and discouraged my childish thinking. As a result, I expected the first CGI version of The Pilgrim’s Progress to be dark, sensationalist, too clunky for the big screen, and bogged down in big words from the olden days. Instead, I have found it to be a bright, thoughtfully presented and rich delight that will prompt valuable conversations and sober anticipation of the journey of faith. Yet, I remain convinced that this story is not necessarily safe or appropriate for children to view.

Is it a re-telling of the Bible story? No. Should it be taken as a perfect picture of the Christian’s pilgrimage to our home on Heaven? No. It is merely seeking to illustrate some great theological realities in a story format.

Though, to those who aren’t themselves followers of Jesus Christ, it is likely to look like weak foolishness, to Believers who’ve already started along the road, it will probably make great sense and be a deep encouragement. Thus, I consider this a great Christian film and of high value for established Christians, especially young adults.

Blessed are those whose strength is in You (Lord God Almighty), whose hearts are set on pilgrimage.” —Psalm 84:5

“The journey of every believer begins and ends with our willingness to trust in the King.”

Reviewed by: Ruth Eshuis, https://christiananswers.net/spotlight/movies

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