Kernel Rating (out of 5):
MPAA Rating: NR Length: 113 minutes
Age Appropriate For: 13+. The film isn’t rated, but hovers between a PG and a PG-13. It’s a faith-based film about a teenager who decides to run for political office to be a thorn in the side of an exclusionary, hate-spewing Christian candidate, so there are discussions about the “real” messages of Christianity, homosexual characters who are judged and discriminated against, the mention of abortion and premarital sex, some chaste kisses between teens, and a parent nearly hitting their child.
‘Pass the Light’ poses an argument about the ‘true’ message of Christianity—is it exclusionary and divisive, or inclusive and inviting? The film eventually delivers a hopeful message, but it seems tentative to go as far as it should.
By Roxana Hadadi
In contrast to most of the other faith-based films released recently—like last year’s horrendously bad “Left Behind,” starring Nicolas Cage—”Pass the Light” is actually pretty even-keeled. The film explores the dueling narratives of Christianity possessing our country, with one side preaching fire, brimstone, and the exclusion of anyone who isn’t heterosexual or conservative, and the other practicing a more open-arms, God-loves-everyone argument. For the most part, “Pass the Light” objectively considers both sides before supporting the latter. But the movie’s shortcoming is how tentative it is in its support of inclusion, and its reluctance to shake free of outdated gender dynamics.
The film focuses on 17-year-old Steve (Cameron Palatas), an average kid with average problems. He likes the prettiest girl at school, Jackie (Alexandria DaBerry), who has never acknowledged his existence. He’s a backup player on the football team, and chances are he’ll never get time in an actual game (the more popular bullies on the team, one of them also being Jackie’s boyfriend, derisively nickname him “Tebow,” after the religious quarterback). His parents might be getting a divorce because his father, a laid-off police officer, is reluctant to find another job that he doesn’t think is worthy of him, and his mother won’t stop nagging him about it. There are problems everywhere.
How to solve them? Steve devotes himself to his faith and is an avid churchgoer and volunteer—especially at Salvation House, a local community center that feeds those down on their luck—but it doesn’t seem like the message of peace and love is driving his fellow students or citizens. Instead, the community is growing increasingly divided, mainly because of the words of Congressional candidate Franklin Baumann (Jon Gries, of “Taken 3”).
“I am on a mission of purification,” says Baumann, the clear villain of this film. Baumann is a middle-aged white man running for Congress in east Illinois, and his message is allegedly one of Christianity, but an aggressive, embittered kind. His speeches are empty boasts of hate and resentment directed toward homosexuals, people who have premarital sex, immigrants, and non-Christians, but potential voters seem to be fawning all over themselves about him. “It’s about time someone just said what we’ve all been thinking. The world would be a better place without all those filthy people!” a supporter of his breathlessly declares.
Steve isn’t so sold: “As Christians, we’re supposed to accept and love everyone,” he thinks, and so to keep Baumann’s popularity from reaching critical mass, Steve decides to also run for Congress as a thorn in Baumann’s side. As Baumann’s speech intensifies (saying things like “Make no mistake, we are in a war!” and “People think fiscal issues and moral issues are two separate things”), Steve decides to “speak for people who can’t speak for themselves” and “try to understand and show love—that is our moral duty.” Whether Steve is successful in derailing Baumann’s campaign is the main point of interest, then, in “Pass the Light.”
To their credit, director Malcolm Goodwin and writer Victor Hawks are very clear in undermining Baumann’s messages of hate, and they do a good job showing how empty his rhetoric is—he never brings up ways of solving the economy or bringing jobs back to their community, but just rides a bombastic train all the way to the top of the polls. And they also do a good job opening Steve’s eyes to the people who are being disenfranchised by Baumann, like a homosexual couple who is extremely involved in the community but who can’t be totally out because of how people would turn on them.
But where the movie falters is in then taking the next step: openly dismissing Baumann as a fraud, openly saying all gay people should be accepted in the church, openly saying premarital sex isn’t going to doom you. The film preaches love and acceptance, but somewhat generally; it doesn’t get as pointed as it should. And it also traffics in some outdated gender stereotypes, like the beautiful Jackie who of course regrets having premarital sex and Steve’s mother, who is first introduced as a sarcastic nag (“So, Satan stole all the jobs?” she deadpans in response to her husband’s initial support of Baumann) and then becomes a loyal, dedicated wife, even as her husband still refuses to find a job or care that he’s placing all the burden of their marriage on her. Those underwritten, stereotypical female characters are some of the most regressive parts of “Pass the Light.”
Nevertheless, it’s refreshing to see a faith-based film that tries to do something different in addressing the social issues dividing the Christian community rather than ignoring them. “Pass the Light” doesn’t break as much ground as it should, but it’s certainly a good start.
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