Blue Like Jazz is a call to honesty that explores the question of God’s existence, confronts the church’s problems, and examines Christianity’s relevance in our postmodern culture.
In a world where every person will have their own opinion on whether God’s existence can be proven or disproven, the film suggests that it is best to make your own decision, live as though it is true, and hopefully along the way you will discover that it is.
“To choose doubt as a philosophy of life is akin to choosing immobility as a means of transportation,” wrote Yann Martel.
Theism and atheism are both acts of faith—whether the atheist wants to admit it or not—and searching for God can seem endlessly exhausting at the very least. What can feel so true one day can seem unconvincing the next and we feel as if we will never arrive at our destination.
As shown in the movie Blue Like Jazz, many people experience this in college. I have never felt as simultaneously unsure and certain of my faith as I have during college.
“If you’re going to have an existential crisis, Portland in winter is hard to beat,” explains Donald Miller, the Southern Baptist secularist convert and main character of the movie. Like many of us, Don has been hit with the inevitable question of God’s existence at college. For him, this is prompted by the hurtful actions of his hometown church’s youth pastor.
Resentful of his church, he accepted his free-minded father’s offer to pay for his education at the infamously liberal and secular Reed College in Portland instead of a conservative Southern Baptist college barely outside his zip code.
Set on the school’s active campus, peppered with the stereotypically eccentric products of a liberal education, every shot in Blue Like Jazz contains something to marvel at. Blue appears in every scene as the film traces Don’s doubts, faith and feelings about God and the Church, and the color visualizes Don’s feelings so we can better relate to him on his journey.
With a colorful soundtrack by independent musicians, every moment is framed between what seems like the most fitting songs possible. The characters Don encounters at school are dynamic, ultimately including Don as well, and his friends come from a variety of backgrounds.
The two professors portrayed in the movie are powerful figures and represent the opening of the mind and the destruction of pre-established worldviews. At first, these characters intimidate Don, but he eventually owes them his thanks.
The movie presents an honest look at why many people question the faith.
While I have chosen to believe in Christianity, the movie Blue Like Jazz also points out many people struggle to accept that faith because some Christians throughout history have committed hateful and tyrannical acts. The use of Christianity for personal agenda such as these makes Christianity and the idea of religion look like a cloak for prejudice and power.
This can certainly scare off people who are searching for something to believe. To a lesser degree, the movie shows how it does not help that Christians have a list of things we are supposed to do—give to the poor, promote peace, resist violence, refrain from judging others, love unconditionally—but don’t always accomplish.
Most disappointing is the fact that many Christians are religious for the sake of our own security after we die, a reason which contradicts the very identity of the person we claim to follow.
To the secular world, Christianity seems paradoxical and, for some people, a pious-looking guise for judgment and personal gain. The choice between God and not-God becomes an easy one for many people, as the idea of God has become entangled in the most unfortunate aspects of our humanity.
As Don struggles to reconcile his faith and the church, he delves deeper into the world of questions and exploration, understanding new ideas and meeting some of his closest friends—all of whom, with the exception of one, do not believe in God.
History, literature and philosophy become a part of Don’s life for the first time and, over the course of his first semester, he gives up on religion.
Through his walk without God, as he studies harder and harder and grows closer and closer to his friends at Reed, Don discovers a remarkable correlation between his friends’ and classmates’ lack of religious beliefs and actions that he once thought only Christians could display.
As Don returns to faith, Blue Like Jazz reveals a newer, realer kind of Christianity, one more intimately linked to its original intentions. If Christians everywhere adhered to this, we could change the faith of our faith and compel otherwise uninterested people to experience God.
Blue Like Jazz bears an important message for any person touched or hurt by the church and is a movie that every college student who desires the key to a relevant and authentic faith should see.
– Benjamin Smith, Contributing Writer