While watching the film Jesus Revolution I could not help but to think of directors Quentin Tarantino and Cameron Crowe, partly for the use of apt era-related music and the storytelling aspects, but mainly for the seamless almost lyrical style. There is helpfully no Tarantino violence, but common drug themes abound, but how could there not be in a story that emerges from the hippie lifestyle and alternate culture.
Kelsey Grammar is perfectly cast as the somewhat naive and jaded pastor Chuck Smith who connects with hippie Lonnie Frisbee (Jonathan Roumie from The Chosen) and begins a journey of renewal and change in his local church Calvary Chapel that then impacted the USA as the Jesus Movement. The wider connections in this movement included people who led during other stages of the renewal movement and the development of the independent Charismatic church movement, including the third main character in the film Greg Laurie who founded Harvest Christian Fellowship. The film is based on Greg Laurie and Ellen Vaughan’s book Jesus Revolution: How God Transformed an Unlikely Generation and How He Can Do It Again Today (2018) and tells the story from Greg’s experience.
The Quest for Meaning
The initial part of the film couples an introduction to the main characters with the 1960s era of drugs, rock and roll and sex, setting the scene for the hippies that have searched everywhere and found it all wanting and then Jesus found them.
The Power of Love and Forgiveness
There are many examples of love and forgiveness, but one that struck me was a comment by someone who was not a believer. He refers to the tent where the main worship happens, like a needed witness for the increasingly divided community that is outside. When people are praising God together there is hope, love and forgiveness.
The Power of Water
There are some moving baptism scenes, particularly Greg Laurie’s own baptism that captures well the concept of being born anew.
And Coming Home
A lovely theme is that when people come to faith in Jesus they have come home. The ‘home’ is illustrated in diverse ways including the open house arrangements, but also through the idea of providing a real home for the many who never had one.
Who would have thought that a contemporary film about a religious movement from over 50 years ago could provide a sympathetic and insightful way of understanding that time, which was in itself inspired by a person from 2000 years ago. That is why, while the people are prominent, they are secondary to the real centre of the film: people finding Jesus. This is clear in the discussions toward the end that essentially critiques the coming of the celebrity pastor by holding up as inadequate the self-image and focus that Chuck and Lonnie had begun to develop. It is also why the full, quite tragic, and difficult story of Lonnie Frisbee is not told (though there are inklings); this is not a biographical film.
A final comment. I loved the secondary storyline, namely that of the journalist who reluctantly takes up the brief to author a story for a magazine about the ‘Jesus freaks’ who have been setting up communal lives. This story became the main feature in a June 1971 edition of the magazine with the now iconic psychedelic cover: The Jesus Revolution. This illustrated reference provided a counter to a cover shown in the film from the same magazine that was headline news only five years earlier, namely ‘Is God Dead?.’ Unlike the film, that slowly reveals the name of the magazine, I will leave this point for you to view and connect the dots.
Peter Bentley is a Sydney (Australia) based writer and commentator on church, media and cultural issues. He is a former President of the Australasian Religious Press Association.