Breaking structure to argue faith is a recipe for critical disaster.
We all have our own belief systems. Developed and nurtured over the course of our lives, our faith in what we know gives us a strong foundation from which to build. Some feel so strongly about this knowledge that they seek out ways to communicate what they believe is the best way to approach life.
Little Boy stands as a valiant attempt to communicate a community's shared belief systems. Unfortunately, the filmmakers broke structure in order to tell of that faith.
It was going to be a very, very difficult film to produce but at the same time we were in love with the story which is about believing in the impossible.1
Clearly, the writers and producers of Little Boy wanted to say something about the importance and power of faith. The Christian values behind the film motivate every scene and help steer the narrative down a certain path. And for those who believe in that path, the film works.
I will forever be grateful for [Little Boy] because it was the film that saved my life.2
Unfortunately, not everyone believes the same thing--which places the responsibility of convincing those who don't believe squarely in the hands of the filmmakers.
Well-meaning but manipulative on a horrifically misguided scale, Little Boy is the rare faith-based film that many viewers may find legitimately offensive.3
An author sets out to convince an audience the appropriateness of a certain approach every time they sit to write a story. A story is an argument--a mixture of character, plot, theme, and genre that acts as a model of how we argue problems and solutions within our own minds. The degree to which an Author follows this model determines the acceptability and openness of an Audience to that argument regardless of their own preconceptions.
In other words, you can convince a skeptic of the importance of faith if you write a complete and convincing argument (story)...if you maintain a coherent and functional narrative.
Little Boy is written and structured as a Personal Triumph story. In these narratives, the
Story Outcome of
Failure is balanced out with a
Story Judgment of
Good. A good shorthand for Personal Triumph stories is to think the good guys lose, but they go home happy. Clearly, young Pepper (Jaokob Salvati) was meant to lose his father James (Michael Rapaport), but learn the value and importance of maintaining faith even through the most difficult of life's changes.
And that was the case--until James returns home, seemingly by magic...or faith, depending on what belief system you bring to the film.
Whether consciously or subconsciously, the act of breaking structure was meant to communicate how faith triumphs all. But in breaking that argument, the writers and producers failed to convince anyone in the Audience who didn't already believe. the question then is, are you trying to inspire an adoption in this belief system or are you merely preaching to the choir?
Many great films explore the positive effects of Faith without having to resort to breaking structure to prove it. The Verdict, Four Weddings and a Funeral, Akeelah and the Bee, and even The Matrix all make convincing arguments that Faith is an appropriate solution to life's problems. One can communicate this positive message without resorting to cheap parlor tricks.
I just wish the filmmakers didn't feel like they had to hit us over the head with all the moral pontificating to get their point across.4
And I would agree. I actually enjoyed Little Boy, but then again, I come to the film having been raised in the Catholic Church. I know the stories.
But I also know how stories work and instantly knew that this break in structure would not sit well with most Audiences.
The film is written as a Personal Triumph. A young boy's father leaves to fight in WWII and the boy hopes and prays and does good deeds all in an attempt to help his dad return home safely. To complete this argument, the father would have to remain dead in that prison camp and the boy forced to grow and find resolution in his own faith.
Breaking structure breaks the tender trust between Author and Audience. While some in the Audience may harbor reservations towards faith-based material, an Author can have an impact on them--as long as he or she maintains the integrity of the
Story Mind model. Give them a convincing and cogent argument and their minds will be open to what you have to say.