'The Wise Man' is a short film that I wrote, directed and produced in 2008/09. Youtube link
The film has an intentionally religious subtext, which will be the focus of this article. I will evaluate the film based on whether it achieves its aims and intentions, rather than whether it is a popular or well liked film.
The film is less than 3 minutes in length. It is about a young man seeking wisdom from an older man. The older man has no wisdom to offer, no matter how many questions the young man asks. He asks questions about life, death and God but gets no answers.
The film has 'hidden' Christian elements and symbols. I am a Christian myself, and I believe in evangelizing and defending the faith. The main intention of the film is to get the audience thinking about issues of life that I believe are critically important.
The intention of the film is not to preach. Although the film leans towards Christianity, the intention is not to tell people what I believe is the truth, but rather encourage people to assess their own beliefs.
These intentions can be seen in the questions the young man is asking: “What is the meaning of it all?” “What happens when we die?” “What about God?” These questions are asked of the older man, but they are aimed directly at the audience. I intended for the audience to reflect on the film and to ask similar questions of themselves.
Another intention is to cynically assess society through my eyes as a believer in God. The film intends to say that society is lacking in wisdom, belief and direction. It also intends to imply that older generations have nothing of importance to pass down. To achieve this, the audience is supposed to feel disappointed, annoyed and deflated by the film, particularly the ending.
The ending was inspired by the ending of 'The Graduate', and the ending of 'There will be blood'. Both these movies have fantastically deflating endings that are unforgettable. The end of 'The Wise Man' was the only part of the film I was not open to any compromise, even though almost everyone who read the script before the film was made wanted it changed.
People were uncomfortable with the script for different reasons. The main criticism people expressed about the film was that they didn't get it; that they didn't know what I was trying to say. Some people involved in the film were irritable, suggesting the film needed a 'good' ending. Although a 'good' ending may have made the film better, the intended meaning of the film would have been lost.
Apart from my intention to convey religious overtones, the film was made as a learning experience. This is the first film that I have made and my main goal was simply to complete it.
From my perspective 'The wise man' is moralistic fiction, as it aims to comment on and question morals and beliefs in society.
Kozlovic argues that religious, particularly biblical, subtexts in film can serve a crucial role in “culture-creation” (2003:318). Christianity can become accessible through film to the current generation. He also argues that film can provide new insights into Christian ideas, even for theologians.
Kozlovic argues that the use of Christian subtexts in film can be “seen as a legitimate Christian duty to “scrutinise the signs of the times” (Matt. 16:3)” (2003:332).
Kozlovic's views are such that he would likely approve of the aims and intent of 'The Wise Man'.
Gardner (1976) also comments on religion in fiction, arguing that good fiction, or 'true' fiction, is highly moralistic. This is because fiction, good and bad, has a dramatic effect on society. Although 'The Wise Man' would appear to fit Gardner's description of moral or good fiction it actually does not. This is because 'The Wise Man' intends to be cynical - commenting that society lacks direction, meaning, and any sort of belief. Gardner objects strongly to cynicism of this sort, arguing that it is worse than “the cult of sex and violence” (1976:512).
Although the cynicism of my film means that it would not fit Gardner’s criteria for ‘good’ fiction, I feel this does not devalue the film because I did not set out to make moral fiction according to any particular definition.
Overall, people expressed to me that they liked the film, but most people said they didn't understand it. They praised the cinematography and production, but had polite criticisms about the script. At best, people said the script was 'interesting' or 'clever'. I feel that I achieved my aim of not making the film preachy. There is no direct message, and the confusion that people expressed about the film shows this. Whether the film has had any effect on anyone in relation to religion or beliefs is unknown.
The confusion that came from the film made people ask questions, but it seemed they were more about the meaning of the film, rather than the questions posed. No one has said to me that the film really got them thinking about the importation things in life, yet it did lead to religious discussions and even debate on occasions while I was present. A few people have expressed that the film was pretty negative and pessimistic, although I am unsure if anyone has read the film as a reflection on society.
Gardner, John (1876) 'Moral Fiction', The Hudson Review, 29:4, 497-512
Kozlovic, Anton Karl (2003) 'Sacred subtexts and popular film: a brief survey of four categories of hidden religious figurations', Journal of Contemporary Religion, 18:3, 317 — 334