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From COVID-cancelled stage play to hit C.S. Lewis biopic

The Most Reluctant Convert: The Untold Story of C.S. Lewis
"The Most Reluctant Convert: The Untold Story of C.S. Lewis." |

Modern entertainment is generally consumed via a process called "streaming," but if we're honest with ourselves, we have to acknowledge that what is flowing through our screens is not so much a stream as a sewer.

That's why, when something cool and clean and quenching comes bubbling forth, the smart move is to drink in as much of it as you can. The new C.S. Lewis biopic, The Most Reluctant Convert: The Untold Story of C.S. Lewis, is a marvelous opportunity. A film adaptation of a stage play by the same name, it premiered on Nov. 3rd in limited theatrical release. According to the official website and a recent press release (The Most Reluctant Convert: The Untold Story of C.S. Lewis | By Popular Demand Many Markets Now Extended Thru Nov. 18! (cslewismovie.com)) at 1.2 million dollars in receipts, it was the second-highest box office and the highest per-screen average for that evening. In other words, it was a hit - and it deserved to be. The film is solid in cinematography, set design, editing, and other technical aspects, but it really shines when it comes to the writing and performances, particularly the performance of the star Max McLean.

McLean shows us what can happen when an actor truly loves the character he plays, and loves his ideas as well. Having performed this role almost 300 times, Mclean has had a lot of opportunity to inhabit the character. But there is something a bit more "magical" here because the actor loves not just the character, but his ideas as well. Lewis was one of the great thinkers of the 20th Century (despite his popularity.) Only someone who really believes the same things as Lewis could play him with such fidelity. There's something that can't be faked no matter how much method acting and asking a director "what's my motivation" the thespian engages in. McLean believes, and we see that.

But that's not the reason I was so moved by this film that I was unable to speak for several minutes after it ended. It was the power of Lewis's words. He saw modernity and post-modernity with astonishing clarity, or more precisely, he saw through them. He can help us see through them as well.

The film, like Lewis's writing, never condescends. We are invited to eavesdrop on intellectually challenging debates between Lewis and his friends Tolkien, Dyson, and Barfield. And, like Samwise Gamgee, we might not all equally understand what we hear as we try not to drop any eaves, but we can understand enough to know that there is talk of great import about a dark lord and about the end of the world and about whether we are going to be turned into anything unnatural. McLean's script speaks up to us, not down. Some of the great themes of the philosophical battles of the 20th century are here, but they're put in plain view. I've never seen a film before which has done this so well.

The narrative structure supports the ideas. It is organized as a story within a story. A middle-aged Lewis narrates his life in retrospect, appearing in the corner of the room describing various key moments and turning points, much like Scrooge does in his travels with the Ghost of Christmas Present. Though Lewis, unlike Scrooge, speaks with the wisdom that comes after his illumination, not before. And then, as the film is about to end, the camera pans back and we can see this is all taking place on a set, with cameras and light diffusers and directors, and we are reminded once again that this has been a performance, and that the film began the same way, with film crews and equipment visible. So it is a story within a story within a story, visually representing a theme of Lewis's, that life is a great play into which the Author has written Himself as a character. Like all the best writing, the form aligns with the meaning. If all that narrative theory doesn't interest you, no worries: forget the critic-speak, and just enjoy the effect, the feeling of a God's-eye point of view.

If you missed the premiere, don’t worry, the film was so successful that its run is being extended through Nov. 18th. To find the theater closest to you go here (The Most Reluctant Convert: The Untold Story of C.S. Lewis | By Popular Demand Many Markets Now Extended Thru Nov. 18! (cslewismovie.com)), and bring some friends and family, not just because filmmaking like this deserves to be given support from us, but because filmmaking like this gives support to us.

Jerry Bowyer is financial economist, president of Bowyer Research, and author of “The Maker Versus the Takers: What Jesus Really Said About Social Justice and Economics.”

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