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Film review: Jesus Revolution

23 June 2023

Stephen Brown reviews a film set in the 1960s

A scene from Jesus Revolution

A scene from Jesus Revolution

THE film Jesus Revolution (Cert. 12) tells one particular real-life story of the 1960s Jesus Movement. A dejected young Greg Laurie (Joel Courtney) meets Lonnie Frisbee (Jonathan Roumie), who sports the flowing locks fashionable then. Settling next to Greg on the street, he remarks: “You said you wanted God to send you a hippie.” Why is unclear.

We are introduced to Chuck Smith, pastor of Calvary Chapel in California. Kelsey Grammer plays him. Best known for Frasier and Cheers, he has appeared in several films on religious themes films, including The God Committee (Arts, 16 July 2021). He says that being offered Chuck was the answer to a prayer. Calvary’s worship is in the doldrums, as is its minister. Lonnie offers help. Implying that Chuck hasn’t found God yet (unlike him), he suggests reaching out to hippies, who are on an often misguided quest. The drug culture represents a search “for all the right things in all the wrong places”.

Herding these flower-power youths into church seems very easy. Some longer-standing congregational members are offended by their dirty bare feet, which Chuck washes in a Christ-like manner. Calvary Church comes alive with this new blood joining (or taking over from?) established worshippers. On mass excursions to the ocean, baptisms occur, following biblical precedent, on a just-turn-up basis. There’s no denying the potency of the sacrament. “It’s not something to explain,” Chuck says. “It’s something to be experienced. What you’re seeing is a symbol of new life.” He ploughs on with: “Every doubt, every regret, all washed away for ever.”

Not so. For a spell, it is all very exciting, but uncertainty and remorse befall the Church. Lonnie has marital problems that spill over into church business. There is one of those near-inevitable clashes over ecclesiastical authority. Spoiled by their own success, Chuck finds his vision at odds with Lonnie’s, perceiving his dogmatism as doggedness, and yelling, “You use the Spirit as an excuse to do whatever you want!”

Alongside church politics is a boy-meets-girl plot. Cathe (Anna Grace Barlow) is drawn to Greg. Obviously, the course of true love doesn’t run smooth.

The directors, Jon Erwin and Brent McCorkle, skilfully give us an exhilarating, feel-good ride, but not without its bumps. Christianity comes across as a comforting, mainly enjoyable, and euphoric way of living, more the ecstasy than any of the agonies of faith.

The characters’ real-life counterparts went on to found, or be associated with, organisations such as the Vineyard Movement. Lonnie, who, at the end of the film remains estranged, continued as an influential preacher. Ambivalent about his homosexuality, he eventually died of AIDS.

Greg established Harvest Crusades events, rising to national fame, not least through association with Donald Trump. Would that Jesus Revolution had pondered whether these happy hippies became the seedbed for today’s religious Right. Or is that an entirely different real-life story?

On current release

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