I think Don Miller is pretty cool. If you’ve spent any time around me, you already know this. I’ve been reading his books for a couple of years now. He seems like the kind of guy you could sit down with at a coffee shop and talk for hours, which might be why I keep reading.
The reason could also be that his work is real. Don doesn’t sugar coat life or faith or the hard work it takes to get where you want to go. So I was thrilled to learn his memoir, “Blue Like Jazz,” was going to be made into a movie. And after this surge of anticipation came a wave of dread. Books turned movies don’t always translate well (“The Lightning Thief” anyone?).
As a book, Blue Like Jazz is a beautiful fusion of faith and wrestling and life and interactions with people that seem really off-beat (in the best way.) To be honest, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from the film. Many movies under the “Christian” label can be quite biased and unrealistic. This movie could also swing in the opposite direction, creating a piece devoid of any deeper meaning.
After I saw the movie this past Friday, I was happy to find that Blue Like Jazz is delightfully balanced, showing both the reality of life (specifically college life) and all of its complexities when you throw in wrestling with faith.
Sure, there will be the people who may expect a sermon and will not be happy with the fact that the movie doesn’t end with Don’s character parading around the campus of Reed College handing out Bibles and yelling, “Repent!” There will also be people who won’t like it because of all the God talk. But, ultimately, this movie serves as a great discussion piece. Not to say that the cinematography wasn’t good or that the dialogue felt forced. But the movie is more than close-ups and funny one-liners. Blue Like Jazz is a movie that isn’t afraid to wrestle with the larger life questions and refuses to present clear-cut answers simply because we all have our own experiences, which almost never produce a neat answer when we add them all together. Life is art, not math.
There are certainly big differences between the book’s accounts and the movie’s portrayal. But the film tells a good story (and, really, isn’t that what a movie should accomplish?). There is one scene I keep coming back to where Don’s character is speaking with his father. His dad is sitting on a lawn chair outside of his trailer, drinking a beer, and listening to Coltrane when he says two lines that have stuck with me: “Life is like Jazz music. It doesn’t resolve.” This is the main theme I took away from the movie. It’s a theme that is nuanced, and certainly opens the floor to discussion.
All of the people Don interacts with along the way (Penny, Lauryn, “the Pope”) are three-dimensional. They are not dismissed as heathens or God girls or merely intellectuals. There’s depth to them, qualities that made them all human. This is perhaps my favorite aspect of the movie, mostly because I can relate. I have a friend who reminds me of Lauryn and a friend who is pretty much “the Pope” (minus the mitre). And these friends have struggles and beauty and flaws. And yet, I feel that some would box them in, then write in big, bold, Sharpie letters “THE LESBIAN” and “THE PAGAN.” Blue Like Jazz shows that people are more than the sum of their labels without being preachy. That in and of itself is quite a feat. I hope movies (both Hollywood and “Christian”) will take a hint from this movie and create more films with complex characters.
Ultimately, I enjoyed the film not because it was made by a Christian author or marketed to a specific audience. I enjoyed the movie because it is refreshing, because it is honest, because it celebrates the very human freedom to question and draw conclusions from our own messy and beautiful experiences.
It has been five days since I’ve seen this movie. For whatever reason, I can’t stop listening to John Coltrane.
Listen to a song by Coltrane here: Acknowledgement by John Coltrane from the album A Love Supreme