The Encounter: Paradise Lost does not follow the usual formula for filmmaking, but if you can get past the idea of it being a movie for pure entertainment, you will probably enjoy it. The premise is that a group of strangers are trapped in a resort with Jesus during a hurricane. What follows is basically one big counseling session where the characters' back stories are revealed through dialogue. It's what we call a "talking heads" film, where there is not much action, no external challenges that shape the main characters, and the primary thing happening is conversation. Though the beginning and end of the film feature small amounts of action and plot, the movie on the whole does not follow traditional film structure.
The acting is really quite unusual. It is as if the actors need to "warm up," and the first third of the movie seems more like a rehearsal with odd pauses and forced gestures. However, when the story demands true emotion, everyone does a great job! It's usually the opposite. Most times, actors are convincing right up until they have to fight, cry, or break down. At that point, the power of the scene is lost if the performance is not right-on. In this case, the actors have a hard time with the initial scenes that establish the story, but most of them deliver during the critical scenes. So, it is definitely a reversal. The only exception is Robert Miano (Bruno), who continually brings us back into the story with his excellent performance from the very start. He never breaks the threshold of believability in his scenes, and in my opinion, his character is the highlight of the movie. I also give nods to Ammy Chanicha who plays Bruno's wife, Mimi. She performs very well in some scenes I thought for sure would be more difficult for her.
It can be challenging to watch a movie with no real plot, but once you drop the expectation for that,you are free to enjoy what the dialogue is saying. The movie deals with internal issues of characters and situations that are not typically explored in film. For instance, how many movies do you see about a drug dealer who feels like something is missing in life? Or how often do you meet a stripper/call girl who grew up in a monastery? I love that the film deals with nontraditional topics like the fallacies of Eastern religions, a father overshadowed by his son's faith, or a murdering thug who loves his mama and respects her faith. These traditionally uncharted territories give the film depth and interest that would be lacking if the film had predictable characters.
Bruce Marchiano plays Jesus, and those are some big shoes to fill. To be fair, I don't usually like anyone's portrayal of Christ because no one manages to capture the fullness of how I imagine Christ to be. I'm pretty sure that is a problem for all of us. So years ago, I decided that rather than thinking of all the ways actors didn't portray Jesus well, I would focus on the one or two aspects of Christ that they did convey clearly. What strikes me in Marchiano's portrayal is the genuine excitement he shows about people's futures. It is as if Christ can barely see the broken state the people are in because of his overwhelming joy over where they will end up. Of course, he knows their pain and addressed it, but in almost every case, he speaks hope into their broken hearts by sharing that he can see their promising futures right then and there. If we had such knowledge, the "light and momentary troubles" that are so enormous tous now would seem far more bearable.
This film also deals with some heavier theological issues like free will, why God doesn’t prevent evil from affecting innocent people, and forgiveness for the heinous sinner. It gives enough explanation to convince a moderate skeptic, and it presents logical arguments for the way God manages his world. A hard-core skeptic will ask more questions, but like the film suggests, "seeing" (or understanding) God's ways often happens after you believe, not always before.
The final scene of the movie is a really good one. In terms of hope and patience, it inspires us to believeGod has a bigger commitment to our salvation than we ever imagined. All in all, this film doesn't makemy top ten list. But for some thought provoking ideas set within the medium of film rather than thepages of a book, it's definitely worth a look!
Talking Points with Kids:
Ages 6-12: This film will be a difficult one for the younger kids in this age demographic, but for the older ones, try these. What do you think about people who have spent their lives doing evil, but God offers forgiveness to them? Do you think people who haven't done a bunch of bad things deserve forgiveness more? What does the parable of the workers in the vineyard (Matthew 20) suggest about that? Revenge is an effective motivator for stopping evil, but is it a healthy one? What do you think it would take to make the police officer in this movie change?
Ages 12+: Do you know any students whose faith is greater than their parents'? What kind of challenges do they face at home, and how are those challenges similar to ones you face in work or other environments? What advice does the Bible give about those situations? What other religions are discussed in this film, and how are they addressed in reference to Christ? You must know someone o fa different faith background, how can you discuss Christ with them in the context of their faith while maintaining an attitude of respect and love?