Words by Scott Axtmann
I watch a lot of movies with my family. It’s what we do. It’s sort of our frequent ritual to find something on Netflix or iTunes that is meaningful to watch. Many nights we are left disappointed. Sometimes we are uplifted. And occasionally we are left undone.
The Florida Project was just such one of those movies that left me deeply affected. It was honestly a little hard to watch, at times, but I found myself drawn in, and feeling things in a way that stayed with me for days. In fact, I’m writing this a week after watching the movie and my eyes are welling up with tears just thinking about it.
From a pure film standpoint it was unique. It was unpolished and raw. The movie was stripped of music almost entirely which gave it a realness. The imagery of Orlando kitschy architecture and stunning Florida skies made the cinematography interesting. But what tore my heart apart were the characters.
I don’t think the movie was based on a true story but there’s no question that, in a general sense, it was based on a million stories. The main characters are wildly flawed and have a range of issues including stealing, anger, violence, irresponsible parenting, disrespect of others and prostitution, just to name a few. The young girl in the story is maybe seven and is already getting caught up in the current of bad waters.
Despite the long list of deficiencies you can’t help but adore these characters. You see qualities in each of them that are so beautiful and lovable and funny you are brought to tears. Like the motel manager’s fierce demonstration of protectiveness for the kids living at the motel. Like the prostitute mom’s affection for her daughter. Or like the daughter’s profound bond to her best friend. These are hints that underneath the outward dirt lies a treasure of virtue aching to bloom free.
One of the questions theologians often argue about is whether people are inherently good or inherently bad. Some lean toward the idea that everyone is utterly morally depraved. Others stress that people are good because they are made in the image of a loving God. Experience teaches me that, in some mysterious way, both of these realities are true. I can’t deny that from as long as I can remember I have had an inclination to do wrong things. But I’ve also had within me a desire to love and to be good.
We sense that we are living in a beautifully designed world that has become hopelessly marred. This universal sickness is precisely what the Christian faith solves.
The Christian faith addresses this paradox. It teaches that God designed people as reflections of his goodness. But this original design was thrown into disarray when Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit. This act of rebellion infected everything from people to plants to animals to the whole universe. Everything was knocked off balance and corrupted. I feel like we all kind of know this deep down. We sense that we are living in a beautifully designed world that has become hopelessly marred. This universal sickness is precisely what the Christian faith solves.
While watching The Florida Project I found myself seeing past the corruption of the characters into the beauty and uniqueness of God’s design. I found myself overflowing with love for people who are outwardly not so lovely. Someone once said, “love is blind”. While watching The Florida Project I felt like I tasted that sort of wonderful blindness in small measure. It’s a nice way to think about people.
Scott grew up in Western Massachusetts and came to the faith at the age of 21. As the outcome of his transformed life, he founded and now Pastors Renaissance Church and CityLove.