Film review: the War Room - portraying a suburban alternative to the Benedict Option

War-Room_300It also proves that Christian morality sells - the film making is not that great, but the message is good and that is why it is popular! I went to see this film because I noticed that it has been in the top three in box office receipts since it was released; and because it is clearly Christian in inspiration and is pushing a moral and spiritual message.

The War Room is about a troubled marriage in which the wife begins to pray for her husband and we see how this changes her and in turn her interaction with her husband and their daughter for the good. The plot is simple, the message is moral and uplifting and the portrayal of the prayer, if  a little on the protestant charismatic side of things for my temperament, is authentic, I think. There are no appearances of angels or visions - which while they do happen in reality are not the experience of most people in their relationship with God and so this helps to give the film a down to earth reality. The prayers are answered with happy results that work their way through via positive outcomes in ordinary events. All negative turns in the plot were neatly and happily resolved (and perhaps over simply treated).

The reviews of the film are mixed. Some critics, I sense, are reacting to the message itself which is good and overtly Christian. This can work both ways depending on the personal belief of the critic. Others do seem to be trying to detach from their personal beliefs and critique the quality of the film making. Most of the latter do not like it. Even in my inexpert opinion it could have been a lot better - the dialogue is wooden, the interplay between the characters is superficial and unsophisticated and the jokes are fairly obvious. This is no Christian Woody Allen film...but still, I do think it is worth seeing! I can see why it is popular and despite the negatives, I found myself genuinely enjoying it. I was uplifted by the message and it transmitted a strong affirming message of faith.

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I am pleased that such a film was made and is so popular. What this tells me is that the market for good films is huge and if something like this, notwithstanding the negatives can be so popular, then anything that has the essential elements of truth and is at the same time well made cannot help but be a box office smash. Furthermore, it seems to me, if it were in addition overtly Catholic, then it would have the popularity of the Sound of Music and It's a Wonderful Life all rolled into one.


The 'war room' of the title is the converted closet that became he inner sanctuary of prayer. The young wife in the family posted prayer requests on the wall, prayed and then checked them when they were answered. She had been instructed by an elder mentor to develop a prayer strategy in the real war, which was not as she supposed, against her husband, but against the devil and his influence.

There is a point here for those of the Benedict Option mentality who wish to retreat from society, re-group and then emerge at some point in the future when the next Charlemagne creates a safe environment to be openly Christian. This film is about personal transformation and engagement, rather than withdrawal. I do think that retreat is needed but it is not geographical or cultural, but spiritual. The wilderness is the place where we meet the devil and we deal with him in prayer, then we emerge to engage with society wherever we are now, transformed by prayer. The inner room is the symbol of the place inside ourselves where we pray and engage with our demons. As I was watching I was thinking how a similar film could show the person engaging in the pattern of prayer described by Benedict XVI in his paper on the New Evangelization, and the person was praying not in the broom closet, but to the home altar or icon corner! The film strikes me as being closer to the Benedict XVI Option of personal transformation in Christ by which we transfigure the culture right where we are now; than it is the Benedict Option.

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Interestingly, there was an, apparently inadvertent, reference to the need for praying for the dead. I don't know if the protestant film producers did this consciously but as my friend Fr Nick, with whom I went to see the film, pointed out, it probably wasn't  a deliberate pitch for the existing of purgatory (which it can only have reflected in logic). Rather, it reflected something that is innate, a desire to pray for those who are gone, which has been planted in us by God.

I doubt that this film is going to convert many non-Christians, but I think it would act to help reinforce a lukewarm faith - this seemed to be what it was trying to do. The protagonists were just that, people of faith who were not fervent until the events of the story caught up with them. Nevertheless, it is heartening that a film is of ordinary quality in other ways should be so successful. It demonstrates, perhaps, that, despite what Hollywood is supposed to believe, morality sells!