I watched a Christian movie just now entitled The Wager (2007), which starred Randy Travis, along with some familiar television faces, such as Candace Cameron Bure (Full House), Nancy Stafford (Matlock), and Bronson Pinchot (Perfect Strangers). And Travis’ wife at the time, Elizabeth, was involved in the making of the movie.
The movie is about a Hollywood actor, Michael Steele (Travis), who is experiencing a lot of difficulties. His wife is leaving him because he devotes too much time to his work. As a Christian, Michael does not want to do sex scenes in movies, leading to clashes with the film’s director (Pinchot). His co-star (Candace Cameron Bure) tries to seduce him, and he rebuffs her advances, but then finds himself the subject of a media-driven scandal. Later in the movie, his sister Annie (Stafford), a Christian who works in social services—with whom he is close and whom he frequently consults for guidance—dies of a disease that involves coughing up blood.
I read many reviews of the movie, and a lot of them were negative. And, to be honest, I can’t really tell you what the main idea of the movie was. The Sermon on the Mount played a significant role in it, and Michael often saw passages from the Sermon on billboards and signs that people were holding up. Near the end of the movie, as Michael is on his way to the Academy Awards—which he believes is the only means for him to salvage his crumbling career—Michael chooses instead to save a child from abuse. He follows the signs of what he believes God is telling him, even though he acknowledges that he might lose everything. But he doesn’t lose everything. The media, which before hounded him, now heralds him as a hero for saving the child’s life. He wins the Academy Award, which his wife accepts on his behalf. He gets to act, as well as direct the movie as he sees fit. His wife comes back to him. Essentially, he trusted in God, and God provided.
This aspect of the movie was very idealistic—almost too idealistic. But what I really appreciated about the movie was the spiritual journey of Michael, along with the role of his sister Annie. Before, and especially during, his struggles, Michael wondered how to follow the Sermon on the Mount. His sister told him that he can’t. After her death, when Michael is taking care of his sister’s paperwork at her office, two of her co-workers ask him why he can’t take her place as director of the agency. He responds that he does not have that special “something” that his sister had, and the co-worker responds that Annie always said that we bear fruit by being connected to the vine, namely, Jesus Christ. Indeed, his sister was a spiritual person, for she was winsome and committed to helping other people, plus I liked the part of the movie in which she and Michael were walking through the woods—and she said that she came there when she was troubled, and that she felt small whenever she beheld nature.
After Michael saves the boy, becomes a hero, and receives numerous offers for acting roles, he tells his agent (played by Jude Ciccollella, who has appeared in a number of movies) that he’s thinking of doing things other than acting. He may be implying that he’s open to working at his sister’s agency. So, in one plot-line of the movie, Michael gets everything he wants in terms of his status as an actor: an Academy Award, a chance to direct and to continue his career, etc. And yet, there is also a plot-line in the movie in which Michael does not even want those things; rather, he prefers to follow the path of humble service, as his sister did. Apparently, listening to John Hagee and other preachers in the movie quote the Sermon on the Mount influenced him!
I appreciated this movie because I, too, struggle over not feeling that I have that special “something”—that winsome quality that some Christians, or even spiritual people in general, have. The idea in this movie appears to be that we gain that quality by acknowledging our weaknesses, receiving God’s grace, and being reliant on the vine, Jesus Christ. And, apparently, the movie does not hold that going to church is sufficient for this, for, as Michael told his sister, their father went to church every week and heard the Sermon on the Mount, yet he did not live his life in all-that-Christian of a manner the other days of the week! Dependance on God is important, as far as this movie is concerned.
This movie had its flaws, but there was something beautiful about it.