One day I will tell the behind the scenes story of what it took to get this film to Topeka but not today. Today I focus on the film.
The storyline is simple enough – the life of Rich Mullins. He is the author of the song Awesome God as well as hundreds of others. He was part of a resurgence of contemporary Christian music movement in the 80’s and 90’s. The film documents his struggles with his faith, addictions, and insecurities as his songs were some of the most popular in the world of contemporary Christian music.
While we are on the subject, if Awesome God is the only Rich Mullins song you know – please stop reading this and get on YouTube or something and start listening to his other music. Awesome God is not even close to being the best song he ever wrote. In fact, just go buy two albums to start with – Never Picture Perfect and A Liturgy, A Legacy, and a Ragamuffin Band. These two will get you started.
I struggle what to write about the film. It’s not a “Christian” movie. I hate that term as no object in and of itself can be “Christian.” But I need to tell you that before you run off to see this film expecting a Facing the Giants, Flywheel or Courageous kind of movie. It’s nothing like those films. If you are looking for a nice, neat film with a simple conflict/resolution arch of a story – Ragamuffin isn’t for you.
Ragamuffin is a dark, brooding film that exposes the insecurity and grit of Rich Mullins’ faith. It’s messy. It doesn’t resolve. It’s redemptive and agonizing. All of which I think is authentic not only to Rich, but to Jesus as well.
The acting and cinematography are top shelf. The cinematography draws you into this film from the start. It’s a rich palette of colors and depth. Michael Koch who plays Rich in the film delivers an incredible performance considering that whoever played Rich would have to be able to play multiple instruments, sing, and do so while being true to Rich’s eccentric, authentic faith without pushing the performance into a sappy mess of emotion.
The film gives you this immediate sense of a journey that isn’t going to be simple or clean. Rich’s struggle with alcohol, materialism, and insecurity take center stage – some argue to much so. His dysfunctional relationship with his dad is all to familiar but what I loved about the film was there was no blaming the dad on the sins of the son. Rich’s ‘sins’ are his. He owns them. Not because of his dad or his friends but because of himself.
The film’s crucial scene is Rich coming to terms with the love of his fathers – earthly and heavenly. Both love him – this much he knows. However, neither of them love him in a way he understands or can accept. Nor do either of these fathers love in a way that is expected. Rich’s process to understand these loves and to experience them are worth the price of the movie alone.
The movie is award worthy. It’s that good. To have a great movie you must have great acting, great filming, and a great story. It’s got all three. If you are looking for something to compare it to – I’d suggest The Passion by Mel Gibson. Ragamuffin does not have near the graphic violence but the quality of the movie is on that level. Personally, I think it’s better than The Passion.
For some this movie will give to much focus to Rich’s struggles as opposed to his victories and music. For some, they will want more of his music and ministry on the Rez. I understand the critique, I just don’t think that would have been the best choice as to how to shoot the story of Rich’s life.
Mainly because I don’t think that is the kind of movie Rich would have approved. Rich loved living and ministering on the Rez but wanted no credit or attention for it. I’m pretty sure Rich wouldn’t have wanted a movie about his life in the first place but if a movie was going to be done, it would have to be uncomfortably authentic. Because that was what Rich was – uncomfortably authentic – even in his concerts. It’s what made him free to experience the full love of God. Without the authenticity, there would have been no real redemption or freedom.
That’s the whole point of Rich’s understanding of Jesus – the more masks we put on, the less of Jesus we get. I think the director David Schultz gets this and I think this is why he choose to keep the film…well…some would say “dark”, I would say authentic to the journey of a ragamuffin.