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Blue Like Jazz: Movie & The Book

Blue Like Jazz: Movie & The Book

When Donald Miller’s Blue Like Jazz came out in 2003 and was the “must read” book throughout most of the decade in the Christian community I thought “this will be the book for me.”

It wasn’t.

I mean, it should have been.  Lifetime Christian questioning the structures of his religious upbringing while attending “America’s most liberal campus”; Reed College…sounds like something that would immediately warm my heart.

It didn’t.

Maybe it was a narrative that seemed to go all over the place (I know, its supposed to…like Jazz)

Maybe it was that fact that I was already living in the very liberal college town of Boulder Colorado and didn’t need anymore “fuzzy around the edges” in my life.

Maybe it was the famous scene in the book where they set up the “confession booth” and ask forgiveness of non-Christians for all the bad stuff Christians had done like…you know like, the Crusades! (I thought, “Really, this guy is taking responsibility for a political conflict that occurred 1000 years ago.  Couldn’t Christians apologize for something a little more recent and relevant…you know, like maybe Jerry Falwell?)

Whatever the reason, Blue Like Jazz remained on my bookshelf with a bookmark about 3/4 of the way through…unfinished.

Recently though Donald Miller was being interviewed on a podcast I listen to and he was talking about how the movie had come out and they screened it at Reed College.

That got my interest!

Miller, in the interview was pretty humble and engaging.  He talked about how some conservative groups he thought would hate the movie, loved it and some more “progressive” groups didn’t.  Go figure…  Miller went on to talk about the screening at Reed and how 2000 people who came out at first to mock the movie, instead were by the films end, silent and reflective.

I was intrigued! I got home that evening and watched the movie in my living room.  (How did I watch the movie in Hong Kong you ask?  Well, lets just say, this is Asia and when I meet Donald Miller one day, I owe him 10 bucks)

The movie itself takes the narratives from the book and loosely translates them into the fictional account of Don, a southern Baptist teen heading off to his first year at a Christian university.  He discovers though that his hyper religious mother is having an affair with the youth pastor and in an act of rebellion to spite his mother, church, and faith, heads off to the very secular Reed College. 

Under the direction of Steve Taylor, the iconic 1980s Christian rocker who was popping religious church balloons far before it became fashionable, Blue Like Jazz creatively navigates a difficult tension between showing the real challenge a Christian has in engaging a “real world”…and not showing so much of that “real world” that no one under 18 is allowed to watch it. 

At the film’s beginning Don lives in a Christian bubble.  Anyone who has lived in that bubble and has come out will cringe at some of the scenes depicted here including when Don, before heading off to Christian college, is made to stand in front of the church in full Sunday School issued “armor of God” costume.

Like anybody living in that bubble though and then stepping out, the initial steps can be disastrous.  Don quickly succumbs to the temptations of Reed College and from there the film spends the remainder of the story reestablishing his faith on more solid ground than how he had begun.  The film concludes with the infamous “confession booth” from the book but which was much more emotionally relevant…especially as it didn’t focus on apologizing for the Crusades.

Blue Like Jazz is not for everyone and certainly pushes the boundary of what can be considered a “Christian” movie.   My guess though is the film’s creator’s didn’t set out to make a “Christian” movie.  They set out to make a film about how one discovers a legitimate faith in Christ that can replace the cultural doppelganger Christianity that is so pervasive in America and the West.  A faith in Christ that can stand in the storm of modern voices that ridicule it.

Blue Like Jazz accomplishes this.  Its not a “great” movie…but its pretty darn good! 

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  • Steve, I am a huge Donald Miller fan and I loved Blue Like Jazz (the book). The movie got a lot of press here in Nashville as Taylor is from here and the big push to raise money for it took place here.

    I went to see the movie and as I told my wife, definitely not for the faint of heart. But still an underlying message that’s pretty good.

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