I’m sure most of us are familiar with Donald Miller’s collection of memoir-like essays entitled Blue Like Jazz: Nonreligious Thoughts on Christian Spirituality, because of its requirement in many of our INST 150 classes. When I read the novel, I instantly fell in love with Miller’s wit and down-to-earth perspective on God and religion. He is honest and willing to share pieces of his life that don’t adhere to typical Christian standards. He shares his trouble, doubt, hope and joy, leading the reader to understand God as real and faith as easily-accessible. So, when Miller teamed up with Steve Taylor to turn Blue Like Jazz into a movie, I knew I had to see it.
As a film, Blue Like Jazz focuses on only one aspect of Miller’s novel. Don (Marshall Allman) is a nineteen-year-old boy who grew up in a small town in Texas. He’s a Southern Baptist and extremely committed to his church as the assistant youth pastor. Don plans to attend a nearby Bible college until he catches his mother and the pastor sharing intimate eye contact. He then rebels by leaving his hypocritical church life behind and heads to Reed College, a liberal-arts school in Portland, Oregon – known as the most godless campus in America. He is quickly thrown into a culture where civil disobedience is embraced and Christianity is forbidden. Befriended by Lauyrn, an eccentric lesbian (Tania Raymonde), Penny, a kind-hearted activist (Claire Holt), and The Pope, a chaotic skeptic (Justin Welborn), Don begins his journey of exploration. He is quick to hide his religious past and seeks freedom in self-gratifying acts like drinking and partying. All the while, Don desperately tries to leave his anger behind and find himself. His past lifestyle is revealed when he gives a public apology for the many horrible actions of the church and for turning his back on his own faith.
There are a few scenes in the movie that viewers might not understand if they hadn’t read Miller’s novel. For example, images of Don as a rabbit chasing a “sexy carrot” on a motorcycle and a scene of Don as an astronaut floating through space.
The film strongly promotes individuality and acceptance. I applaud the movie for not condemning those that do not believe in Christianity. Blue Like Jazz has no problem mixing those of faith and their sins, just as Donald Miller did in his novel. The movie is spiritual and faith based in the most liberating and tolerant way.
I loved the film, just as I loved the novel, because it was made for Christians who have been damaged by fundamentalist beliefs, Christians who are living in a contemporary and liberal world, Christians who roll their eyes at hypocritical believers, but can sing along to every hymn. It was made for modern-day Christians living in the in-between, just like Don is. It was made for people trying to discover what they truly believe, and who they truly are.