If this is the dynamic of art—reaching into reality, being changed by it, and revealing that transformative truth to others—then we can understand why books, films, or paintings that only serve as a vehicle for spreading an idea fail as art. Formally speaking, they are more akin to propaganda, even if they use the material of art. Writing a song because I want more people to buy my brand of toothpaste may be a valuable commercial move, but it is not art. Making a movie because I want more people to acknowledge St. Augustine as the greatest doctor of the Latin Church may be laudable catechesis, but it won’t turn into art.I know I won't be seeing Restless Heart, the movie about St. Augustine -- the film seems to have re-written his life as a simplistic thriller.
We can learn a lot about the problems of Catholic filmmaking from Christian Duguay’s new film Restless Heart, a dramatized account of St. Augustine’s life and conversion. As a film,Restless Heart has its high points, even if in general it suffers from poor pacing and uninspiring dialogue. As a biography of a great theologian, the film fares worse; recognizing the difficulties in staging most of Augustine’s life (How does one film a gradual conversion from Skepticism to Neo-platonism?), Restless Heart blithely invents a more exciting history for him, turning the troubled young professor of rhetoric into a hotshot lawyer with a devil-may-care attitude who, after cooperating in a massacre of Milanese Christians, miraculously converts and triumphs over all his adversaries, notably including a scene in which all the heretical Donatist bishops in North Africa agree that the Roman Church has the true faith, and seal their conversion with group hugs.Drama springs from change, which makes the Christian life of constant change and conversion uniquely dramatic. But when the primary "Christian" paradigm of art becomes one of trivializing and sensationalizing Christianity to fit into a mass-market package, then the true interior drama of being transformed through the renewal of our minds (Rom. 12:2) is lost.