I love when I get a text or phone call from a friend saying, “Have you seen X?”. I love recommendations, and I love chatting movies with friends, and that’s all made better when it’s followed up with, “It’s on Netflix!”. A Week Away was one-such recommendation sent to me from a dear friend of mine. He knows I like musicals. He knows I like teen dramas. A Week Away has both of these, and yet… I’m not sure it was for me.
Before getting into the meat of it, something fun that happened while watching A Week Away was being reminded me of other movies I’ve watched. I don’t know why, but A Week Away kept bring so many other movies to mind, and I’m not sure if that’s because I wasn’t engaged or if it’s because I’ve seen simply too many movies to count. My brain is bursting forth with movie references, trivia, and imagery to the point that I can’t just relax and watch a film anymore. I’m always thinking, what a chore!
A Week Away, for some reason, got me thinking of how another Netflix film, Paddleton, ends. If you’ve seen Paddleton, you’ll be thinking, “What? What, Melvin? How did A Week Away get you thinking of Paddleton?” To which I answer; I don’t know! But if that doesn’t get you scratching your head, it also reminded me of the last episode of Invincible, and that’s far stranger than Paddleton if you ask me!
For obvious reasons, as A Week Away is a film set during a Christian sleep-away camp, I thought of the reality game-show Killer Camp. Along the same lines, I also thought of kid-Jason Vorhees flying out of the lake water, and Sleepaway Camp. Oh, and Shazam! for some reason!
Look, I don’t know, my mind is an enigma (queue the spilled milk gif).
As for A Week Away itself, like the actual movie and not what it made me think about, the movie is mostly… okay. But, even though I was a church-going teen who visited a few church camps, and even remembers having that childish “falling in love with someone in a week” thing that all other church kids had, I never really connected with A Week Away. Not in the sense that I connect with a WandaVision or a Bo Burnham: Inside. Looking deeper than just their superficial characteristics, I think I connect more with the genuine and tangible nature of those projects over the, I feel, superficial and placating nature of A Week Away. That’s not to say that I’m offended by A Week Away (reference the title of this post, in case you forgot), because A Week Away is purposefully inoffensive and undeniably harmless. But, it’s actually because it’s so inoffensive and harmless that I find it frustrating.
Something difficult about the current iteration of Christian culture here in the west is that it’s based on several decades of homogenization. It’s built on popularizing specific cultural touchstones that signal to others that you’re “Christian” without actually having to be like Christ. You don’t need to have love for others or sit with them while they’re weeping to signal you’re a safe and loving person, you just need to shop at Hobby Lobby and virtue signal that you listen to the Ask Pastor John podcast (sweats because we do that in our Resources tab of the website). It’s ironic because it’s often Christians (and therefore the political right) who verbalize their frustration over the mere act of virtue signaling.
You can practically see the caricature before you: “They’re not being genuine,” your church-loving father who’s twice been an elder saying, “Those [insert currently vilified cultural group] is just signaling their allegiance. They’re barely social justice warriors. They’re keyboard warriors.” And then, immediately after he says that, he turns to the woman at the Chick-Fil-A register and says, “Can I get extra chick-fil-a sauce?” After eating his ‘Chikin’ sandwich, he plays KLove on the ride home and sings the chorus to Reckless Love.
Am I ranting? Sure. That’s fine. It’s practically warranted since A Week Away has jokes about Braveheart which, if you didn’t know, is considered the gospel of masculinity for many evangelicals. If it’s not Mel Gibson’s fictional depiction of William Wallace, it’s Teddy Roosevelt or John Wayne. It’s filled to the brim with that same sense of virtue signaling which evangelical culture, as its married itself further and further into the political right, so desperately hates.
Virtue-signaling, by the way, is not a bad thing. It’s healthy to signal to people you’re safe. I have no qualms with people helping others feel safe with one another, and that’s one of the important traits Paul is trying to clarify in 1 Corinthians 9:19-23. Being all things to all people requires we be safe for all people, and that requires a sense of tender engagement and self-awareness to not repel or offend others. Why? Paul makes it very clear: “To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some.” (1 Corinthians 9:22). Yet, what good is signaling to others safety – if for the sake of sharing the gospel – when all that’s offered is superficiality?
I say this because A Week Away is both incredibly superficial and very vague in terms of its theology. If I can get ahead of any criticism: I 100% do not think that’s a bad thing. Also, I’m not even asking that the film be overt about baptism, the trinity, or its eschatology. My gosh, what a boring request to ask of a teen-drama musical set at church camp. That would be so dull and disastrous to watch, but I guess I’m a tad curious how someone could do it (Uh-oh, I think I convinced myself that it’d be a fun movie to watch!).
Again, I’m not offended by A Week Away being vague or superficial. I’m not offended by A Week Away at all. But, often this pursuit to be vague in evangelical circles is to ensure more audience availability for Christians across multiple denominations. In other words: it’s about profit. For instance, this film… just try and figure out if it’s Catholic or Protestant, then figure out which denomination of Protestantism. Again, I don’t need a film to start quoting a specific Systematic. That’s the last thing I want. That sounds so boring. But I am uncomfortable with the wealth of Christian-targeted content whose pursuit of financial viability is above its genuine or tangible reason for existing.
Take a Malick for example. Malick films at the very least produce deeply profound and thought provoking faith-based concepts that feel genuine and tangible to himself as a content creator. His work exudes himself. They’re personal. They feel like real projects made by real people. I’m not saying A Week Away needs to become pretentious (which is occasionally a criticism of Malick), but because it’s a faith-based film in the midst of a Christian culture that has married both the right and capitalism, profits are more important than posits. To be genuine, real, authentic, and perhaps show something even remotely “un-Christian” would be social suicide. Christian’s producing a film similar to Malick’s A Hidden Life, which clearly has subtext regarding the 2016 election, Trumpism, and how Christians overtly supported a candidate whose Access Hollywood tape would be enough to make any grandmother’s heart stop, would be led to the evangelical chopping block. Funny. The punishment for not vaguely virtue signaling would be cancelling, and the religious political right would continue to bask in its irony like a burning, leathery man who fell asleep on a Florida beach. Maybe he’s from Mar-a-Lago.
This has been and continues to be the case in a lot of evangelical circles and, I believe, is part of what continues to contribute to an increasing lack of biblical knowledge: most evangelicals consume Christian content that is often lacking in depth because Christian book sellers and distributors want to reach a wider audience and thus will not challenge their audience. Rather than reading the Bible and being swayed by the inerrant Word of God, most cultural Christians are limiting themselves to quick primers on topics so that they can win arguments, not so that they can endure the hardship of past sin, present struggles, or future anxieties. Not so they can win over “the weak” for the sake of their souls.
To that end, I suppose you could say I am offended by this movie, but not really because of it. I’m offended by the focus on mass appeal and profitability, and the system that continues to produce such content. And I’m disappointed that I have experienced the consequential hurt of those who’ve invested heavily within religious political capitalism. To even make it personal, if Christians are so focused on mass appeal and general engagement, not willing to endure challenging material (whether a created art piece, the complications of other human lives, or even the Bible itself, which is plenty challenging), then it’s not a surprise that most Christian leadership I’ve engaged don’t quite understand how to endure the hardship of mental health, or have an incomplete view of working alongside addicts. But, I suppose at the end of the day, the cultural Christian can merely throw their hands in the air and say, “Well, just trust in God, pray, and lean on Jesus!” as if that wasn’t what people were already trying to do when they’re in the midst of horrible suffering, both external or internal, physical or mental.
It’s this lack of nuance and depth that often makes phrases like the above so frustrating because they’re now as wholly vapid as the material it’s being influenced by. If one were to clap back and say “What does trusting God look like? How does prayer work? And Jesus is not physically here, so what does that mean for me to lean on Him in this present moment?”, I am sure the response would be, “Oh, well, I’m not sure. Just have faith.” To which one may throw up their hands in response, but not in worship. Rather, in defeat.
The joy of faith is that it produces action, but if the Christian is not learning to engage action in direct manners, just as a child is not learning how to walk, then why are we expecting Christians to run? And the joy of this metaphor is that babies aren’t usually guided in their walking, they simply, at some point, decide independently that they want to go somewhere faster than a crawl, so they try walking. It’s that simple: babies learn how to walk by watching adults. They see how their parents did it and soon begin doing it themselves.
If Christians are only engaging material like A Week Away – which, on its own, appropriately has its place – and are merely watching the equivalent of adults crawling on their knees, we are foolish to expect them to run the marathon Paul encourages them to race (Hebrews 12:1-3). These are but children still suckling at their mother’s breast. They have never gone from milk to solid food. Leaning on Jesus is no more valuable than the dregs of a coffee cup reheated in the microwave thrice. No nutritional value, no leftover caffeine, only the grotesque stench of an unclean kitchen appliance.
A Week Away has its place. It’s not in my place, but it has its place when what it has to offer isn’t in every place. I like nonsense when I can get it and some of my favorite movies are considered largely nonsense by the general public, but in a more metatextual sense I found this bothersome, culturally offensive, and mostly uninteresting.
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Melvin Benson is the Founder, Editor-In-Chief, and Lead Host of Cinematic Doctrine. He’s written fiction and nonfiction for over a decade with short stories featured on the Creepypasta Wiki and Wattpad. His novelette Ethereal Temptation, a teen drama with a tinge of magical-realism, can be read for free here. His hope is to see King Jesus glorified as far as the east is from the west!