By Eric Estes –
*Eric is a pastor serving Lutheran Church of the Redeemer in Columbus GA and a friend of The Jagged Word.*
“If He is in your dreams, nothing can stand against them.”
If the above sentiment from the film “The Identical” is what Christians call the gospel, then “The Identical” preaches the gospel. The line is repeated twice. First in the film’s climatic transition when the hero Ryan Wade (Blake Rayne) begins to make his own way in life and finally at the storybook ending when Ryan and his family have fulfilled and started living “the dream” or at least Ryan’s dream.
Separated at birth from his twin brother Ryan is adopted by a preacher father (Ray Liotta) and godly mother (Ashley Judd). Ryan does not know about his adoption or his twin. Ryan never seems to fit in to the life that his adoptive father has mapped out for him. The preacher expects a preacher son because he dedicated him to God the night of his adoption. The son simply wants to sing. The rest is the story of a round peg trying to fit a square hole until Ryan finally realizes he is not suited for the calling forced upon him by his father. The simple life Ryan tried to make for himself as a husband, father, and car mechanic is not a good fit either. Ryan Wade was made by God to sing and sing he shall.
Ryan’s identical twin brother Drexel Hemsley on the other hand fell right into place and became a world famous rock singer. He sings like Ryan, dances like Ryan, croons like Ryan, and they both sound like Elvis. In fact they both look like Elvis. They’re Elvis knock offs, but oddly the film pays lip service to The King and says “There’s only one Elvis.” Let the audience suspend reality because there is no room for Drexel “The Dream” Hemsley or Ryan Wade if Elvis exists.
With the encouragement of his wife and friends Ryan imitates his brother’s music. He wins a Drexel Hemsley impersonation contest where Ryan is picked up by a money hungry manager and begins to sing at state fairs as a Drexel Hemsley double known as “The Identical.” He gains notoriety and money.
After a while Ryan wants to be Ryan. He wants to write his own songs and quits the Drexel act. Lest I spoil everything I will refrain from discussing anymore of the plot. By the end all of the dramatic tensions come to a nice, tidy, and happy conclusion.
The moral is to trust God to show you the path to find fulfillment in your life. As long as “He is in your dreams” then “nothing can stand against them.” It worked for Ryan, so it should work for you. That is the “good news” of this movie, but unfortunately that is not the gospel of the Holy Scriptures. The gospel of “The Identical” is to find what God has gifted you to do and to do it no matter how many obstacles enter your path. This is the preaching of Joel Osteen in movie form. God has sown the seeds of greatness in you and your job is to water them, persevere, and trust God to elevate you to the next level. The “next level” is whatever you happen to want it to be: having a baby when doctors told you likely can’t bear children, becoming a famous singer, or getting that big job promotion. This gospel is entirely concerned with the here and now finding happiness in the fulfillment of your “holy” wants, needs, and desires. Our sin, God’s grace, forgiveness, the cross of Jesus Christ do not need to be mentioned to preach you this gospel. It can be concisely stated in clichés like “If He is in your dreams, nothing can stand against them.” It must be nice when our dreams and God’s will are so perfectly harmonized. That helps us deal with that pesky petition, “Thy will be done.” The shallowness of this theology can be easily exposed by asking, “Did Jesus have to die on the cross in order for Ryan to fulfill his dream and become a famous singer?” Of course not! He had to die for Ryan’s sins! A fact never mentioned in the 107 minutes of this film.
What is valuable in this movie? It gives decent common sense wisdom on finding one’s vocation. Don’t be a round peg trying to fit into a square hole. What brings you joy and blesses your neighbor? Working on cars? Then become a mechanic. Singing songs? Then become a singer. (If not the famous kind of singer then at least at your local Elvis impersonators convention or a karaoke bar). How about your church choir? Even better!
When people come to me struggling with vocational identity I ask them simply what they do well and what brings them joy. The paycheck should be secondary (as it was for Ryan). Other people’s expectations should be secondary (as Ryan learned). Where can you love your neighbor and glorify God even if it is hard, even if you have to suffer, even if it will be stressful? Christ has promised us the cross in our vocations not “the dream” and not the nice and tidy happy storybook ending of Hollywood and Joel Osteen’s theology. That’s okay though. Our hope is not in this world, but in the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body and the life of the world to come that were purchased by the cross of Christ. Until then our work is not in vain and there is much joy to be had in our vocations as we love our neighbor and serve our God in the hope of Christ’s certain return.
“The Identical” is mildly entertaining and a fun concept. The production is top quality and if you’re a fan of honky-tonk, rock’n’roll, and 70’s glam you may find Blake Rayne’s inner-Elvis and the original music impressive. His performance is one of the better Elvis impersonations I’ve seen, though remember Ryan and Drexel aren’t The King, they’re “The Dream.” Ryan Wade is a likable character and I wanted him to succeed. There are heartwarming moments like when Ryan gets life advice from his mother and when he reconciles with his adoptive father. Overall it is a feel-good story with a talented cast that leaves you with few rough edges and the warmth of familial love.
The theology does not teach the cross of Christ for the forgiveness of sins, but instead a works-oriented-fitting-your-dream into God’s predetermined plan for you. Whether or not a film of this kind is a good medium to preach the gospel is a whole other topic beyond the scope of this review. My point is this film does not clearly teach Christian theology on the doctrine of justification or vocation. There are other theological problems that I will not go into in detail. Christian Zionism, Synergism, and Word-Faith heresies are latent in the film’s presentation of Christian preaching and piety. You should not go to this “faith-based” movie expecting to hear the gospel of Jesus Christ. It is not preached. If one had no exposure to the Scriptures they could not learn the Christian faith by the example of this film. They would in fact hear a different gospel, a gospel that cannot save you, “If He is in your dreams, nothing can stand against them.”
I know, I know, someone might say to me, “Don’t be Cruel” by pointing out the theological problems in an otherwise positive movie, but I must warn you about the “Devil in Disguise.” See what I did there?