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FIRST-PERSON: ‘Last Song’ is good, with one small problem

KANSAS CITY, Kan. (BP)–I found the newest film adaptation of a Nicholas Sparks novel, “The Last Song” (PG), an entertaining, ultimately uplifting film. Aided by a strong supporting performance by Greg Kinnear (“As Good As It Gets,” “Flash of Genius”), as well as a charming Georgia coast locale, Miley Cyrus, bordering on adulthood, gives a subdued yet engrossing performance as an angry teen at odds with her newly divorced father.

Those cynical to the stirrings of young love may find several situations predictable or saccharinely sweet, but “The Last Song” is not intended for them.

Shying away from the usual crudity and explicitness found in most angst-ridden coming-of-age movies, Mr. Sparks’ book and script suggest that the characters seek the meaning of life by way of the heart rather than the libido. And this time the fly in the ointment is more the annoyance of a gnat.

Greg Kinnear plays the father, a man who attended a Christian church all his life, yet in a scene towards the end of the film, I spotted a replica of the Buddha on his desk. I have a problem with idols of god-figures as household decorations, but my main objection was that the Christian themes found in the book seemed downplayed in the film version, while someone had embellished the set with a Buddha figurine. The set design makes a statement because the decoration of a set aids in defining the film’s characters and themes. So, an image of an Eastern religious icon is out of place in this instance.

During a phone interview with Sparks (“A Walk to Remember,” “The Notebook,” “Message in a Bottle” and “Nights in Rodanthe”), I was surprised and a bit dismayed by his response to the Buddha’s inclusion.

“Frankly, I didn’t even notice it,” Mr. Sparks said offhandedly. He could have left it at that and I would have assumed it was just an ill-informed prop master who placed the statuette in the center of the shot. But then the author continued, as if defending the teachings of other religious philosophies.

“When they asked Jesus what the greatest commandment is, He said to love God and your neighbor as yourself…. And I don’t know that love your neighbor as yourself is only intrinsic to Christianity. It’s in Hinduism, it’s in Buddhism.”

“Yeah,” I responded, “but I bet you don’t have a figurine of the Buddha on your writing desk. To which the Sparks paused, then answered, “My dad had a Buddha. He had a little brass Buddha on his desk.”

Again, I must emphasize that this is not meant as a spiritual assumption concerning Nicholas Sparks’ religious views. He was quick to state that he is a Christian. He is an author who avoids crudity and profanity in his work, and his desire is to aim up — to show not just what we are, but what we can become.

Nor should you stay away from the film because of a Buddha replica. “The Last Song” is replete with positive messages for teens. Indeed, it is a perfect teen-date flick.

We should respect those of other faiths, but we must also be aware when Hollywood, or the culture in general, attempts to restructure Christianity. We must be cautious of religious deception. Wherever I turn these days, people are attempting to “revitalize” the church by updating the way we worship or by taking from other sources besides the Bible in order to define the nature of our Creator.

Other religions either deny Christ’s authority or are governed by a worldview that centers on self.

Jesus said, “All authority has been given to me in heaven and on earth” (Matthew 28:18).

As I study God’s Word, the Spirit makes it clear that the Bible is where we are to seek the truth. I realize that, to some people, that must sound as zealous as those who deem New Age pathways to be the right direction. Well, I admit that I am basing my views on the belief that the Bible is the infallible Word of God. It was Christ who said, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No man comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). With everything He said and did, that assertion rang out with authority.

For me, a statuette of the Buddha is a symbol of Satan’s deception and man’s desire to be a god rather than to serve God.

How we discern God’s path from those of man or deceptive religions? There are two essential ways of testing a pathway to God: First, does it acknowledge the holiness of the Trinity? Second, is it Christ who remains the focal point of the religion, or is it man? No other religion acknowledges the Trinity, let alone stands by Christ as the focal point of its foundation.

Today’s churchgoers must be vigilant regarding the post-Christian influence now dominant in Hollywood. “See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and basic principles of this world rather than on Christ. For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form and you have been given fullness in Christ” (Colossians 2:8-10).
Phil Boatwright reviews films from a Christian perspective and is the author of “Movies: The Good, The Bad, and the Really, Really Bad.” For his complete review of “The Last Song,” visit previewonline.org.

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  • Phil Boatwright