Life is not easy. Anyone who’s lived a bit of it can tell you as much. In fact, at times, life can be miserable: filled with pain, worry, loss and grief. And a young C.S. Lewis would privately wonder: Where is God in all of that?
In fact, if you had asked Jack, as he was called, about the subject—and then brought up the idea of an all-powerful, loving God—he would have sneered in your face. He had lost his beloved mother to cancer at age 9. Not long after that, really, he fought in a bloody world war as an older teen. So the idea of a Creator made of love, grace and goodness seemed ridiculous.
“At school, all the teachers and book editors took it for granted that religion was some sort of endemic nonsense into which humanity tended to blunder,” Lewis said. And as he read and studied and shaped his young life, he took that attitude and its cerebral hubris to heart.
How, then, did Lewis ever make the journey to an intellectual, rational acceptance of a faith that he so avidly rejected when he was young? How did God—a being who in Lewis’ mind couldn’t possibly exist—eventually transform his life? How did he become a celebrated Christian author and a champion of Christian appologetics?
The answer to those and other questions reside in a story that many have not heard: a tale of a most reluctant convert.
C.S. Lewis (whose variously aged iterations here narrate the story) helps us clearly understand all the many reasons he had (based on books and precepts of the world’s greatest thinkers) to reject God. But then, in turn, those thoughts and rationalizations help form a foundation for Lewis’ eventual Christian worldview. They, and his contemporaries such as J.R.R. Tolkien and Owen Barfield, lead Lewis to a rational, deep, explicit faith in Jesus Christ.
As a young man, Lewis begins working with an older tutor who challenges him to read deeply into the classics and always base his opinions on fact and substance—something that shapes the young man’s sense of reason and thinking going forward.
In light of some of the above-mentioned elements, this film is designed to point out the way our loving Creator uses the stuff of a decidedly fallen world to draw a self-wounded mankind to Himself.
“I was angry at God for not existing,” an elderly Lewis says of his early days and thoughts. And then he lays out how his perceptions slowly changed. Many of the situations in his life mirror things we see happening in our current age, including a rejection of faith and narcissistic arrogance.
Lewis points out that as he sought out his core desires, he realized that he longed for something pure and beautiful in a corrupted world, a joy that was not within his power to gain or grasp. And that became a turning point in his spiritual journey.
“If I find in myself a desire that no experience in this world could satisfy,” Lewis reasons. “The most probable explanation: I was made for another world.”
Several thoughtful individuals speak clearly about their belief in God being something more than just baseless faith. Rather, they say it’s a reasoned belief based on the mountains of evidence that mankind’s own philosophers and poets have themselves pointed out.
As a young man, there is also a period—that Lewis calls his time of Spiritual Lust—when he begins exploring things of the occult. This period illustrated the sense of spiritual longing that Lewis always felt but tried to fill in other ways. Eventually he recognizes how empty and destructive those choices are. Part of that realization occurs, he tells us, when he comes to the aid of a tormented fellow war veteran who screams into the night that he is being hounded by devils and dragged into hell.
As a young boy, Lewis lusts after his dance teacher. He does so from a distance, but gazes at her beauty and tells us of his desire. Years later, while in an Army hospital, Lewis tells of a pretty nurse having regular intimate trysts with his roommate. The woman pulls a shear screen and we see her beginning to remove her apron and dress. The camera then focuses on Lewis, and we hear the woman giggling.
We see moments when Lewis’ mother is suffering in bed with the agonies of cancer. And we’re told that doctors of the day would perform operations at home. We see a doctor carry his bag into the bedroom and shut the door.
During the war, a shadowy night scene depicts soldiers being shot and explosions detonating. Men fall and cry out. And the camera watches a wounded and lightly bloodied Lewis on the ground. He talks of the men who were killed and maimed by the horrors of war and the fact that he still carries shrapnel in his body as an elderly man.
One use of “h—” and two exclamations of “d–mit.”
An older Lewis drinks a pint of beer while sharing his story. And his younger version drinks alcohol and port with friends over dinner. Lewis also holds a pipe in the present and cigarettes in his earlier timeline.
After the death of his wife, Lewis’ father is very hard on his two sons. He actually erupts profusely over the slightest offence with long-winded rants. So much so that the boys began to think him “ridiculous.”
The Most Reluctant Convert is based on a successful stage play/monologue written by Max McLean. This filmed version features McLean as an elderly C.S. Lewis who walks viewers back through key dramatized moments in his younger years.
From age 9 to sometime in his late 20s, Lewis embarks upon a journey of impassioned feeling, thought and logic—losing his meager faith, becoming an ardent atheist and reasoned materialist. And then, slowly, he convinces himself—and us—that there is no truly reasonable choice but to turn to God.
Granted, the idea of listening to a guy on screen attest to his rocky journey to faith might sound like a dry evening’s watch. (And for very young eyes and ears it might be.)
But let me attest to the fact that this thoughtful, inviting movie is anything but dry. For when the man on screen is a very well-portrayed C.S. Lewis—an individual of brilliant mind and fluent elocution—it becomes a nuanced experience worth having. And sharing.
The Most Reluctant Convert is playing in theaters nationally on select dates from Nov. 3 to Nov. 18. To find a theater in your area, visit cslewismovie.com. And if this story of C.S. Lewis’ life has whetted your appetite for more of his writing and story, be sure to check out Focus on the Family’s Radio Theater productions of The Chronicles of Narnia and C.S. Lewis at War as well.
After spending more than two decades touring, directing, writing and producing for Christian theater and radio (most recently for Adventures in Odyssey, which he still contributes to), Bob joined the Plugged In staff to help us focus more heavily on video games. He is also one of our primary movie reviewers.