Jed King will readily tell you that being “the son of somebody” is no picnic.
Sure, the fact that the David King was his dad has opened a few doors for Jed and his fledgling musical career, but most of them have been more the size of doggy doors. No grand entrances here! Mainly they end up being just a bunch of small-market bar gigs or sing-from-the-back-of-a-flatbed appearances where people are either too drunk or too distracted to care much about how you sound.
So when Jed gets pushed into yet another one of those gigs by his father’s former agent, Stan, he isn’t expecting much. It’s just some vineyard harvest festival, after all. You know, wine tastings, candied apples, a rickety platform up near the barn where he’ll plunk on his guitar and fill in for white noise until somebody fires up the big diesel tractor for a hayride.
To Jed’s surprise, though, the evening is a major hit. He’s up. He’s connected with the audience. And he has a great time. It’s all thanks to the vineyard owner’s daughter, Rose, a girl like none other. She’s beautiful, bright, confident. And before you know it, Jed is improvising a tune to her from the stage. She draws him like a flame. Inspires him.
From there it’s a whirlwind romance. A chaste, wonderful time of getting to know each other and growing together—merging their minds and emotions before they get married and merge their bodies, too. And the morning after their wedding night, Jed is up at dawn’s light writing a beautiful new song for his beloved wife. It’s lilting and tender and quite simply the best piece he’s ever written.
In fact, it’s the kind of breakout hit that leaves audiences wiping their eyes and smiling. The kind that can pull Jed out of a certain someone’s shadow in a rush.
But somebody better tell the guys running sound that’s there’s a problem with the mix. And it’s going to take more than twisting a few knobs to fix it, because maintaining a growing family back home is kind of tough when you’re out on the road, overrun by adoring fans … and overcome by the attentions of your opening act’s pretty lead singer.
Once you’re out of the shadows, exposed to the full intensity of fame’s glaring Klieg lights, things can get hot in a hurry.
[Spoilers are contained in the following sections.]
Don’t drink, smoke, or chew, or go with girls who do—and that goes double after you’re already married! All of those grand moral messages are proffered here, and many more, too. And they’re wrapped up in the concluding declaration (a quotation from Ecclesiastes) that we should “fear God and keep His commandments.”
Just as his dad did before him, Jed strays from the straight and narrow way, gradually drifting from his first love, the wife of his youth, cheating on her with his touring partner, Shelby Bale. He also begins abusing drugs, drinking and smoking, desperately trying to slake his thirst for contentment and fulfillment—but going about it in all the wrong ways and in all the wrong places.
In the process, we can clearly see how temptation tries to speak our own private language, worming its way into our hearts. Shelby embodies that for Jed, promising him the moon and the world itself by musing aloud, “If only he weren’t so … narrow. But think of the music he could write if he just let go and lived without all of these rules.” When Jed worries that God might not like what he’s doing, Shelby snorts out her contempt, saying, “Look at the world, Jed! You like what He’s doing?”
Jed succumbs to her conniving, as you already know. But then the film’s even bigger message, not of temptation, but of redemption, kicks in as the curtain begins falling to the stage.
We see the error in Jed’s path long before he does, of course. And in many stories, that can be positive all on its own. But it’s not enough for The Song. Jed eventually turns his ship around, making upright, humble—and sternly self-sacrificial—choices of love and contrition. And his long-suffering Rose of Sharon finds the strength to work toward repair. It’s equally positive in a good-role-model sort of way, though, that she refuses to take him back until he backs up his words with actions.
What are those actions? Well, he does something you rarely see in movies these days, or even in real life: He forsakes everything that has been pulling him in the wrong direction. He turns away from fame, money and even the friends who have idly let him drift so far. He vows that he will never again sing a note unless his wife is there to hear it—essentially giving her the right to veto any move he might want to make in the future that would once again harm them.
It is then that we see how God can extend his supernatural forgiveness and start the healing process. The result? Hope and reconciliation. And a renewed commitment to righteousness and purity as well, all wrapped up, like we already said, in that grave admonition to “fear God and keep His commandments.”
Also notable here are the life lessons that can be learned from a series of vignettes in the movie’s early going. They show us in quick succession the life of Jed’s father, David, and how much his lustful and sinful choices really cost. Rose’s dad, meanwhile, reveals the other side of the coin as he steadfastly tries to raise his daughter in a loving yet disciplined way. He’s reluctant to let Jed date Rose at first, talking of doing everything he can to protect her from “certain kinds of men”—like Jed’s father.
It obvious that Rose and her dad have a close bond, and she sacrifices a great deal to take care of him when he falls ill. But there’s another layer here that the movie wants us to think through as we see her ultimately choose her father over her husband when Jed pleads with her to come be with him while he’s on tour.
Jed narrates by way of direct quotes from the biblical writings of King Solomon. He talks, for instance, about the refreshing beauty of his wife (“I am my beloved’s, and my beloved is mine”), as well as the folly of his wicked ways (“I have seen everything done under the sun. All of it is meaningless, a chasing after the wind”).
Thus, scriptural wisdom infuses and underscores nearly every scene and certainly every one of the positive things we’ve just discussed. And, indeed, it is wisdom that Jed most craves—even when he refuses to follow its lead. During their courtship, Rose asks Jed what he might ask God for if he could ask for anything. He replies, “I’d ask to be wise. That way I can live right, really live. And if I did sing, it would be only because I have something to say.”
Jed declares his intention to build a chapel on the vineyard’s land as a place where he and Rose can marry. He raises the walls … and then the project stalls, pushed aside by the cares of the world, namely his rising musical star. Years later, the building’s completion becomes a symbol of his renewed commitment to both Rose and God.
A bit more of God’s wisdom comes through in some of Jed’s songs. He sings of our relationship with God, for instance. And he displays a cross on the back of his shirt in performance.
From her very first meeting with Jed, Shelby’s role as temptress and seductress prompts her to exude easy sexuality, wearing low-cut outfits as she pushes him to drop his guard. She woos him with thoughts of how good they could be together—both creatively and sexually. “All I’m saying is, do what you want and don’t feel guilty about it,” she tells him.
In his Ecclesiastical narration, Jed talks of being “tested with pleasure.” Visually, we see the couple flirting furiously, then sharing intimate, sometimes drunken embraces. We see him in her bed the next morning and her wearing a robe. It’s implied they begin regularly sharing hotel rooms.
It’s worth noting that Jed (wrongly) justifies his extramarital indiscretions with the fact that he and Rose are having sexual troubles at home. And the whole sordid affair blows up into a huge, three-way fight when Shelby shows up, uninvited, at Jed and Rose’s house. “You didn’t want a wife, you wanted a whore!” Rose screams at him.
Jed is “merely” following in his father’s footsteps here. In the opening scenes of the movie, it’s revealed that David sleeps with a married female vocalist (off screen), getting her pregnant and then marrying her himself after her husband hangs himself. He’s first drawn to her when she swims naked in a lake (with murky water covering everything but her bare shoulders).
We also see tenderness and affection shared by Jed and his wife. They hug, cuddle and gaze longingly into each other’s eyes. She wears only a sheet pulled from the bed their first morning as man and wife.
As mentioned, after David King sleeps with another man’s wife, the wronged husband hangs himself. (See: Uriah the Hittite.) The camera spies the dead man’s body dangling (out of focus) in an adjoining room.
After Jed begins his affair with Shelby, he dreams of her father coming after him with a large knife, waking up just as the blade begins to penetrate his gut. In a drugged-out haze, Jed rips his wrist to (bloody) shreds while attempting to scrape off a tattoo. We also see him angrily breaking out windows with a board. Similarly, he smashes Shelby’s violin, throws a chair in his dressing room and even grabs Shelby by the throat. Shelby punches their manager in the face trying to get her hands on Jed.
Music, smoking, drugs and heavy drinking all go together like guitars and drums in Jed’s world. (Just like in ours.) In a number of party and bar scenes, various bandmates puff on cigs and throw back beer and hard liquor. One late-night bash results in everyone passing out. In a more civilized fashion, folks sip wine and talk about vintages at the fall festivals. Rose gives Jed a box of bottled wine.
At first it appears that Jed is trying hard to stay away from smoking and drinking while on tour. Mistaking Shelby for a groupie when he first meets her, he exclaims, “I don’t smoke, and I definitely don’t sleep with groupies.” But with time, Shelby nudges Jed toward changing his mind about all that.
That change of direction eventually leads to quite a bit of heavy boozing on Jed’s part, as well as the downing of undefined (implied to be illicit) prescription drugs that Shelby pulls from her personal stash. Soon Jed is popping pills with the worst of ’em to relieve his feelings of stress and guilt. Ultimately he ends up in rehab. But even after that recovery, Jed keeps up his tobacco habit—never mind that he once saw his own dad start coughing up blood after spending a lifetime smoking.
The Bible can sometimes be messy. Just like us, the people we meet within its pages sin, they flounder, they make foolish decisions, and they suffer. God often uses the narrative of those kinds of failures and fatuous choices as a cautionary tale for the innocent, and a beacon of hope and forgiveness for those already lost and adrift.
That’s what The Song was created to do as well.
This is an involving, artistic and uplifting dramatization of scriptural principles. A contemporary costume drama, of sorts, that plays out Solomon’s words from the Old Testament books of Ecclesiastes and Song of Solomon. Our protagonist wades through alcohol and drug abuse, and is wholly caught up in the love of money and the pleasures of the flesh before he begins to fully grapple with just how worthless and futile all of those things really are. Exactly like Solomon did so many years before.
Just like the book that inspired it, then, this is a sometimes messy movie (while remarkably restrained when it comes to the sexual stuff, it still gets its sensual point across; and we also see quite a lot of smoking, drinking and drug use) that eventually finds a sober stillness and sense of singular promise. No, actually, you can see The Song angling toward its godly resolution from the very beginning. (And that’s far from a condemnation.) It teaches us about the realness of temptation, the lousiness of giving in to it, and the price you pay for “chasing after the wind.” Then it leaves us with the sweet refrain of redemption and new beginning.
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.