Film Review: Pass the Light

by Sam Robinson

Starring Cameron Palatas, Alexandria Deberry. Directed by Malcolm Goodwin.

What motivates us to love others, and perform good deeds?

Pass The Light tells the story of Steve, a Christian high school student who has a different outlook on life to most of those around him. While he fits into the usual teen mould – football player, major crush on the school hottie – he uses his faith as a launchpad to speak up for the vulnerable, and stand up for justice. In fact this passion turns political, Steve runs for congress to show that his way of living and caring for others is one that can change hearts and help the needy.

Steve gathers a band of fellow students to join him in his mission; and his ‘Pass the Light’ campaign gathers traction and eventually, media attention. The message of the movement is to encourage others and show they matter, first demonstrated by planting kind notes in school lockers, and escalating to other good deeds a la ‘Pay it Forward’. Steve’s opponent in the congress race is a man representing a warped view of Christianity: misquoting Scripture, calling hellfire and inciting fear. Steve just wants to show love.

Make no mistake, Pass the Light is a faith-based film. Believing audiences will flock to this and be moved by the positive message – hopefully to action. It isn’t the slickest of films, and the run time (nearly two hours) is rather long, but my biggest struggle with this film was that it was hard to relate to the culture represented on screen. Let me explain.

The town in which Pass the Light is set is culturally Christian. It would seem that everyone is a Christian by default, in some way or another. Steve even shares Galatians 3:28 to talk about his community, even though the verse is referring to followers of Christ. Of course, there are different flavours of the faith (as seen by Steve and his opponent) – and I’m sure that there are towns like this in the US where Christendom is the norm – but where I am in Australia this is extremely foreign. To be fair, the film isn’t being released here, but this meant I couldn’t properly connect. I felt I was watching a movie set in heaven on earth.

But this assumption of faith (and the gospel) leads to a film about morals, and very rarely are the motivations behind the ‘Pass the Light’ actions explored. Is Steve running the campaign for political gain? To stand against the hatred his opponent spouts? Or is he motivated by the gospel? At the start it would seem the latter, but as the film progresses the lines are blurred.

‘Everyone sins, it’s how you deal with it that counts.’

Steve says this quote at a point in Pass the Light to reassure a friend who opens up about their brokenness. It’s his way of showing love and encouragement to get on with good deeds rather than dwelling in guilt. But perhaps this line shows that Steve doesn’t get the whole weight of the gospel. We can’t deal with our sin. The only way we can truly ‘deal’ with our sin is by asking Jesus to forgive us, make us new, and help us live a life of good works as a result. The gospel is our motivation to pass the light, and without it our good deeds are futile.

I hope that people see Pass the Light and are motivated towards something far greater than good deeds: finding love, forgiveness from sin, and a genuine selfless motivation to help others from the cross of Christ.

I’m giving Pass the Light one-and-a-half stars.

Pass the Light will be released in select US cinemas on February 6.

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