1-26 - Movie Review: RAGAMUFFINDuality
2014
PG-13

Ragamuffin is based on the life of Rich Mullins, a musical prodigy who rose to Christian music fame and fortune only to walk away and live on a Navajo reservation. An artistic genius, raised on a tree farm in Indiana by a callous father, Rich wrestled all of his life with the brokenness and crippling insecurity born of his childhood. A lover of Jesus and a rebel in the church, Rich refused to let his struggles with his own darkness tear him away from a God he was determined to love. As he struggled with success in Nashville and depression in Witchita, Rich desired most of all to live a life of honest and reckless faith amidst a culture of religion and conformity.

Well, now. Here’s a rarity: A Christian film that I was actually looking forward to watching. This one being a dramatic biopic of CCM’s favorite hippie, Rich Mullins.

If you’re not familiar with Rich Mullins, he’s the guy who inadvertently wrote all those youth group campfire worship songs you were forced to sing. He was second only to Kieth Green as far as ironically being embraced by CCM culture while actively and vocally despising it himself. And like Keith Green, he too was taken from us tragically at too young an age.

As far as I go, I do have an appreciation of the man’s music. I mean, I happen to be one of those part-time WGWAGs that accompanies the the youth group in singing “Awesome God” ad nausium. Although, I do have a bit of a liking for more of his “screw the Christian Industry” period, as I did actively own A Liturgy, A Legacy, And A Ragamuffin Band at one time. Lost in the shuffle. Haven’t replaced it yet. Waiting for it to come out on vinyl. Carrying on…

Long story short, I was anxious to watch Ragamuffin, not because I’m a big fanboy of his music (I’m not), but more because I’m a fan of what he had to say about his faith and his interaction with other Christians in this world, and more to the point, what he had to say about the Christian culture and industry he found himself in.

After an opening where the movie Rich Mullins is talking on-air with a radio DJ that looked more like Rich Mullins than the actor did (because the DJ was played by Rich’s brother Dave), we go through Rich’s life growing up a farm boy who looked at things a bit differently, much to the chagrin of his old-fashioned father. He then heads off to college, where he meets up with like-minded friends, share a house, and start playing music in various churches and coffee houses. He finds himself pursued by CCM suits due to Amy Grant wanting to record one of the songs he wrote; he’s hesitant at first but then relents and goes to Nashville, where he at first works with Amy Grant, then manages to start a solo career. The response is lukewarm at first, but then he writes “Awesome God” which explodes and becomes his most famous song he never wanted to play live again. The CCM execs want more, but then Rich gets sidetracked by wanting to voluntarily live in poverty teaching music to Navajo children. All the while, he’s wrestling with God and his faith in a world he views as superficial and draining, his depression starting to get the best of him, until he happens upon a copy of The Ragamuffin Gospel. Then he gets into an accident and is killed. The end.

I know, I know, it sounds like I’m doing one of those sarcastic irreverent reviews, but I assure you I am not. As a matter of fact, I would like to say that Ragamuffin was one of those Christian movies that happens to be the exception that proves the rule: This movie did not gloss over things and presented a shiny, happy portrayal of the artist. Neither did the movie seem to over-exaggerate the more controversial aspects to the story for the sake of sensationalism. It did a great job in presenting a man who was a broken servant of Jesus, struggling with his faith in a very real way. There’s a scene here where Rich, in the midst of a depressive swing and crushed with lonliness in Nashville tries to call his parents and his friends, but just misses them as they leave right before the phone rings, and he finally collapses in the phone booth in tears. I actually had to pause the movie more than a couple of times, due to the emotional response this movie had on me. Well played, movie. Well played.

On the other hand, though, I don’t think the movie really captured Rich Mullins’ sense of humor. Mind you, I never met the man and cannot claim to personally know this, but from what I’ve read from people who did know him, that’s the one universal complaint from them: that they didn’t capture Rich’s sense of humor. And I have to admit, much of the time the movie Rich just comes off as more cynical and angst-ridden. And maybe as an unintended contrast to that, the end credits have a video of the real Rich Mullins on stage telling a story which ends in a punchline that had me laughing pretty good.

That said, Ragamuffin is a great movie, it doesn’t gloss over things that I myself have been open about struggling with, and is a movie I think every youth group in America should be forced to watch at least once. Bring the snacks and the tissues.

Advertisements