“The Most Reluctant Convert” (film)

This movie tells the story of C.S. Lewis’s early life and, in particular, his conversion from atheism to Christianity.  It ends with the completion of the conversion in the early 1930s (so there is no discussion of Lewis’s own apologetic works, his BBC broadcasts, his marriage to Joy Davidman, and so forth).  The movie stars Max McLean, and was financed by the Fellowship for Performing Arts, and is directed by Norman Stone (who also directed the movie Shadowlands, about Lewis’s romance and marriage with Davidman).  I should add that I’m a great fan of the Fellowship for Performing Arts, an unusual Christian nonprofit you can read about it here, and recommend supporting it.

Lewis was raised as a Protestant in Belfast, though it was not a very observant Protestantism; Lewis lost his faith early on, sped along by the childhood loss of his mother to cancer.  But Lewis came back to believe when he graduated from and then began teaching at Oxford, following his service in World War I.  That conversion proceeded in two steps:  first he became a theist, and soon thereafter a Christian.

To tell this story, the film has an older Lewis (actually, an actor playing an actor playing Lewis) not only narrate but walk around with us in a series of flashbacks featuring the younger Lewis(es).  So we see and hear Lewis wrestling with his faith, talking with his brother and, especially, with the Oxford friends — like Owen Barfield, Hugo Dyson, and J.R.R. Tolkien — who played such an instrumental role in his conversion.  (It’s interesting that, in one such conversation, the film has Tolkien make, almost verbatim, Lewis’s famous trilemma argument from Mere Christianity.)

Does the film work?  Yes indeed, I would say, and most of the credit must go to Lewis himself, since most of the ideas and discussion are drawn from him and his work.  But, I have to add, it would be interesting to know to what extent a nonbeliever finds the presentation here compelling.  The only movie I can recall seeing that hinges so completely on thoughtful, personal dialogue is My Dinner with Andre.

One quibble:  Why in the world is the secondary title of the film, “The Untold Story of C.S. Lewis”?  The story of Lewis’s conversion has been told many times by many people, starting with Lewis himself.