Why Christian Filmmakers should Break Bad

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AMC’s Breaking Bad will end it’s six year, five season run in the next few weeks, and what a run it has been.

Walter White, your average Government school Chemistry teacher, has a good job, an intact family and a happy life. Until, that is, he finds out he has cancer.

Desperate for a way to provide for his family, and pay the medical bills, Walter White seeks out the help of a former student, now drug dealer and addict Jesse Pinkman, and together they develop a drug empire.

It’s been called one of the best shows ever made. Ever.bbadrect011-460x3071

It’s won multiple Emmys and Golden Globes and has built up a fan base that will rival the cosplay of Star Wars at Comic Con’s for years to come.

But why on earth should Christians take notice, and dare I say, learn some things about a story revolving around sin, violence, drugs, and death?

Before we answer that question, we need to know the author’s intention of the series. His name is Vince Gilligan, who is not by any stretch of the imagination a Christian. He said in an interview with the NY Times:

“I’m pretty much agnostic at this point in my life. But I find atheism just as hard to get my head around as I find fundamental Christianity. Because if there is no such thing as cosmic justice, what is the point of being good? That’s the one thing that no one has ever explained to me. Why shouldn’t I go rob a bank, especially if I’m smart enough to get away with it? What’s stopping me?” – Vince Gilligan

Since we are here, and for the record, this blog post is not at all saying Breaking Bad is a Christian show. It’s not even close. Breaking Bad is very humanist. Openly so. It portrays immorality, immorally.

But, just as Christians can learn how to be amazing heart surgeon’s from the best secular doctors, so to can we learn how to be better storytellers and filmmakers from the best pagan storytellers and filmmakers. God’s common grace to pagans, even though it’s abused, can teach Christians lessons that ultimately advance the Kingdom of God. Even if it wasn’t the author’s intention.

Now back to Vince.

Vince Gilligan has stated that he wanted to create a series where the main character goes from “Mr. Chips to Scarface.” for those who don’t know who Mr. Chips is, just swap for Mr. Rogers.

Originally the networks rejected the idea. Why on earth would anyone want to watch a show, where they despise and ultimately reject the main character. The main cast has to be likable. How can the audience turn on him? After all, we have to sympathize with the main character at all times, even if the main character is doing evil…right?grantland_g_gilligan_576

How many television shows and movies, present a plot which embraces evil?

Whether it’s rooting for the criminal in Oceans 11-13, The Fast and The Furious. or supporting the vigilante in Batman or The Avengers, or even cheering on those who disobey their parents, such as The Little Mermaid. Movies and films are filled with a reversal of good and evil. We often root for the main cast, no matter what they are doing. Films trick you into loving evil, and hating good and many times we don’t even realize what we’re doing.

But the brilliance of Breaking Bad is that we do know who we are cheering for. We initially cheer for the Drug Dealer, after all he’s just trying to make a few bucks here on the side to pay for his medical bills. I mean he has a disabled son, and pregnant wife!

Eventually, Vince Gilligan rebukes you for doing so and as the series progresses, you soon hope for his destruction and you beg Vince to bring down the hammer of justice on Walter White (Mr. Chips), who has now become the very essence of evil, his alter ego Heisenberg (Scarface).

Walter White, in going from Mr. Chips to Scarface, presents to the viewer the tragic consequences of being given over to a debased mind according to Romans 1.

And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips,slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. Though they know God’s righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them. (Romans 1:28-32, ESV)

Breaking Bad is a sad story of a man who let his pride lead him down a path of destruction. We watch Walter White transform into his alter ego, Heisenberg, he gets more money than anyone could possibly spend in a lifetime, but in the process loses everything, even his soul. He loses his happiness, he loses the love of his wife, he loses the love of his close family members and eventually brings them into harms way.

Breaking Bad doesn’t glorify evil far from it, it shows us the consequences of it. Breaking bad shows us how pride is a virus, and how pride goes before the fall.

Vince Gilligan said he once had a long fight with his writing staff over a single, small scene in the fourth episode of the first season. In that episode Walter White was given a way out, his friends from college gave him a life raft, a nice job, health insurance and all of his medical bills paid. All he had to do was say yes.

“Essentially they throw him a life preserver and he says in that fourth episode of the series, essentially, no, and he goes instead back to cooking crystal meth and that was, I think the moment I was most proud of. In the writers room, even though at the time it was not nearly as dramatic, as some of the, many of the things that have happened since, but it was the moment that all of us in the writers room argued a lot, and hashed it out amongst ourselves and said ‘Wait a minute, what…kind of character is this that would turn this down?’ Because this is a good guy, who’s doing bad things, for good reasons, but we realized in that moment that this is a man who is very prideful, to a fault.” – Vince Gilligan @ Comic Con 2013

So Breaking Bad is a Greek tragedy of sorts, and a demonstration of what happens when a man’s pride leads him to destruction.

For some reason, unbeknownst to me, Christians have decided that all movies and stories must have happy endings. Perhaps the Christian retail market helped promote that. The Joel Osteen, Oprah, and Chicken Soup books have only helped to spread the false cliche.

The home team doesn’t always win. The husband doesn’t always return to his wife. The person with cancer doesn’t always get healed and sometimes the bad guy gets away. But you wouldn’t know this by watching Christian films, who 95% of the time lie about reality and present a world that is just as untrue, as it is corny.

But who better to write about the tragedy of being given over than that of Christians? Who better to create villains than those who, unlike Vince Gilligan, have a standard for true evil? Reprobation knows only one happy ending, and that is justice being poured out on the reprobate.

The Bible is filled with many stories of evil, but it never honors it. It never allows the reader to sympathize with the one who is doing evil.

David and Bathsheba, (Murder and Adultery).
David and Goliath (Violence and Death).
Samson and Delilah (Adultery, betrayal, shame and disgrace).

So then, why can’t Christians write about the same and honestly, who would do it better?

Breaking Bad has opened up the door for Christians to write narratives that show the consequences of evil. It has allowed these stories of justice, and non-sympathy towards the main character to become mainstream and popular.

No longer do television series and movies have to glorify evil, but it can teach the consequences of evil. We can write about the destruction of adultery, or the deceitfulness of immorality.

So it’s time for Christian screen writers, and storytellers to Break Bad. Let us write stories void of hope and filled with despair. Let us be the ones to devise evil plots and show the consequences of sin and self. Let us teach the world how to portray immorality, morally.

Because who better to write about Breaking Bad, than those in whom the Spirit is Breaking Good?

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8 Responses to "Why Christian Filmmakers should Break Bad"

  1. Tim Dampier says:

    I can’t believe you can read this yourself without asking “what am I saying”? This is what is wrong with America. These losers living for the now promote just that. When good guys make good decisions, in the end, win. If you want viewership, ok. This is the problem with our churches today, they want viewership. Churches are what’s wrong with America. Your thinking…

    • wayneraltman says:

      Now that is hilarious… Good guys making good decisions still get run over more often than not Tim. I see that everyday, and I do not think he is out of line for this opinion. I see the point that even our God used these stories to illustrate good vs evil. If it is done without glorifying the violence, and or sin.

      By the way, you are also incorrect about churches in the U.S. What is wrong with them is not how many people are going, or viewing them on TV… The message is the problem…

      • Tim Dampier says:

        I did not say he was out of line, I said the idea of presenting evil people to show their demise gets viewership, if that’s what you want. I would want to show victory over sin. Older shows, the good guy struggles, the good guy finishes.
        As for churches, you say the message is the problem? What did I say? The messages are geared to get attendees not to preach the Gospel. What’s wrong with America? Most people don’t believe Romans 7. Most people are not being preached about the evilness of their own hearts. Only John 3:16 but not 3:18 where it says
        “those who believe in Him”.
        Young Christians ought to be buried in John 15 especially verse 16 where it says, “but I have chosen you”.
        Shows like this throw manure before the swine…not pearls. So maybe it’s ok. If you want to spread fertilizer go ahead.
        I have never watched the show. Not that I wouldn’t, I like to keep up with evil. I know fellow Christians who watch. I am in no way saying that Christians shouldn’t watch. But, for Christians to think they should produce garbage?
        Be Courageous was a very good movie, whether you are a believer or not. Unfortunately it had to move at a movie pace so it was making leaps and bounds.
        God Bless, Tim

      • Walter White says:

        Tim, I must disagree with you, the point is NOT that Christians should produce garbage, did you even read the article?
        Instead, Christians should make movies and TV shows that have good REALISTIC plots, rather than the typical “Man loses wife, joins sports team, gets wife back” To be honest, that only makes for a very boring, fairy-tale type story, Even Courageous had the same thing, some problems along the way, not everything works out perfectly, but in the end everyone lives and gets what they needed. Sorry, but THAT is not real life. Just because you try to fix a problem doesn’t mean it will be fixed.

      • Tim Dampier says:

        Doesn’t it sound like I read the article? I made specific statements that responded to the article. Try to shoot me down like I’m a reactionary or loose trigger. It sounds more like you didn’t read my posts. His point was just that, “produce garbage”! It couldn’t be read any other way. Hellboy is a very good example of someone born to do bad but choosing good. It is a very encouraging movie. If you want to do a movie about someone bent on hell coming to the Savior…okay. If you want to make a movie based on someone bent on hell and staying there what’s the Christian point? If you want to show someone who was “decent” and then falls without returning, what’s the point? All of it falls back on “viewership”. If you do stories based on attracting people but not spreading the Gospel you are secular. Nothing wrong with going after money. But don’t do secular for the glory of God!

      • wayneraltman says:

        Since Breaking Bad has not finished telling its story we do not know what Walter White’s conclusion will be… Regardless of whether he is Walter White, or Hisenburg at the end the lesson remains… Breaking Bad in NO WAY glorifies the violence it shows. It is repulsive, and has consistently shown its audience the horrific ramifications of the protagonist’s actions.

      • wayneraltman says:

        Tim…. Watch the show BEFORE commenting on whether it should be produced.. It would never occur to me that you had never watched the show before forming an opinion.

        We agree that the message in today’s churches could use some serious return to the Gospel. When I started watching Breaking Bad I expected something FAR different than what I saw. The Old Testament uses the exact same technique as a warning to it’s readers in the story of Cain and Able, Sodom and Gomorrah, Noah, Moses, ect.

        I misread your comment about today’s Church (sorry) and I have always wondered why the shift from “Fire and Brimstone” to the warm and fuzzy sermons in churches even happened when people pay billions of dollars to see Saw 13 and Freddie Kruger.

        I am hopeful that Christian Filmmakers will wake up to the lesson our father is trying to teach us. His creation responds to both the good and the bad.

  2. Juan Escobar says:

    I think that your view will be confirmed at the end of the show. We ALL know Mr. White is heading to a sad end for chosing an immoral path, he has lost a lot of his humanity in the process of building his drug empire (like Scarface, although Pacino’s character pretty much never had moral values), which is pretty catharthic for the audience; most of us wants him to pay for his evil deeds and we´re hooked to the screen to see what happens next in this rocky road he travels.