The Gregorian Institute Shield, composed of the crossed gold and silver keys of the Papal Insignia, an open book with the words 'Via Veritas Vita' ('The Way, the Truth, and the Life') written on its pages, three golden six-sided stars on a red banner, and a Germanic cross.

at BENEDICTINE COLLEGE

Hit Film ‘Searching’: Christian or Anti-Christian?

At first a limited release, the missing-person thriller Searching has garnered rave reviews from the nation’s top critics. It’s an impressive showing for first-time director Aneesh Chaganty, a former Google employee. Critics have hailed the film as a contemporary take on a familiar “whodunit” story, and they point to John Cho’s performance as particularly moving.

The trailer (see it here) will give you goosebumps.

Fans are mesmerized with the fact that no actor in the film ever appears onscreen without being further mediated through another screen. In other words, the whole film tells the story through computers, laptops, cell phones, video footage, and the like. And the film has some pointed social commentary to make about that fact, too.

But there are a few scenes in the film that might be troublesome to Christians. In fact, given the film’s ending, one might conclude that the movie is itself anti-Christian. Is this true? I can’t address this question without spoiling the ending. And given that this film’s power relies on its ability to misdirect viewers, knowing the ending will greatly influence how you watch it. Therefore…

WARNING: MAJOR SPOILER ALERT

There are two scenes in particular that might get viewers wondering about an anti-Christian bias in Searching. First, there is a scene with a sex offender making a confession from his home about abusing and killing a minor. In that scene, there appears to be a cross in the background. It’s not hidden—it’s prominent, just to the character’s right side. While the scene was doubtless filmed long before the current abuse scandal in the Catholic Church broke, the effect is chilling.

However, as it turns out, that particular confession is false. Indeed, the person making the supposed admission turns out to be a victim himself. The cross in the background thus becomes an indicator of this character’s unwitting sacrifice. In fact, the protagonist’s recognition of this character later in Searching sets into motion what will become his triumph. The film asks its viewers to “unsee” any negative connotations of abuse they may have associated with the cross.

Second, the woman who ends up being the particularly monstrous villain in the story wears a cross around her neck. In at least one key scene, the cross dangles conspicuously around her neck. Again, given the current crisis in the Catholic Church, one must wonder if the film is somewhat prophetic, or poised to capitalize on the crisis. We see, in other words, a person who uses faith to cover up her vile deeds and to deceive others. Is Searching trying to say that Christianity is the real villain?

To answer this question, we must pay attention to the film’s funeral scene. The largest and most prominent cross in the film appears there. The movie is clear that the protagonist has set up the funeral himself. He has asked for, in good faith, a Christian funeral for his daughter. Moreover, the villain is revealed and arrested at this funeral. In other words, one of Searching’s most dramatic scenes shows the protagonist’s genuine faith uncovering and ousting the villain’s false faith.

Then the ending comes. We begin to see how the villain’s wearing of the cross really ties into the story. Knowing her victim, she has worn the cross—perhaps more prominently than usual—in order to gain trust. The filmmakers of Searching have made a devastatingly effective aesthetic choice here. Along with the protagonist, viewers for most of the film might never have suspected the villain. But, as our times have made painfully clear, Christians will sometimes use faith in absolutely devastating ways. The film thus asks us to consider, uncannily or not, how we can trust the sincerity of professed belief. The film has an answer in the protagonist’s actions: he is constantly seeking understanding—a benchmark definition of faith.

Far from being anti-Christian, then, the film uses Christian symbols in particularly effective ways proper to the art of film. A mystery thriller ought to plunge viewers into some confusion. And Searching takes the further action of asking us to sort out some spiritual deceptions. It’s worth noting, too, that the prominent crosses in the film are not crucifixes. The intention seems to be clearly non-denominational. As we search for answers in our current crisis, Searching provides a perspective worth remembering.

This appeared at EpicPew.


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Stephen Mirarchi

Dr. Stephen Mirarchi is Assistant Professor of English at Benedictine College in Atchison, Kansas. He is the author of two annotated editions of Myles Connolly's novels, and his shorter academic work has appeared in Christianity & Literature, Religion & the Arts, Seminary Journal, Homiletic & Pastoral Review, and others. His journalistic work has been published in the Boston Globe, the National Catholic Register, Crisis, and others.