Not Recommended. My brother-in-law recently did a detailed analysis of this movie to point up how it is an anti-christian movie. I thought it was very helpful, so here it is:
I guess my main concern was with the underlying message of the film. Yes, you are correct that it was a good portrayal of being bound by legalistic ways, but unfortunately the answer to the problem was not freedom through Christ (or anything to do with His attributes or character). Freedom was found through self expression. Or as the director stated in the bonus materials, “This is a story about temptation and not denying yourself the good things in life.” In other words, the age-old, “If it feels good, do it.” What could have been a good morality tale ended up being yet another manifesto of existentialism and humanism. (BTW, the director—Lasse Hahlstrom—also directed “Cider House Rules” which was more of the same.)
Every drama has a hero or messianic figure, and Vianne (Juliet Binoche) was the “savior” of this movie. She is presented as sweet and kind and all-embracing, but has obvious disdain for anything to do with the church or the people’s chosen attempts to be more godly (lent, fasting, etc.). Anything coming close to self-denial or self-discipline is represented as bondage. Vianne is the standard “against-the-rules” type along with Armaund (Judi Dench), the other character who is presented in a positive light. Between the two of them, their godless ways are flaunted instead of being presented as shameful, sinful or unwise. Worse, they teach their rebellious ways to others. Consider…
• Armaund shares a story with Vianne about sneaking out at night as a youth and swimming naked with her boyfriend. They both laugh with glee that she didn’t get caught by her mother.
• Armaund slams her daughter Caroline for not allowing her to see her grandson Luc because Caroline feels Armaund is a bad influence. Armaund frequently denigrates Caroline’s choices and modes of parenting, while Vianne empathizes with Armaund instead of supporting Caroline’s wishes and parental authority with the child. Worse, Vianne goes on to lure Luc into visiting (even after he tells her his mother has forbidden it) by asking him to draw a portrait of Armaund. He does this deceptively behind his mother’s back while she is at the hair salon.
• During one of Luc’s visits to the chocolate shop, he is offered some cake. “I’m not supposed to,” he says (because of lent). Armaund replies, “Don’t worry so much about ‘not supposed to’.” The boy eats it. Armaund says, “Live a little.”
• When the inevitable confrontation happens with Caroline finding out what’s been going on, Armaund sarcastically tells her, “Blame me for corrupting him with cocoa.” Caroline replies, “How dare you, Mother?” Armaund says, “Look at him, he’s fine.” Caroline turns to Luc and says, “Come with me.” Luc says, “I don’t want to.” Another character chimes in and says, “He’s happy here. It’s good for him.” Thankfully, Caroline responds, “I will decide what is good for my son.” Yet the whole scene paints Caroline as cruel and stifling, as if Luc is in some kind of abusive situation.
• The boy continues his deceptive ways by sneaking out for his grandmother’s birthday party. No consequence is portrayed for any of his deliberate disobedience.
• Armaund states proudly, “I swear. I read dirty books. And I won’t go to church.” She gives Luc a poetry book with poems that read, “Dead bodies, skin rotting, worms in my armpits and in my hair.” Yet she doesn’t seem to think she is a bad influence on her grandson. She dies after what she terms “a perfectly decadent evening” but is another “positive” character in the film.
• When Anouk (Vianne’s daughter) is teased at school for not having a father, she responds, “I have a father. We just don’t know who he is.” As if this is something the child, or anyone else, should consider normal.
• Vianne visits a woman who says, “He thinks you’re a bad influence.” The woman is speaking of Reynaud (Alfred Molina), but Vianne thinks she is talking about her husband and says, “You don’t have to listen to a word your husband has to say.” The woman also asks Vianne, “Does my husband know you’re here?” Vianne replies, “Does it matter?”
Another major concern I had was the way the church was portrayed. I know that Reynaud was the villain, but since the church was in his back pocket, it was also vilified. And we’re not talking about a “cultic” church like LDS or something else like Islam. This was Catholicism, basically the only other major faith in the world that adheres to the main tenets of Christianity. Anything to do with the church was usually presented irreverently or as something stifling. Consider…
• During the sex scene between Vianne’s parents, the voiceover said, “Now George had been raised a good Catholic. But in his romance with Cheetza (sp?), he was willing to slightly bend the rules of Christian courtship.”
• An abusive husband says, “We are still married in the eyes of God.” His wife replies, “Then He must be blind.”
• After an attempt at rehabilitation, the abusive husband said, “God has made me a new man.” But the man hadn’t really changed, so does that mean God is powerless? Although change can indeed occur through accountability at a Christ-centered church, the church was portrayed as weak and having no influence.
• Anouk asks her mother, “Why can’t we go to church.” Vianne replies, “You can if you want. But it won’t make things easier.” Once again, ‘do whatever is right for you’ followed by another slam against the church.
• When Reynaud finally appeals to God for help, he seemingly appears very contrite, crying out, “Tell me what to do.” But then he immediately looks up at Jesus on the cross and then down at the letter opener in his hand, then heads off to the chocolate shop with a somewhat manic look upon his face. So what was that supposed to mean? God told him to kill? He violently stabs at the chocolate, but then submits to its pleasure, gobbling it like an animal, eventually literally writhing around in it. He tries to “kill” his enemy, as represented by the pleasures of chocolate, but gives in to its allure. Again, this would seem to represent that following God is useless because one will always be powerless to innate sinful urges.
• Probably the most disturbing moment was the sermon on Easter Sunday, which followed the movie’s climax and summed up the whole film. The priest said, “Do I want to speak of the miracle of our Lord’s divine transformation? Not really, no. I don’t want to talk about his divinity. I’d rather talk about his humanity—how He lived His life here on earth, His kindness, His tolerance. I think we can’t go around measuring our goodness by what we don’t do, by what we deny ourselves, what we resist, and who we exclude. I think we’ve got to measure goodness by what we embrace, what we create, and who we include.” The blatant humanism here is appalling. To downplay Christ’s divinity in light of His humanity is chilling. And the irony of it all is that it was Christ’s divinity that allowed Him to be all-embracing and loving and all these other things the movie is saying we’re supposed to enact through our humanity. Furthermore, goodness is not measured by our actions or deeds; it is measured solely by the Word of God. Even if we were able to achieve all this “goodness” in our own strength and flesh, it would still be as filthy rags apart from the righteousness of Jesus.
• Immediately following the sermon, the final voiceover says, “It was certainly not the most fiery or eloquent sermon. But the parishoners felt a new sensation that day—a lightening of the spirit, a freedom from the old tradition.” A sermon that told them not to focus on the divinity of Jesus Christ is what lightened their spirits and brought freedom. Go figure.