One of my favorite (most-prayed-over) books of the Old Testament is the Song of Songs (also known as the Song of Solomon), a long poem about the love between a man and a woman. On one level, it’s a beautiful canticle to love which highlights the good and beautiful in human love, sexuality, and marriage. (St. John Paul uses this approach in Theology of the Body.) For many of the Fathers of the Church, the Song of Songs can also be read on the level of an allegory about the relationship between God and his People; or Christ and the Church; or the search for Wisdom. And for some spiritual writers, the allegory is about the relationship between God and the individual person. Not an easy book to understand in all its depth, yet it has inspired many, many people, including St. John of the Cross and those who have read his poems about mystical union with God.
It’s relatively easy to quote from the Song of Songs’s beautiful poetry; it’s another task altogether to try to reflect the meaning of this book in other forms. Three of my favorite works based on the Song of Songs are St. Bernard’s Commentary, Da Palestrina’s 29 intricate motets, and Michael Card’s song, “Arise My Love” from his album, The Way of Wisdom.
So it was with eager anticipation that I started to watch The Song, a film inspired by the Song of Solomon that is opening Friday, Sept. 26th. Unfortunately the film didn’t meet my expectations, but I have to laud the filmmakers for trying something so ambitious.
The Song is the story of Jed King, whose early life is haunted by the popularity and public mistakes of his musical father, David King. When he marries his wife Rose, a devout Christian, Jed’s musical career takes off and he eventually becomes very popular. Life on the road isn’t easy, and as Jed’s success grows and he sees his wife and child less and less, he is tempted and eventually falls into drugs, alcohol abuse, and infidelity to his wife. The ending is predictable, but reinforces an important Gospel message. The film seems more of an attempt to give a modern take on the life of King Solomon than a dramatization of the Song of Songs.
While The Song has several good messages and some solid production values especially in its lighting and cinematography, overall it is not a solid film artistically. The lack of artistic merit starts with the heavy-handedness of the script, but carries through in many ways by being “a message movie.” The characters are not well-developed; it’s hard to understand their motivations and sympathize with them. Perhaps the filmmakers were trying to go with archetypes rather than characters, but the film really lost out with the lack of specificity. The lack of individuality made the characters feel generic, not universal. The women especially feel generic and stereotyped: they are either idealized as practically perfect or demonized as temptress. Jed’s and Rose’s relationship—the heart of the entire film—feels flat as well. The plot is predictable and the dialogue often obvious. I didn’t find the music engaging, but enjoyed the lyrics which have a number of references to the Song of Songs. The film was also a bit heavy-handed in its use of Scripture, though it was beautifully read throughout the film as part of the narration.
Despite my disappointment in the film’s artistry, The Song offers much for reflection on themes from Ecclesiastes and the Song of Songs. The Song could be particularly helpful in a pastoral/educational setting, to reflect on and discuss such themes as the beauty of married love, building a strong and faithful marriage, finding meaning in life, and the power of forgiveness in relationships.