N.D. Wilson’s new “bookumentary” DVD, Notes From the Tilt-a-Whirl, is sort of like the Waking Life of Christian apologetics films. And by that I mean, it’s full of awe, curiosity, philosophizing, and a lot of talking about ideas. Like the contemplative films of Richard Linklater (Waking Life, Before Sunrise, Before Sunset), Wilson’s film–inspired by his 2009 book of the same title–is heavy on heady, talky vignettes. It’s essentially a philosophy/apologetics education condensed into a series of 3-4 minute soliloquies and poetic riffs on huge ideas, packaged amidst images of beauty and a liturgical ambience.
I was somewhat skeptical going in to Tilt-a-Whirl; mostly because “Christian films” of any sort are almost always a let down. But this was a pleasant surprise–a genuinely compelling, well-made film that never feels false or inauthentic and actually leaves us with insights to ponder and stirs our hearts and minds toward God.
Tilt-a-Whirl advertises itself as “A cinematic treatment of a worldview. A poet live in concert. A motion picture sermon. VH1 Storytellers meets Planet Earth. 60 Minutes meets Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.”
All of those are accurate. It’s a refreshingly orignal thing–a documentary of sorts, a visual essay, an apologetics companion piece to The Tree of Life (though Malick would dislike Wilson’s dismissal of Heidegger). It’s the Kanye West Twitter feed of hyper-literate Reformed philosophy.
I also like the way Books and Culture described the film:
Imagine 51 minutes of an earthier Nooma video infused with an ethos of postmillennial confidence and injected with the steroids of Christian orthodoxy and Chestertonian Orthodoxy. Ponder all possible manifestations of “A Portrait of the Kuyperian Artist as a Young Apologist.”
Rob Bell’s Nooma videos are probably its closest cousin in terms of genre; yet it must be acknowledged that there are more original insights in any given 90 seconds of Tilt-a-Whirl than in the entire Nooma series.
Wilson tackles a wide array of topics, mostly having to do with God–as creator, as artist, as gardener, as judge. He’s at his best when talking about the “problem” of evil and putting man in his place while exalting God. I especially resonated and agreed with Wilson on his suggestion that evil has a purpose if creation is seen as God’s ultimate artistic masterpiece: “If we look at the world as art, suddenly tension makes sense,” says Wilson. “God is after a great story, and great stories require tension; great stories require trial and hardship; great stories require characters to grow. … Why does God allow evil and things which displease him in his story? So that they can be defeated.”
If you’re someone who likes to think about and discuss big ideas about God and existence, this film is for you. Watch it in groups, Bible studies, or on your own; I guarantee it will provoke something–whether discussion, debate, disgust, or worship.