“This Is It” begins with interviews of the dancers who successfully auditioned to join Michael Jackson for his biggest, grandest, most sensational concert tour, a curtain call for the legendary King of Pop.
Unfortunately, Jackson died before the tour could take place, and all the world will ever see of it is contained in this film.
And as much as I just talked up Jackson, the dancers were even more glowing in their praise:
“You inspired everything within me,” states one dancer. “You’re the reason I dance.”
Through tears of joy, another says, “You inspire me and give me a reason to inspire others.”
“I’ve been searching for meaning,” says yet another. “This is it.”
The fawning worship of pop’s greatest icon began in the first minute of the movie and only escalated from there. But before you write off “This Is It” as eye-rolling, “gag me” hero worship …
It occurred to me right away that there were two ways to approach this film: The first is to react with a righteous indignation that a merely mortal man – indeed a flawed man, with gross excesses and even charges of pedophilia swimming around him – should be the recipient of such religious adoration, praise worthy only of Christ and defiled as idolatrous when heaped upon Michael Jackson.
Aye, that would be one way to look at the film. It would be perfectly reasonable and theologically accurate. And I could have stewed in my indignation through the whole film, ready to fashion a whip, upset the money tables and thoroughly ream this movie in my review – and I would have been justified in doing so.
But then another way of looking at the film occurred to me: not as a revolting display of idolatry, but as a potentially inspiring call to worship, and worship of one who is worthy to receive glory and honor and praise.
Admittedly, it may be a bit of a stretch to see “This Is It” as a call to worship Christ, for it requires the viewer to think allegorically. But it can be done.
In one moment early in the film, I decided to view the amazing and creative talent of Michael Jackson as simply a glimpse of the image of God in which even Michael was created. It occurred to me that whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy (see Philippians 4:8) – in Michael Jackson, it is but a reflection of those same virtues that exist in Christ.
What did those dancers say? “You inspired me,” or, “You inspire me to inspire others,” or, “I’ve been searching for meaning” – couldn’t all those things be said of Jesus, only more so?
Oh, if only Jesus were as awesome as Jackson.
Oh, wait. He is. And more so.
I was able to bask in the joy of Jackson’s musical and choreographic talents (and they are aplenty – “This Is It” is an amazing musical and visual treat, a behind-the-scenes look coupled with bits and pieces of the concert he was creating, which together form a film both intimate on one hand and mind-bogglingly stunning on the other), simply because I thought to myself with each song and dance step, As awesome as this is, my God is even more so. How I long to know Christ more, that I could be so moved by him as I am by this but shadow of God’s creativity on the stage.
Later in the film, the accolades from fellow performers continued to parallel the way we would all feel about Christ, were we able to see him in his glory, face-to-face.
“His presence is just amazing,” said one.
“He draws from a deeper emotion than anyone I’ve ever seen,” said another.
Or how about this one: “He is the king, and he’s a good guy. He’s real humble. What else could you ask for?” (see Philippians 2:5-11).
In watching the performers taking a break at the foot of the stage while Jackson performed, it was stunning how much it looked like a praise concert. The people raised their hands, laughed in awe, swayed, kneeled; they were mesmerized by the awesome talent of Michael Jackson.
Yes, I could be offended by the blasphemy of honoring any man but Christ like that.
But instead, it generated within me an inspiring sort of compassion, a stirring to know Christ well enough that I could be likewise blown away by Jesus and inspired to share him with people that have seen only the reflection of his greatness in others. It made me yearn to be awed and amazed by God, that I could turn and – with the intimate knowledge of that awesomeness – celebrate him.
Like Paul who said to the men of Athens (Acts 17:22-23, loosely paraphrased), “I have looked at your objects of worship, and you don’t know what it is you’re worshiping. But what you worship as something unknown, I am going to proclaim to you,” I long to see Christ blow people’s minds with even more awe and wonder than Michael Jackson ever could.
So, rather than mope about the movie and condemn its blasphemy, I found the film inspiring in an allegorical sort of way. I even took (some of) Jackson’s final words to his performers as a call to action:
“Continue, believe, have faith. It’s a great adventure,” Jackson said. “We’re a family. We’re bringing love back to the world.”
Well said, Michael. In fact, it sounds a lot like something a different king said, say, 2,000 years ago or so.
- In several scenes of “This Is It,” the dancers wear skimpy and form-fitting clothing, and some of the dancing is suggestive. Men are often seen shirtless, women in mere undergarments. A brief segment details how women were selected for performing on a chandelier, including sequences of barely clothed pole dancing.
- Michael Jackson’s famous crotch thrust dance move is featured several times, including a segment that pokes fun at it, where a woman laments as the dancers discuss whether or not the motion requires moving one’s private parts, “I have nothing to move.”
- The segment that documents preparation for one scene is filled with occult images, props and costumes, as dancers dress as zombies and ghosts in accordance with the famous music video of the “Thriller” song. The words of the song itself can be heard singing, among other things, “Demons squeal in delight.”
- Jackson repeatedly says, “God bless you,” though the film.