The Shift Is the Book of Job Meets The Matrix. How Well Does it Work?

By John Zmirak Published on December 8, 2023

The latest film from Angel Studios is a hugely ambitious science fiction story, The Shift. I don’t think I’m reading too much in to the film when I say it’s an adaptation of the Book of Job: title cards with quotes from that fascinating book of the Bible appear throughout the movie.

Let me start off by saying: Go see it. And not just because this season of films offers otherwise slim pickings. The Shift is really accomplished as a piece of cinema. Fans of mind-bending dystopian sci-fi such as The Matrix — or the superior, neglected thriller Dark City — won’t just be impressed by The Shift. They’ll be fascinated, and really impressed that independent Christian film makers could pull off something like this.

The acting is mostly stellar, from hero Kevin Garner (as played by Kristoffer Polaha, veteran of many Hallmark movies) to his antagonist, The Benefactor (Neal McDonough of Yellowstone, The Green Arrow, and Band of Brothers). As a bonus, you get to enjoy the acting chops of Sean Astin (Sam Gamgee in The Lord of the Rings) playing a much less winsome character.

A Bleak Alternative Reality … Like a Blue City During COVID

The visuals are strong, and the nightmarish alternative reality is convincing. In fact, it cuts a little too close to home. The bleak, brainwashing dictatorship into which Kevin gets “shifted,” from which he’s desperate to come back home, didn’t seem that alien to me. In fact, it felt a lot like life in a blue state or city during the COVID panic, right down to the isolation and masks. The sets all reminded me of battered downtown Seattle.

There is a key flaw in the film’s story, which I’ll get to later. But don’t let that put you off from a thought-provoking, exciting film about the Bible. And not just any part of the Bible, either.

He Will Curse You to Your Face

To my mind, Job is the most significant book of the Old Testament apart from Genesis. It poses the stark, existential questions that we struggle with … I was about to say “as modern people,” but that isn’t right. Human beings have always faced the realities of suffering, loss, and death — and worried whether the universe, and the spiritual forces behind it, were in fact friendly to man. Or were they hostile? Or simply, blankly indifferent.

The story of Job is deceptively simple, but the ripples it sends are vast. Job is a “just man,” whose life is pleasing to God. Satan (in his role as the Accuser) challenges God by claiming that Job only loves Him because his life is pleasant. Let things go south, Satan suggests, and Job will “curse You to Your face.”

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God accepts the challenge on Job’s behalf (notice He doesn’t consult him!) and horrors ensue. Job goes broke, gets sick, loses his wife and children, and is even scapegoated by his “friends.” They cluster around him, assuring him that his pain must be his own fault, God’s punishment for secret sins. Job stands his ground, and refuses either to “curse God and die,” or buy into the oddly consoling lie that his sins brought on his suffering. Like a courageous bullfighter, he squarely faces both horns of his dilemma: Yes, God is good and faithful. And yes, Job’s suffering has nothing to do with his sins.

No Afterlife, No Answers

In others words, innocents suffer, but that doesn’t make God evil, or teach us that He’s indifferent. And no, we can’t make perfect sense of that in this life, any more than we can explain how the stars and the seas came into existence.

In the end, Job gets back his health, his wealth, and a whole new family, as reward for his faithfulness. But that doesn’t settle Job’s question for people whose sufferings are never made up in this life — think of the countless innocents murdered over the centuries. Without a belief in an afterlife where all wrongs are righted and righteous tears wiped clean, Job’s questions remain unanswered — and indeed unanswerable.

In Jesus’ day, Jews were divided over whether they believed in an afterlife. And they still are today. I frankly can’t see how (in the absence of an afterlife) one could keep up faith in a faithful and loving God, in the face of this loveless world. No wonder that so many people who don’t believe in heaven and hell fall prey to Utopian ideologies. These promise to build up a heaven on earth someday … and promptly start digging out hells, from gulags to extermination camps.

Women Will React … Strongly to This Movie

Back to the movie. And amidst all that’s right about The Shift, what’s wrong with it. I was prompted to take my girlfriend to see The Shift by the article at The Stream by Nancy Flory. In his interview with Nancy, writer/director Brock Heasley said:

Women, as it turns out, are the biggest fans of this movie by far. Guys have a slightly harder time with it, which is just fascinating to me because I never thought of this as something that would appeal necessarily to women. I thought they would be the hardest group for us to capture with this film. But there is a strong romance component to this film.

That made me think, “Ah, a chick-friendly sci-fi movie, with Christian themes? This is a win/win/win. We have to see it.” And I’m glad we did.

But the lady sitting beside me wasn’t as happy. You see, it’s true that the story of the “Job” figure seeking to get back the wife he loved is at the center of The Shift. That’s what drives the story, in the same way the murder of his beagle puppy (to my mind) justifies every bit of the havoc the hero wreaks in John Wick.

Jerry and Elaine Bring the Old Testament to Life

Here lies the problem. As shown in the opening of the movie, that relationship wasn’t so great. His wife was kind of bratty, and Kevin was sort of a jerk. They made me think of Jerry and Elaine’s characters on Seinfeld. Their marriage didn’t seem likely to last too long anyway, even without an antichrist figure wielding preternatural powers to split them up. It’s only in the course of the movie’s events that Kevin grows into a noble, admirable character — and his wife gets a fresh start, too. I understand that from a screenwriting perspective: You don’t want a static character, but one who learns and grows.

But there are two problems with that. First, the whole point of the film is that Kevin wants to get back to the love and joy he once experienced. That’s why he so heroically endures persecution and misery. But we as viewers don’t know what he’s talking about: All we remember is Jerry and Elaine.

Second, and just as important: This isn’t true to Job (which the film claims to adapt). In that biblical story, Job really was just. His life really was happy. There wasn’t some secret sin that made his suffering justified or necessary. We as readers have no reason to roll our eyes and mutter (as my girlfriend did), “Why does he even want her back?”

Still, The Shift is a powerful and fascinating movie, which you’ll enjoy and we should support. I just wish somebody with access to the script in its early stages had changed maybe three or four pages, keeping it truer to the Bible story which still haunts readers today.

 

John Zmirak is a senior editor at The Stream and author or co-author of ten books, including The Politically Incorrect Guide to Immigration and The Politically Incorrect Guide to Catholicism. He is co-author with Jason Jones of “God, Guns, & the Government.”

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