"That dimension of Cash's life, which was present all the way through, was absent," said theRev. C. Clifton Black, a professor at Princeton Theological Seminary, who criticized the film for that reason in a review for the magazine The Christian Century. "I was stunned."...The cave scene isn't in the film.
"He was a really committed Christian all his life," said Patrick Carr, who co-wrote Mr. Cash's 1997 autobiography. (The film was partly adapted from that book, but Mr. Carr was not part of the deal.) Mr. Cash even saw his drug addiction as his metaphorical years in the wilderness. "As he was going further into addiction, he knew he was traveling away from God; that's how he thought about it," Mr. Carr said. "He was feeling that he was completely separated from God, and that was the worst thing."
At the nadir of his addiction, Mr. Cash went to Nickajack Cave in Tennessee, crawled in as far as he could and essentially lay down to die. When he did, he had the sensation that "I was going to die at God's time, not mine," he wrote in his autobiography. When he walked out, he told his mother that God had prevented him from killing himself.
Mr. Black and others have suggested that the role of religion in Mr. Cash's life was minimized because Hollywood generally shies away from such subject matter. But the issue could have just as much to do with the practical limits on making a satisfying film. "I wanted to make a movie about Johnny Cash and June Carter and the birth of rock 'n' roll," said James Mangold, who directed "Walk the Line" and wrote it with Gill Dennis. So, he explained, he tried to use Mr. Cash's love for Ms. Carter as a symbol for various forms of redemption.Biopics choose the story to tell, and it's never the whole person. It's kind of like the way TV reality shows take the available footage on a contestant, decide which story would be most interesting to tell, and edit accordingly. A struggle that takes place inside a person's head is not very cinematic. You have to show him interacting with another person (unless you're going to depict dreams and hallucinations or just have him talking to himself or behaving expressively). And yet, I know that I avoided this biopic and others because I imagine scenes with the two actors just yelling at each other in a way that isn't going to contain any interesting ideas. You drink to much. I know, but I can't help it.
"June was a figure of redemption," Mr. Mangold said, "beautiful in the way that God's light is beautiful."
Certainly, the movie presents an image of Johnny Cash that would appeal to a secular, urban audience: that of an outlaw who struggled to control his worst impulses.
It's hard to make a movie. You can always say that another movie could have been made -- and critics often do. But with a biopic, people get the feeling that the choice of which story to tell matters in a special way, because this will be the movie about that person. So you can see why religionists feel aggrieved about the omissions in "Walk the Line."
I didn't see many movies this year, but I did see one that made me think it conspicuously omitted religion. Here's the old post.