Cast: Priscilla C. Shirer, T.C. Stallings, Karen Abercrombie, Beth Moore, Michael Jr., Alena Pitts
Director: Alex Kendrick
Screenwriters/producers: Alex Kendrick Stephen Kendrick
Rated PG, 112 min.
Reviewer: Temitayo Olofinlua
War Room has been the subject of many debates in many female groups on social media. Does the film support a society where all the woman can do about her “marital challenges” is pray? Does it support a change in attitudes? This is what I think that War Room is about, with some lessons for the Nigerian woman. But first, what is the film about?
War Room is a faith-based drama in which the relationship challenges of a couple are solved by prayer. Prayer is the central string that ties every other thing in the story together. Real estate broker, Elizabeth (Priscilla C. Shirer) is married to Tony (T.C. Stallings); to the outsider, their marriage is perfect. They had been married for 16 years with a beautiful 8-year-old daughter Danielle (Alena Pitts) but inside, there are cracks in the wall of the marriage. Elizabeth was being emotionally abused by her husband; Tony’s eyes were beginning to linger longer on other women; Danielle was getting worried about her parent’s constant quarrels and absence at her sporting events.
Things change when Elizabeth meets Miss Clara (Karen Abercrombie), her client, who introduces her to the power of prayer. The same recipe that worked for Miss Clara worked for Elizabeth: set up a “war room,” a secret room for prayers; change her attitude to praying, by making it more conscious—writing requests, and taking note of God’s responses to them.
To enjoy this film, you have to truly suspend your belief in reality, especially if you are not a Christian. Several things happen in it that do not happen in the “real world” but the “Christian world”. Take for instance when Elizabeth and Miss Clara encounter a thief with a knife demanding for money. Miss Clara commanded him to put down the knife “in Jesus name.” Guess what? It worked. In the film.
The second thing is that prayers work, but War Room makes it look like all the answers to prayer is “yes.” In reality, some prayers never get answered; sometimes, you have to wait. Elizabeth prays for her husband who is on a romantic date with a female colleague and he suddenly gets a stomach ache and is disinterested. In War Room, all the prayers are answered. They are also answered immediately, almost as soon as you start praying. The same way prayer worked for Miss Clara, it also worked for Elizabeth; ignoring the fact that what worked for A, may not work for B. But, this is the War Room reality. But then, what does one expect from a film that is essentially Christian?
Then, Tony loses his job. One thing is unclear: is it the loss of his job that changed him? Or the prayers? The screenwriters would have us believe that it is the prayers. However, there is a way a job loss can essentially affect any human being, for good or ill. They could have explored that line of thinking, but perhaps that would have toned down the “efficacy of prayer” strand they wanted to sustain.
Despite these flaws, the dialogue is believable, with some really memorable lines. One of which remains the coffee drinking scene between Elizabeth and Miss Clara. Miss Clara’s acting remains particularly convincing; in fact, she is the preacher placed on the pulpit by screenwriters Stephen and Alex Kendrick.
So, now to the lessons for the Nigerian woman.
Lesson One: You Cannot Change Another Human Being
When Tony begins to misbehave, Miss Clara suggests to Elizabeth that her battle is not against her husband but against Satan. Many Nigerian Christian women already know this, right? Only that they keep trying to change the man. According to War Room only God can change a man—not your affection, your sexy dressing, or your fantastic cooking. There may be other distractions that give him greater joy. That distraction could be another woman. Yet, this does not mean that you should not be fantastic. Do not become someone else even while trying to change a man.
Stay true to yourself.
Lesson Two: War Room is Not Set in Nigeria, Maybe not for Nigerians
That is obvious, right? It is set in America, with an American audience in mind. When the screenwriters wrote, they did not have the church-going, tongue-speaking, Nigerian woman in mind. Neither did they have the wife-beating, emotionally-manipulating Nigerian man in mind. Nor did they have the tradition-imposing, bible-quoting mother of the Nigerian wife in mind. Neither did they have a Nigeria where abuse is ingrained; supported by culture and the church, in mind. The setting is different. The characters, different. Approach to matters, different. I am not sure if the War Room method by Elizabeth alone will work on the “Tonys” in Nigeria.
Connect with lessons that are true to you.
Lesson Three: Prayer is Personal
Go to the average Nigerian church, take a roll call. I can bet that there are more women than men. Try to listen to the prayer on their lips. I can bet that many of them are praying for their families, husbands long gone into the arms of “strange women”. Look into the prayer supplications to many pastors. You can guess the bet already? They are from women about their families, many times. War Room emphasises an aspect to prayer that many hardly consider. Prayer is personal. It is a personal communication between you and God. In fact, the more hidden, the better. Prayer should also be deliberate. Not the Nigerian style prayer where we seem to be in a shouting match with generational demons. I reckon there must be a special Nigerian god answering Nigerian prayers.
Pray with purpose.
Lesson Four: Have a Life
No matter what you are going through as a woman, do not wear your problem upon your lips. Do not carry it around on your face. War Room does not ask for pretence. Not the way many Nigerian women pad their scars with make-up. No! Elizabeth continued her life as an estate agent. She continued her friendship with Miss Clara. She kept on being a great mother to Danielle. Do not stop living because you have marital drama. Marriage is only one aspect of your life, no? Let the other aspects of your life come alive.
Live. Breathe. Explore. Embrace your best self.
Lesson Five: Help Another Woman
One way to look at the movie is as a love note from one woman to another woman—from Miss Clara to Elizabeth. And by telling this story, the Kendrick brothers, sent a love note to more women. The lesson: if you have succeeded in your own battle against abuse, help another woman. And no, your lessons may not work for her. Everyone’s journey is different. Your journey may only encourage another to find her own path to success. She does not have to follow your path.
Your destination may be another woman’s bus-stop.