Rock of Ages is a pretty bad movie by typical standards, but it becomes much more interesting when its worldview is examined in contrast to the Christian worldview (especially when its namesake comes from one of the Four Great Hymns). I’ll examine the movie in terms of the five-point Biblical covenant.
There are a few touching moments in the movie, such as when Drew returns Sherrie’s records to her, and when she goes up on stage at the end of the movie to prompt him to get up there with her. Another smile-evoking moment is when Stacee Jaxx sends his bodyguards to the club owner with a satchel full of money in hand, which he wrongfully appropriated earlier. We’ll see shortly why these moments work to provoke heartening responses in us.
To comment on the singing in the movie: it’s all bad. All of the actors actually did their own singing (even Alec Baldwin) as evidenced by the movie’s soundtrack. That’s admirable, but like one Rotten Tomatoes reviewer put it, it’s “asking the consumer to put down his or her money to watch movie stars do karaoke.” Even Julianne Hough, a country singer, manages to adopt a whiney, nasal sound. It’s a shame.
You’ll get a much better soundtrack if you download the original versions and compile them into a custom mix.
1. Transcendence and Sovereignty
To begin, in this movie “Rock-and-Roll” is transcendent to space and time. It is a sovereign force at work in the lives of the characters in the movie, and its presence is invisible. It is, for all intents and purposes, this movie’s “God.” Which isn’t uncommon, such as in the movie “School of Rock” when Jack Black “prays” to the “God of Rock” and confesses to be his “humble servant.”
2. Hierarchy and authority structure
The rock-n-roll singers in this movie are like a priestly order who manifest the reality, presence and witness of the movie’s God (“Rock-and-Roll”) to the people. These “rock gods” also take upon themselves the desires of the people to the extent that they actually become living sacrifices for the God of Rock. Stacee Jaxx explains this to the Rolling Stone reporter (Constance).
Essentially, he tells her, he has given up living for what he wants and instead is a “slave” to Rock and Roll. As he tells her, the public projects their desires onto him and turns him into the character they want him to be. He is a willing, though suffering, sacrifice since “sex” is the big payoff. It’s a vice that ensnares him and holds him back from getting the one thing that could “save” him. Since he’s now a slave to Rock and Roll he, consequently, is instead devoted to searching for “the perfect song” and “perfect sound that will make you want to live forever.” This has evidently become a single-minded quest for him at the expense of everything else.
It reminds me of zealous Christians who try to learn everything they can, as fast as they can, and burn out, becoming jaded. It’s like they almost get it…but some small distortion in their theology causes them to twist out of shape. Jaxx has burnt out by burning up so quickly.
Jaxx is a redemptive character. His fans and followers are, in a sense, the priesthood of true believers, but he has strayed in recent years. In the movie, Rock, by its amazing sound, inspires others to leave their old life and calls them to dedicate their new life to the profession; this is how it establishes its presence in the world. Through its representatives, it inspires the boy (Drew) and girl (Sherrie) to drop everything to go to the Sunset Strip in LA, home of the glam rock scene, and (try to) make it big.
3. Ethical Stipulations
What about the movie’s ethics? What are the rules established by this movie’s God? We can judge by certain scenes that pursuing rock fame by going through the motions alone is akin to works-religion. This was the temptation the manager put forth before the boy when he convinced him that, after a fight with his girlfriend (revealed later to be a misunderstanding), he shouldn’t go after her so that he could nurture his broken heart instead. A broken heart, he told him, was a key ingredient to generating success and would ensure him a long career; this action was contrary to his actual desire, which was to pursue her.
This is opposed to a faith-based pursuit of Rock fame, which is almost a naïve quest. Most who pursue it don’t end up successful, but one gets the feeling that even they are still better off, more noble, more smiled upon, than those who “sell out” and phone-in their performances.
Indeed, one of the primary ethical stipulations seems to be the requirement to write good songs. Good songs are fueled by passion, experience, and honesty. You are not supposed to go stale and become stagnant. Writing good songs, even if you aren’t the one who sings them, is high on the list of commandments.
Sex and drugs can be important to a successful career, not always necessary, and they’re dangerous. Somehow their indulgence leads to success. They produce success, but not fulfillment, and their lure is almost like a wilderness trek that tests the faithful. Like wine and strong drink to a Christian, they are not evil in and of themselves, and they certainly are good when properly used, but losing self control leads to imbibing in excess, and this is a sin.
For Stacee Jaxx, his indulgence in sex with scores of women is bad. But his indulgence in sex with the Rolling Stone reporter is good.
Though, as the movie shows, it is evident that indulging in such things is not a prerequisite to Rock fame; not all need to experience such dramatic depths, as the boy and girl demonstrate.
Perhaps “passion” is the key ethic. Right or wrong, as long as one’s Rock-n-Roll “passion” is guided by faith in the genre, the Rock God, who is always in control, will lead you to success and fulfillment. He will guide his elect into salvation, even when things aren’t looking so good.
4. Oath, Judgment, and Sanctions
The oath of allegiance to Rock and Roll is vital. Breaking it brings judgment from the Rock God and leads to cursing: loneliness and purposelessness, such as the boy who got caught up in a meaningless “boy band” and the girl who gets caught up in profitable yet unfulfilling strip-dancing. Success can still be found in these unsavory pursuits, and it manages to ensnare many poor souls permanently, but the true faithful, the elect, repent from these other “false” religions and return to the true path of salvation.
This is demonstrated when the manager (Gil) accuses the boy at the movie’s end of destroying his “one shot” and proclaims that “rock is dead.” To this, the boy scoffs and reaffirms his oath of allegiance to “Rock and Roll”, rebukes him by pronouncing “Rock will never die!” and is therefore restored to faithful success. Stacee Jaxx gives restitution: he repents of his money-grubbing, returns the stolen cash to its rightful owner, and is in turn blessed by the God of Rock. As Rock’s high priest, he is able to recognize and discern the pure sound and song that make you want to live forever, and that’s what he in turn overhears coming from the band when the boy and girl go on stage to sing the boy’s song at the movie’s end. With his influence, he’s able to propel all of them to massive success. He is given the thing he was looking for that sets him free: true love (with the reporter) and a child, in addition to renewed strength and vigor which led to a career revival.
The boy and girl forgave each other, “repented” by turning from their deviant ways (pop music and stripping), and took a vow together before the True God of Rock and Roll. This is symbolized in the movie by the boy restoring the girl’s record collection which had been stolen from her at the beginning of the movie. Unable to stop the theft then, he finds the strength to restore her losses himself. He also gave her a tape featuring a recording of him singing a song he wrote for her, and this resulted in her taking the initiative to get out on stage to start singing his song, which inspired him to join her. They joined together as two voices in harmony and burned down the house, as they say.
This marriage vow seems to be consummated when they are shown singing together on stage with Stacee Jaxx sometime later. As the high priest of Rock and Roll, he pronounces them man and wife when he introduces them together under the name of the boy’s rock band (Von Colt). It is the movie’s version of the Bible’s explanation of marriage: “male and female he created them and He blessed them and named them Man.” Both wanted to be singers. They were good singers by themselves, but they joined as one and sang a much more glorious song together. This is analogous to Christian marriage: both men and women are made in God’s image. But when they come together in marriage, then in marriage they more gloriously reflect His triune image. Together they are transfigured into a new, more glorious covenantal creation, and they are given the man’s name to designate that they have been named “Man.”
What of inheritance and disinheritance? This seems to be where the movie’s worldview becomes internally inconsistent with itself and falls apart.
The boy and girl are joined together in Rock-bliss. As true, converted rockers who “made it,” they prance out on stage robed in their glorified glam-rock garments, transformed into new Rocking creations. Because they persevered to the end, they are rewarded with eternal fame and glory.
But this religion of Rock and Roll seems to be a self-extinguishing religion if its principles are adhered to faithfully as espoused by this movie — which is held in tension with the actual principles of a real-life rock and roll lifestyle. The movie’s fans love the promiscuous sex and drama, but the thrust of the movie seems to be towards monogamy. The message is that despite what indulgences and pleasures you pursue in your life, eventually — whether sooner or later — true love and monogamy should be sought. But monogamy gets old quickly to a debauched public hungry for sex, especially sex with multiple partners: they crave the drama of the relationships between the alpha-men who dominate new women each night and the women who share in that experience and gain …something… by being dominated by those men.
The only way their interest can be renewed in bland monogamy is if these relationships become plagued by gossip and affairs. This would destroy the relationship, which seems to be counter to what the movie holds up as the ideal or goal.
The ending concert is some kind of acted-out progression of “glory unto glory” and the culmination and meaning of life. It is heaven. It’s the perfect sound that will make you want to live forever, and Stacee Jaxx, in his restoration to orthodoxy and redemption as the chief priestly representative, found it.
Also, it should be noted that the ultimate song in the universe just so happens to be “Don’t Stop Believing” by Journey.
We’re shown the mayor’s wife at the concert; she is there, returned to her former glory after embracing her long-suppressed Rock-and-Roll persona. Her stiff, yuppie husband is gone, however, because in Rock, you are made a new creature: “the old things passed away; behold, all things are become new.” His wife, by finally giving in and embracing her faith, was granted access into the rock concert of the ages (heaven).
The reporter is the voice of orthodoxy to Stacee as a prophet who brings the covenant lawsuit against an apostate believer. With her interview in Rolling Stone, she threatens Stacee with disinheritance in history for his sloth. He seems to have fallen into a false religion that resembles the true religion: there are still rock concerts, fame, and fortune, but falsely so. They are man-made instead of “god-centered.”
For example, he pursues endless sexual conquests. They leave him empty. But his sexual escapades with the reporter take him to a new level, open his eyes, and eventually lead him to a renewed faith and fame. She reminds him of his old passion and the awesome original songs he used to write; now, as a stale, washed-up hack, he just regurgitates his old stuff endlessly. She exhorts him to become fresh again, or suffer the ultimate negative sanction.
The “false religion” Stacee recovers from is like any popular and charismatic cult (such as Mormonism and Jehovah’s Witnesses are to Christianity) that attracts fervent and dedicated followers. But participation in false religion, regardless of how put-together and successful they appear in history, leads to curses and, eventually, disinheritance in history: critical magazine articles written by angry Rock prophets; career failure; goodbye tours; break-ups; and final concerts. The rival religions are Pop and other styles of music that people pursue because they are popular today. But they come and go: Rock and Roll never dies.
In reality, those who lead this lifestyle tend to contract diseases like AIDS and die (Freddy Mercury). They have multiple wives and lose their fortunes through divorce battles. They make sex tapes and face humiliation. Because of their ethical confusion, their children tend to grow up progressively more ethically debased (Cher), which is a fulfillment of one of the true God’s actual promised sanctions in history: for worshipping idols he promised to visit “the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me,” [Ex. 20:5] rendering them increasingly incompetent in history and putting a short shelf life on disobedience and evil.
In real life, Rock and Roll is a musical genre governed not by a transcendent God of Rock (in this movie’s sense, at least; in another sense, it is governed, as are all things, by our Triune God and Lord Jesus Christ in his just providence), but more likely by the rebellious impulses of a generation of people whose ethical standards are progressively declining.
The Sunset Strip in Los Angeles which gave birth to the “glam metal” of the ‘80s was, before that, the scene of the counter-culture of the ‘60s and ‘70s and, naturally, their music icons as well. It gave way to punk rock in the late ‘70s which fed into the glam metal of the ‘80s. The counter-culture was a revolution of anarchy that sought to destroy structure and authority. Because of this compulsion, it was inherently Satanic. Rock and Roll is also a manifestation of rage against the day’s authority structure. It eschews monogamy and celibacy for romanticism, lust, and other impulsive yet meaningless pleasures which ultimately serve to, should the culture as a whole embrace them, undermine society.
Because our Christian values still permeate the bedrock of our society, we can’t shake the religious tendencies towards monogamy and purity. We can’t shake them because we’re made in God’s image; they either naturally appeal to us, or we hate them. Monogamy, marriage and having children and raising families are not congruous with the chaotic “sex, drugs, and rock-and-roll” lifestyle, but for some reason this movie hearkens to those very basic ideas.
That’s why some of the scenes manage to move us. It’s because they appeal to Christian values: faith in God; self-sacrifice in service of a higher power; restitution paid to the victims of crimes; repentance that results in changed behavior; and loyal marriage.
Somehow the movie seeks to use the methodology of the Rock-and-Roll lifestyle to gain the ideals of the Christian life. This is impossible to accomplish in reality because they are antithetical to one another. To gain monogamy and marriage is to gain responsibility and forsake the lifestyle of irresponsibility that breeds the sex and drug culture. A sense of responsibility for a wife and children means disdain for the old risks that drug needles and prostitution bring with them.
Think about Gene Simmons. He was the front-man for KISS. He had a reality TV show that lasted 6 years. As Gary North put it, “Even Gene Simmons finally got married, and he did so on national TV. That ended the series. All’s well that ends well. They may not be Ozzie and Harriet, but their marriage was the rejection of the Playboy culture. The Playboy model finally got her man.”
If the movie were consistent with its own worldview, the boy and girl would have ended up more like Stacee Jaxx, consumed by sex and drugs and the excesses of rock-and-roll success, and Jaxx never would have found the kind of redemption that leads to marriage and children. His flings with multitudes of groupies would have continued indefinitely.
The movie is rated PG-13, but the scene between Stacee Jaxx and the reporter early in the movie is extremely vulgar; I wouldn’t necessarily allow my 13-year-old to watch it. The movie also supports homosexual relationships as evidenced by the romance between the old man (Alec Baldwin) and the young poet (Russell Brand). So in these regards, the value system of the movie is certainly at odds with Christianity. It’s proud of it and purposes intentionally, I’d imagine, to further erode the Christian values supporting our culture.
Despite this, it cannot escape the truth: the Christian ideals remain normative and worthy to be sought after and attained. The rock lifestyle will not get you there. Despite the rebellion and hatred for (God’s) authority, the goal of attaining Christian ideals slips out unconsciously in the movie’s script. The rebellious seek God’s benefits without obedience to his law. This movie says it is possible. The Bible tells us, and history bears out, that it’s impossible.