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In Waves, writer-director Trey Edward Shults’ latest feature, characters suffer tragedy caused by little sins that compound. The film shows a family overcoming darkness through forgiveness, but objectionable material—and a negative portrayal of the pro-life cause—makes this Oscar contender difficult to recommend.
The story follows an upper-class, churchgoing African American family headed by a demanding but loving father (Sterling K. Brown) and hardworking mother (Renée Elise Goldsberry). The family includes a daughter, Emily (Taylor Russell), and a son, Tyler (Kelvin Harrison Jr.), a star high-school wrestler.
At 135 minutes, Waves acts like two films—the first dealing with Tyler and the family’s decline into a horrific tragedy, the second dealing with Emily’s search for redemption. Neither storyline shies from depicting the teenage characters’ depravity: The film is rated R for drug use, underage drinking, sex, violence, and pervasive foul language.
When Tyler’s girlfriend Alexis (Alexa Demie) becomes pregnant, Tyler drives her to an abortion center. There, the film depicts the worst liberal stereotype of pro-life protesters, complete with angry chanting and graphic posters of aborted babies. Never once does the film show compassionate pro-life individuals.
Nevertheless, Alexis chooses life for her baby. And surprisingly, she does so using a pro-abortion argument: “This is my body,” she says.
The entire family’s sins contribute to Tyler’s downfall, but faith—of a sort—provides the family’s only hope. We see Tyler turn to prayer at his lowest point. Meanwhile, Emily hints at belief in a form of universalism. Other characters turn for wisdom to Scriptures such as Proverbs 10:12: “Hatred stirs up strife, but love covers all offenses.”
The portrayal of a family choosing reconciliation over division provides moments of hope and points to Christ’s redemption. However, the overload of human depravity on display will chase potential viewers away.