Listen: Laura Bennett chats with ‘Heart of Man’ producer Jason Pamer. Above: Justin Torrence as the prodigal son in the film.
A powerful force is at work in the souls of men and women, keeping millions trapped in sexual brokenness and addiction: the force known as shame.
That’s the message of Heart of Man, a film that tackles shame head-on, with a message of God’s relentless, forgiving love.
Weaving together the parable of the Prodigal Son, and a series of gut-wrenching interviews with high profile Christian figures, it takes viewers on a journey through the pain of broken marriages and sexual addictions, and back again into God’s limitless grace.
Set in a stunning, Eden-like landscape, the art-documentary depicts the story of a young man (Justin Torrence) falling to temptation, while being endlessly pursued by a loving father (Robert Fleet).
The dramatized Bible story is coupled with real-life stories of brokenness, from the likes of The Shack author Paul Young, spoken-word artist Jackie Hill-Perry, and The Cure author John Lynch. All three talk of childhood abuse and the different ways this manifested in their adult lives: Young’s trauma led to infidelity and almost losing his marriage. Other interview guests share about affairs and pornography addictions, and how God has shown his love in the midst of their pain.
Permission to be Honest
Heart of Man strives to de-stigmatise the Christian notions of sin and brokenness, by giving viewers permission to be more open about their struggles, and showing us that our imperfections are a shared human experience.
Its core message is that through honesty, and through not being afraid to approach God at our worst, we are on our way to healing.
Chatting to Hope 103.2, the film’s writer and producer Jason Pamer said the project was birthed out of a different film he worked on with Will Smith’s wife Jada Pinkett-Smith, called Rape for Profit – shining a light on sex trafficking in the USA.
After exploring the industry that has so many women trapped, he realised the next step was to explore why there is such a demand from men in the first place, for womens’ ‘sexual services’.
“Until the roots are addressed in the hearts of men, there’ll be no freedom for anyone.”
“We were [asking] ‘what is driving these guys’, and what we found at the centre of it was porn addiction,” Pamer said. “It set us off on a new journey to figure out how do we hit the hearts of men…Until the roots are addressed (in) the hearts of men, there’ll be no freedom for anyone.”
But the film isn’t just about lust and sexual brokenness; it’s about anything that takes people away from God, says actor Justin Torrence.
Torrence, who plays the intense, wordless role of the Prodigal Son, told Hope 103.2, “It’s not just about sexuality, it’s about our human journey, and the things we feel shame for, the things that make us feel distant from God. And it offers a lot of hope.
“It’s for everybody. Not just for Christians or for people in a religious lifestyle. It’s a human story, for men and women, teenagers and up.”
The Far-Reaching Impact of Childhood Trauma
At the centre of many of the heart-wrenching interviews in the film, are stories of childhood trauma.
“For guys or women who are introduced to pornography [during childhood], usually at the hands of an older cousin, uncle, brothers, that is sexual abuse,” director Pamer said. “It is warping and changing the view of male and female way before we should be introduced to those concepts and ideas. Abuse is at the centre of many of our stories. And that changes the path we go on in life, and it takes most of us a lifetime to unwind things we’ve been taught.”
But while the film tackles ideas around sin and forbidden pursuits, it doesn’t carry a tone of judgment. Instead, it searches for hope and healing.
“The church for a long time has not done a good job of addressing desire,” Pamer said. “We’ve said ‘suppress it, push it away, get on your knees and pray, get into accountability circles’, instead of figuring out why the desire is there and what actually fulfils that. Our systems are set up to ‘yank us out’ of these moments of giving in, not actually trying to figure out and address why we’re there’.”
The film’s credibility for many will rest in not only its real-life stories of restoration, but also in its psychological foundations. On this front, it shines; author and psychologist Dr Dan Allender, who has written much on trauma and recovery, is a star contributor.
It is a film that offers, above all, grace and hope.
Heart of Man is screening on Monday July 9, at several locations across Australia including Event Cinemas in Castle Hill, and venues in Victoria, Queensland and West Australia.