Released last summer in theaters, and now available on DVD, The War Room was the most surprising hit film of 2015—and one of the most rewarding. It is an explicitly Christian drama which proclaims Christ as Lord and Savior, affirms the power of prayer, and emphasizes the reality and danger of Satan—not the usual ingredients for a successful Hollywood film.
The creative team behind The War Room are Alex and Stephen Kendrick, two Baptist minister brothers known for producing family-oriented films with Evangelical themes. It is their fifth movie to date.
The plot of the film is deceptively simple: Elizabeth and Tony Jordan (played by Priscilla Shirer and T.C. Stallings), appear to have it all—living in an upper class neighborhood with their daughter Danielle (Alena Pitts), money is rolling in from Tony’s job as a successful pharmaceutical salesman. But despite their comfortable lifestyle, it isn’t long before we discover many powerful undercurrents—emotional, psychological and spiritual—influencing the characters’ lives, and in all the wrong ways.
Tony spends much of his time away on business, and when he isn’t traveling, he's more often found at the gym than at home. Elizabeth resents her husband’s constant absence, and fights with him when she does see him—often in front of their daughter, who visibly suffers from their conflicts. In one scene, Elizabeth begs Tony to lend her struggling sister’s family some money, but Tony refuses, because he thinks his sister-in-law’s family is responsible for their own problems. Elizabeth persists, even begs: “If you won’t do it for her, do it for me.”
Tony replies, coldly, “No.”
A crisis occurs when Tony begins to take interest in another woman, something Elizabeth suspects, and eventually has confirmed, to her near-despair. The Jordan’s marriage seems destined for divorce, until an untapped resource emerges, with the hope of saving it.
Elizabeth, who works as a realtor, meets an elderly widow named Miss Clara (Karen Abercrombie), whose house Elizabeth puts up for sale. But in the course of their dealings, it seeps out that Elizabeth’s marriage is falling apart, and Miss Clara becomes far more interested in rescuing Elizabeth’s marriage than in selling her house. Clara sees in Elizabeth a younger version of herself, and doesn’t want her to make the same mistakes she made, forty years earlier, in her own marriage.
As their friendship deepens, Elizabeth confides in Clara, and begins to unburden herself about Tony, almost to the point of rage. At that moment, Miss Clara, a committed Christian whose faith has matured over time, stops Elizabeth in her tracks, and diagnoses her real battle: for all his failures, the enemy is not her husband, Tony. The enemy is Satan, who “comes to steal, kill and destroy—stealing your joy, killing your faith, and trying to destroy your family. It’s time for you to fight, Elizabeth.”
But Miss Clara’s idea of “fighting” is with weapons of the spirit, given to us by God. Following the Lord’s instruction in Matthew 6:6—“When you pray, go into your room, close the door . . . Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you”—Clara reveals she has created her own private “war room”—a transformed closet, with prayers and scriptural references posted all over the walls—where she has spent many hours, invoking the name of Jesus and asking for His guidance and support. Many answered prayers are the result, and she posts these on a separate wall, as a reminder that God keeps his promises to those who love and obey him.
Miss Clara urges Elizabeth to follow suit and to create her own war room, in order to save her marriage and family. Only half-believing it will work, but desperate to try anything, Elizabeth moves all her clothes out of her closet, and becomes a prayer warrior herself. She commits herself to Scriptural study, asks God to forgive her sins, forgives her husband for his, prays he will find the grace necessary to turn his life around, and promises the Lord to become a better mother and wife—inspiring her young daughter to also pray and rally for her parents. Ever aware of Satan’s designs to bring her family to ruin, she repeats James 4:7 over and over again: “Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.”
In one scene, she even prays aloud, in the name of Jesus, to cast any demonic spirits from her home, tells them to stop attacking her family, and reminds Satan that Christ has already conquered him.
Even as his family and friends storm Heaven for Tony, his life continues to deteriorate: he loses his job and commits a crime that threatens to land him in jail. Eventually, however, after many struggles and tears, the irresistible power of grace comes calling for him, too.
While many independent Christian films have been criticized—especially by fellow Christian artists—for producing simplistic films with bad acting and low production standards, this is certainly not the case here. “So much of today’s filmmaking is just lazy,” wrote Sr. Helena Burns. “War Room is anything but. It’s tight, precise, intentional, with razor-sharp timing. The acting and cinematography is impeccable.” Poignant moments are interspersed with unexpected humor in a masterful way, making the movie “gravity and levity at one and the same time.”
In keeping with its uncompromising Christian vision, The War Room has the courage to challenge self-centered parents who deliberately keep their families small. “There are days I wish she had a brother or sister,” says Elizabeth, when looking at her only child, “but we were too busy chasing our careers.”
The film also explores the vital importance of restitution toward individuals and institutions one has harmed, a theme even many religiously-oriented films often neglect. But the most remarkable aspect of The War Room is that it does something few modern films ever do: it convincingly and movingly shows ordinary people falling in love with the power of prayer, and believing in the promises Our Lord made about its effectiveness.
William Doino Jr. is a contributor to Inside the Vatican magazine, among many other publications, and writes often about religion, history and politics. He contributed an extensive bibliography of works on Pius XII to The Pius War: Responses to the Critics of Pius XII. His previous articles can be found here.