REVIEW: The ‘image of God’ message within ‘Green Book’

February 1st, 2019 / By: Michael Foust / comments

REVIEW: The ‘image of God’ message within ‘Green Book’

Credit: DreamWorks

Tony is a hard-working Italian-American who also happens to be the toughest bouncer at the famous New York City nightclub, the Copacabana.

He’s the kind of guy you never cross and you never insult. In other words, he’s the type of guy you’d want on your side in a dangerous situation.

Thus, it’s not surprising when the famous concert pianist, Dr. Don Shirley, contacts Tony prior to embarking on a tour with his instrumentalist trio to the Deep South. The year is 1962, and Shirley, an African-American, knows he could face trouble in segregated cities where he isn’t allowed to use the restroom or eat at the restaurant. Shirley wants Tony to be his chauffeur and bodyguard, and he promises to pay him handsomely.

There’s just one problem. Tony doesn’t like black people.

But with the Copacabana undergoing renovations for two months -- and with a wife and kids to support -- Tony swallows his pride and takes the job. Who knows? It could be fun. It even could change Tony for the better.

The movie Green Book (PG-13) opened in November but has seen renewed interest lately after winning a Golden Globe for Best Musical or Comedy and for being nominated for an Academy Award for Best Picture. It stars Viggo Mortensen (The Lord of the Rings trilogy) as Tony Vallelonga and Mahershala Ali (Free State of Jones, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse) as Shirley.

The film was inspired by a true story and gets its name from “The Negro Motorist Green Book,” a real-life booklet that was used by blacks during segregation to help them find welcoming accommodations.

The movie tells the story of two men who are worlds apart but grow to become friends and appreciate one another’s differences during an eight-week road trip. Shirley is cultured, quiet and reserved. Tony is blue collar, loud and opinionated. Shirley never curses. Tony does … often.

Green Book spotlights an ugly era in American history in which African-Americans were loved for their music but were treated as second-class citizens in the very theaters they performed. Shirley knew he would face verbal and even physical violence but rightly believed his talent could be a “foot in the door” to change the hearts and minds of racists. Indeed, music did play a big role in America’s integration. Shirley was a hero.

The film is entertaining and filled with positive messages but is somewhat marred by an excessive amount of language.

Warning: minor/moderate spoilers!

(Scale key: none, minimal, moderate, extreme)

Violence/Disturbing

Minimal/moderate. Tony, as a bouncer and then a bodyguard, punches multiple people during the film. He hits a man several times outside the nightclub -- so much so that a friend wondered if he was going to kill him. He hits a police officer in the South for calling him “half a” N-word. But his toughness comes in handy when Shirley is being punched by several men in a bar; it ends without Tony hitting anyone.

Sexuality/Sensuality/Nudity

Moderate. Twice, Tony makes vulgar remarks about the female anatomy. Shirley tells Tony he formerly was married to a woman; yet later, Tony is called by the police to the YMCA after Shirley is caught nude with a white man. The implication is that Shirley is gay. (The men apparently were nude in the shower or pool but are covered when we see them.) In real life, Shirley never came out as gay, although Tony Vallelonga’s son was a writer and producer of the film and says the incident happened.    

Coarse Language

Extreme. Nearly 70 coarse words: S--t (22), GD (14), a-- (11), h--l (8), misuse of “Jesus” or “Christ” (4), b----rd (3), f-word (2), d--n (1), SOB (1), misuse of “God” (1). We also hear several racial slurs, including the n-word at least once.

Other Positive Elements

Tony’s family is tight-nit and prays before the meal. (We hear the phrase “Christ our Lord.”) He may be a tough guy, but he’s a family man, too, and he loves his wife and children. He even writes romantic letters to her from the road.  

Other Stuff You Might Want To Know

Several scenes involve drinking, smoking and gambling.

Life Lessons

Shirley provides lessons on courage and conviction. He also reflects Martin Luther King Jr.’s goal of nonviolence. (When Tony punches a police officer, Shirley chastises him: “You never win with anger. … Dignity always prevails.” The story proves Shirley right.) Both men give us lessons on pride, humility and admitting when you’re wrong. They change one another for the better. When Tony’s family member uses a racial slur toward the end, he corrects them.  

Worldview/Application

Scripture tells us that all people bear the image of God (Genesis 1:26-27). In God’s kingdom, there is one race -- the human race. Racism by its very nature is unloving. God hates it.

Green Book forces us to ask: Why did people of yesteryear pay to watch African-Americans perform, but then refuse to give them the same benefits afforded every other person? During one poignant scene at a mansion, Shirley is told to use the outhouse, not the indoor restroom. During another scene, he is told he cannot eat in a restaurant -- even though he is set to play the piano to the audience at the end of the meal. They wanted him to perform, but they didn’t want to treat him as a person.

That type of twisted, satanic logic cannot survive very long, and in the real world, it didn’t.

Music helped end segregation, as young white teens were introduced to songs by talented black musicians, and young black teens listened to tunes by talented white musicians. Eventually, the crowds began mixing, and the music styles did, too.

This isn’t to say that all the music glorified God. It didn’t. But the music did help people see the humanity -- and the image of God -- in one another.

Segregation died. Music played a big role.

Green Book is far from being a faith-centric film. It’s not a stretch, though, to see a God-centered message in it.      

What Works

The story. The chemistry between Tony and Shirley. The two actors (Mortensen and Ali) are spectacular.

What Doesn’t

The excessive language. It’s distracting and over the top.

Discussion Questions

  1. What is at the heart of racism? What is the solution?
  2. What caused Tony to change his mind about black people?
  3. How did Shirley change throughout the movie?
  4. Why did Shirley want to perform in the South, even though he knew what might happen?
  5. How did music impact segregation?

Entertainment rating: 3 out of 5 stars. Family-friendly rating: 2 out of 5 stars.

Rated PG-13 for thematic content, language including racial epithets, smoking, some violence and suggestive material.