Saturday, July 08, 2006
THE KING (2005, USA/UK, James Marsh, w/ Milo Addica)
I need to get right with God
Elvis Valderez gets his discharge from the navy and heads for Corpus Christi to connect with the father he never knew, now a family man, the pastor of Glad Tidings Ministry. Who receives his prodigal son with the words "Let me tell you something. This is my family and that is my house" – a clear warning, even a threat. Elvis isn't the sort to take no for an answer, and besides, he's interested in the preacher's sixteen-year-old daughter.
The film is dark and disturbing, and what's most disturbing isn't the strong sexual images or the violence or the constant feeling of dread, but the sense that this may very well be a cynical deconstruction not only of a particular brand of Christianity but of the deepest things of the faith, things like redemption and forgiveness.
Read most reviewers and you'll decide it's just that. But that's why you ought to scrupulously avoid the reviews, at least until you see the film and make your own mind up. Because I think this film is – or may be – much more than than a simple spit in the eye for Christianity. Indeed, it's the viewer's uncertainty about just where the film stands, and what it intends for us to think about this all-too-human family and this almost sociopathic lost son who just wants someplace he can feel home, that comprises the film's real artistry. In that, as well as some of its central themes, it begs comparison with A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE, and will similarly split its audience into the unconvinced who find the story nasty and simplistic, something of a genre failure, and those who decide it's subtle, nuanced, ambivalent and, ultimately, a work of real art tackling the most essential human questions.
Whatever you decide the film concludes, there's no denying it wants to grapple with – or maybe just take aim at – the same profoundly Christian questions as the more easily digested LES MISERABLES. Can a man be born again? For what can we be forgiven? What can we forgive? What must we forgive? In a stranger, in our families, in ourselves? And what happens if we do not? Wherever you decide this film ultimately lands – exploitative attack or authentic engagement – the journey there is surely a visceral, queasy, unpredictable flight, a gut punch of a movie that provokes both anger and thought.
21 GRAMS, MY SUMMER OF LOVE
Available at Videomatica
Previous joggings: Don't expect a sermon on celluloid, but I for one am always interested in anything that sets its story in the context of the church subculture. Many Christians viewers would find last summer's MY SUMMER OF LOVE essentially a critique (mockery?) of the born-again brother, but a gang of Christian artisitic directors I watched it with weren't so sure, and thought it a pretty interesting (and accurate, and not altogether unsympathetic) rendering of at least one sort of Christian community. So who knows about THE KING?... "British documentary filmmaker James Marsh has collaborated for his first narrative feature with hot screenwriter Milo Addica (MONSTER'S BALL) to create a horror story that is as pretty as a candy box but contains only poison. The film is an accomplished piece of mischief making that directly confronts religious conviction, in this case Christian, with its worst nightmare: can you really forgive evil? Beautifully shot and well acted, the film might well cause controversy among fundamentalist believers as a provocative allegory challenging the power of faith. The story has biblical overtones as a young man named Elvis Sandow takes an honorable discharge from the U.S. Navy and heads directly to Corpus Christi, Texas, where he seeks out Pastor David Sandow (William Hurt) and claims to be his son. The pastor, who runs a successful Christian center, immediately spurns the young man, explaining that he has a new family now, and the episode with his mother occurred before he had found Jesus. Elvis, however, encounters the Pastor's 16-year-old daughter..." Hollywood Reporter
Reviewed in Sight & Sound June 2006.