Tuesday, October 18, 2011

"Red State"

Kevin Smith comes across as a somewhat talented, intuitive storyteller. He may work at studying and developing his craft, but that isn’t apparent in the results he has produced thus far. That being said, “Red State” is unlike his other work in tone, style and themes. Where it is not, is in his effort to make a statement about the wrongs he observes in the culture; as well as in his resulting need to tweak the conventions of that culture.

In “Red State” there is something for everyone. The most talked about inspiration for this movie has been the most recent in a long line of groups co-opting the name “Christian” to spout hate and vitriol. However, there is also plenty of uncomfortable satire reserved for the American government as well in this movie. Both of these targets are thematically and ideologically tied together in American culture; with the way that our society has been increasingly isolated into extreme camps of thought since the early nineties. Thus the name of the movie, which refers to the division as seen in the red vs. blue states; although the film may be seen to imply that the conservative elements in society today are the only ones capable of extreme tendencies.

The portrayal of the cult in this film may be offensive to some believers. (Admittedly most will probably not see it, as it is not targeted at them. The language used by the teens in the film will chase them off long before the violence kicks in.) However, this is something that people of faith have struggled with for centuries. There is no shortage of people claiming to be Christians using that name to drag everyone into ill-repute with their decidedly non-biblical ideas and practices.

The group in this film is terrifying because we know that there are a lot of people like them, if perhaps not quite as extreme in their actions as this group. They are the worst sort of heretics, the ones most common to Hollywood stereotypes of Christianity. Instead of believing in a Gospel of forgiveness and grace offered to sinners of whom they are the chiefs—this sort of “Christian” sees themselves as righteous and good, and everyone else in the world as being evil and deserving of terrible judgment. 

It is no coincidence in this story that the group (or in today’s culture that those that inspired it) focus on a sin like homosexuality.  They focus on a sin that they do not struggle with and that is hard for most to see as a temptation.  None of these groups ever seem to go postal on sins like gossip, deceit, hate or pride. The preacher in this film, in a lengthy sermon at the center of the film, uses arguments and appeals very much like those used by Nazis in the thirties. In any case he is not preaching a Gospel he would find in the teachings of Jesus or even a balanced reading of the whole of the Bible message.

One gets the impression that Kevin Smith is striving more to tweak society than comment rationally about it, is found in the making of this film. In his initial story idea, the movie was supposed to end with an actual, Biblical apocalypse. Such an ending would have been something truly unexpected and would have completely changed the message of the film—in some very troubling ways. Instead, and when money became a problem, the end is completely changed. Rather than force the audience to grapple with the disturbing possibility that extreme ideas may reflect an aspect of reality, we get a folksy bit of wisdom from a character portrayed (wonderfully) by John Goodman.

Sadly, the whole story is summed up in the statement: “People just do the strangest things when they believe they're entitled. But they do even stranger things when they just plain believe.” A nice statement for our world to think about these days, but ultimately one that falls into the same sort of problems as all of the extreme ideologists in this story.

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