Sunday, March 16, 2014

Holy Ghost People

I still have the aborted topic of Christianity's culture war to deal with but I think I am going to let that simmer for just one more day before I dive back into it.  Part of the problem is that I wanted to do two things at the same time.  Talk about Holy Ghost people as a movie and talk about Christianity's culture war.  One can lead into the other and ultimately this is going to be part one and the culture war post is going to be part two.  Or something like that.  Anyway for those looking for a review go see Holy Ghost people it is pretty fucking fantastic.

Holy Ghost people takes place in an economically depressed area and up on the hill there is a group of people who make their own laws and it is a place were there police don't go.  It is a set up we've seen before in Winter's Bone and Out of the Furnace.  To a lesser degree Gummo shares the same setting but none of the same themes.  These are movies are examine the developing 3rd world that is happening in our nation and that we are doing fuck all to stop it.  These are people that are being relentlessly left behind.  Some turn to lives of crime and others to religion.  It is an interesting setting.  These movies all feature the desperate and fucked.  Holy Ghost People does so in particular.  The main character explains that the easiest way to find help is to find someone worse off than you are.  It didn't seem like she had to look that hard.

What's interesting is that the Church was a place of joy, laugture, and well it was an island of hope in a sea of utter disrepair.  Down in the city everything was falling apart.  The whole world looked like it was crubling but up on sugar mountain it looked more charmingly rustic than ruined.  These people made a life for themselves.  It is a weird life that involves them handing poisonous snakes every evening while singing hymns but a life nonetheless.  Taking a page from "Tod Browning's Freaks" notebook right up until the end of the movie the church was actually a really cool place.  The gentleman she brought with her for help got converted and not in a stupid fake way either.  His conversion was gradual and it felt right.  More than that though is that when the shit comes to light and hits the fan his anger is the anger of being betrayed.  He is a man who wanted to believe and  is instead let down...but not out.

The ending is interesting.  There is a mild firefight.  The preacher's muscle is killed.  The preacher kills himself.  The man takes the young girl who dragged him up to this damn church and another girl who is his blossiming love interest, puts them in a car and sends them away.  He could of easily of gotten into the car with them but he stayed with the other church folk.  I'm not sure what to do with this information really, no man is the center of the church and I imagine that a snake handling church has a relatively high turnover rate for preachers so maybe he'll be able to stay and live happily ever after.  Or not.  Characterization is one of the movie's great strengths and I can't help but care about the people who I spent the last 88 minutes with.

One of the youtube comments I read for the trailed expressed disappointment that there is yet another movie where Christians are the bad guys.  Yet I don't think it's so easy to make that distinction with Holy Ghost People.  Alright it is easy to write the preacher off as a villainous cult leader and the people of the church as a bunch of psychopaths.  It is super easy the last thing we see them do is tie a young woman to a post and they are about to stone her to death.  We know she isn't the first one, or the second.  However, as the camera pans over the crowd there is a lot of indecision as to what they are doing and if it is correct.  To break this moment down into bad guys and good guys is a gross oversimplification that may be convenient but it doesn't particularly capture what's going on.  The people going to this church aren't evil.  This isn't the Kill List.  Oh god that movie fucked me up for days.  However, well, guess there is no dancing around it but lets face it group think will fuck people up and religion can cause normal people who have all sorts of common sense to believe the stupidest things.  If anything the movie is a warning about letting your priest run away with the congregation and less about the condemnation of Christianity as a whole.  Heck the movie wasn't even interested in larger Christian themes it's just that the snake handling sect of Christianity makes for a sexy topic for a movie.

I'd even go so far as to say that the Preacher wasn't evil either, but he was lost.  Shortly before he tried to have the girl stoned to death he married her.  It is revealed that the same thing happened to her sister in the same order.  The marriage didn't seem like the end result was consummation (SEX) but rather it was a direct seguway into her stoning.  Previously when the preacher mentions his wife and her death he does so with sadness, and a bit of wistfulness.  Yes he lies but he lies just enough to keep things going and he only lied to the outsiders.  There is a great scene where the preacher gets called out for being a small man who is caught up on a power trip and his response is so down to earth and well adjusted that I'm still sold on it.  Even after I've found out that he had several girls tied to a stake and stoned to death.  The man they got to play the preacher has some powerful god damned charisma to him.  I'll give him that.  However, the movie also gives his character space and time to develop.  He's a complex man with a past that we don't get to learn in its entirety.  He could of been a great man and a true leader to those people and instead he lead them to ruin, simply because he didn't know any better.  His story is a majestically tragic one.

Why?  Religion makes people do some zany shit.  Religion has both its good sides and its bad but lets face it, it makes people do some strange things.  Things that they consider normal.  Things that become normal but when we get to the outside world they aren't normal at all.  They are horrible.  Imma stop here because I am staring to get into the culture war which is good!  But I want that to thoroughly be its own post.  DONE!

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