Friday, January 27, 2006

Inspired by End of the Spear

Our family finally saw End of the Spear last night. Reviews for this production have varied widely, so if you aren’t completely confused, here is mine.

End of the Spear is an independent film based on the true story of missionaries and their contact with a violent tribe in Ecuador. Many of the negative reviews seem to center on the story itself. Several reviewers appear to critique the film with an anti-religious, anti-missionary bias. They seem to want the movie to give what they consider an even-handed account of what missionary contact has done to indigenous peoples – even-handed meaning that the account paints missionary contact as misguided and/or evil.

Desson Thomson in his Washington Post review wrote:

Although the film invests time among the tribesmen, it never really explores the idea that one man's missionary work is another's ideological aggression.

Allison Benedikt of the Chicago Tribune writes:

That "End of the Spear" is a no-holds-barred Christian movie is not necessarily a bad thing, just something to consider when you're surfing Fandango.

What is necessarily a bad thing is that "End of the Spear" is a childish and visually repetitive movie, ham-fisted, proselytizing and overtly simplified.

Many of the critics seem upset with the story itself. They don’t want to hear a story about Christian missionaries going to an indigenous people and improving their lives. They don’t want to hear about Christians at all.

The film is a relatively low budget, independent film. The production budget was $10 million dollars according to The Numbers . (King Kong had a production budget of $207 million.) The film did not feature famous actors, but the cast was large, and the production budget allowed for limited filming on location. I went in with high hopes but not high expectations for the quality of the film. I was pleasantly surprised. I thought the acting was decent, and the cinematography was often breathtaking.

Far from being heavy-handed, this proselytizing movie never mentions the name of Jesus. Instead, God is referred to by His Waodani name. The missionaries’ spiritual lives, how they received their calls, and why they did what they did are virtually ignored. The focus of the production is the Waodanis. Nick Saint does tell his son that they would never kill the Waodanis, even in self-defense, because the Waodanis aren’t ready for Heaven, but the missionaries were. At one point, Dayumae, a Waodani who had been living with missionaries, explains that God has a Son who was speared, but did not spear back, so that those who spear can live a better life. The Waodanis are encouraged to follow God’s carvings on the trail. In two hours of film, that is the extent of the religious discussion that takes place. Christians may be disappointed by the lack of a clear presentation of the Gospel or any deep discussion of salvation.

Unlike the documentary Beyond the Gates of Splendor, the Waodanis in the movie wear some clothes. Violence is depicted, but it is not extremely graphic in nature. Our nine-year old daughter loved the film, although she clung to her father’s arm through several parts. Some of the script is in Waodani with subtitles, but the story is less dependent on subtitles than was the documentary. The pacing was at times a bit slow. The filmmakers could have safely edited out 10-15 minutes and had a tighter film. Be sure to stay for the credits – you’ll see the real Steve Saint and Mincayane and some fun clips from the documentary.

The film was “power released” in over 1,100 theaters and on its first weekend grossed $4.3 million. It needs to earn at least another $17.7 million to cover the production and advertising costs. According to the film's credits, half of any profit will go to help indigenous peoples like the Waodani.

If any story was worth 2 hours of your time and $7.00 of your money, this is the one. Each member of our family – middle aged parents, teenage boys, and nine-year old girl – thought the movie was terrific. It’s not The Lord of the Rings or even The Passion of the Christ, but it is an inspiring true story of the power of God’s love and forgiveness to change hearts, minds, and even societies. Your time and money not only will buy you thought-provoking entertainment, but will also make a statement to Hollywood that the public wants uplifting, encouraging stories and will tell the critics that their opinions do not reflect the views of most of America. Now, that’s a bargain.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Beyond Splendid

The Auca society was the most violent ever documented. Six out of every ten deaths were due to homicide. In 1956, five American missionaries dared to make contact with this tribe of natives in Ecuador and found death at the end of a spear. The missionaries were armed when they were attacked, but they refused to use their weapons against the Aucas. The missionaries knew they were prepared for Heaven, but the Aucas were not.

Beyond the Gates of Splendor documents the lives of these missionaries and their families. The stories are told by family members and members of the Waodani (formerly known as Auca) tribe. Theirs is an amazing, true tale of the power of love and forgiveness to transform lives.

The documentary is extremely moving, so keep the tissues handy. But the tone is not grim, and there are several moments of laughter. The Waodanis did not wear clothing, and the documentary shows footage of village life. There are also black and white photos of the murdered missionaries. Some of the story is told in the Waodani language with subtitles. I wouldn’t recommend this for very young children, but our nine-year old daughter watched, laughed and cried with us.

A theatrical version of this story, titled End of the Spear, will be released on January 20th. Both the documentary and the movie tell how God’s love transformed a society. Buy or rent the DVD of Beyond the Gates of Splendor, then join our family at the theater to enjoy End of the Spear. The summer blockbusters will include heroes like Superman and the X-Men. This winter, learn about real heroes, whose sacrifices impacted a whole society for eternity.