Friday, February 03, 2006

End of the Spear

I lead a group of young adults in bible study on Wednesday nights, and recently we decided to all go see the movie End of the Spear. For those of you not in the know, the movie is based on the story of a group of missionaries that go to Ecuador searching for a lost tribe of peoples, only to be killed by them. Their wives decide to go and live, for a while, with the tribe, and try to do what the men failed to: convince them that they must not kill each other, and that there is a God who loves them and wants them to live in peace.
I had heard the story before in a documentary called Beyond the Gates of Splendor, which details what happened and interviews Steve Saint, the son of one of the men who died. Steve would eventually go back and live with the tribe, and befriend the man who killed his father. So I was excited to see it dramatized.
The first impression I got to hear about was this Chicago Tribune review of the movie, written by Allison Benedikt. She gave is one and a half stars. While she admits that this is a Christian movie being released in regular theatres, she pretty much reveals where she is coming from right away.
End of the Spear is a production of Every Tribe Entertainment, an independent studio whose mission is to create quality entertainment for a broad audience that inspires hope through truth. If this does not set off alarm bells in your head, consider the film's opening voiceover, which warns that peace will only come when we change our hearts (in other words, accept Christ as our Lord and Savior).

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
Ham fisted? Proselytizing? Come on. Please. One thing is for sure is that this journalist shouldn't be reviewing Christian films whatsoever. This thing was far from proselytizing, in that it was a true story and besides the quote that Benedikt refers to above, there really isn't much in the way of trying to convince the audience that Jesus is the way, and all that. They never speak his name in the movie, and only refer to God by the Waodani name. Seeing as how this movie is obviously targeted at the evangelical community (and the producers have said as much) I don't know why she thinks that she needs to warn secular people off of it.
Benedikt then goes on to relate that the Waodani tribes were warring themselves into extinction, but then goes on to say that "the white folk know better" regarding their attempt to contact the tribe. Nice stereotype strawman she paints here to ridicule Christians (later she emphasizes that by posting a score card: indigenous tribe with spears -1, pacifists - 0). As if anyone trying to contact and influence the Waodani not to kill themselves out of existence is deserving of ridicule.
Perhaps Ms. Benedikt shouldn't be reviewing movies if she can't put away her personal feelings about religion or pacifism. Because I found this movie quite interesting and rewarding.
One of the most fun parts of the movie is how they treated the dialog of the Waodani. Following the standard set by Dances with Wolves (thank you Mr. Costner), the makers of End of the Spear had all Waodani dialog spoken in the native language along with subtitles. It humanized them in a way that merely letting them speak in some sort of broken English, for the sake of the audience, cannot. It completely humanizes them, showing them to have similar humors, fears, temperments. It gives each member individual distinctness. And it portrays the language barrier well.
One thing that was not carried over well in the movie was the reasons that Saint and the other Missionaries had to keep the discovery of the Waodani contact a secret. The movie leaves you wondering why they didn't take Dayumae back with them, or at least learn the language well enough to make the contact meaningful. Instead they don't understand a word the Waodani are saying, and the scene makes you wonder if they would have lived had they just been able to answer the tribesmen's questions. It makes them look kind of stupid, but I'm sure there were other reasons.

Another controversy has arisen around this movie. A rumor started circulating that one of the actors in the movie was gay, and that Steve Saint and the director knew that he was and hired him anyway. Dozens of churches and denominations began a movement to boycott the movie. It turns out that there was indeed a gay actor portraying a major part in the film, but that Saint and the rest of the creators didn't realize it. Most of the people spreading this news didn't bother to call and ask Saint or Director Mart Green, as they didn't realize it, and after finding out were horrified and personally devastated by the news.
If you want more information on that front, this article by Randy Alcorn is comprehensive about what happened and why you should still see the movie. I think this news takes away nothing from the story if you can ignore who the actors are in real life and let yourself be taken into the jungles of Ecuador for about 2 hours. Remember that this is a real life story, regardless of who played the parts.

Stay for the first part of the credits, as real life Steve Saint tells a few fun tales about his adventures bringing Mincayani back to the United States.
For Christians: Thumbs up.

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