06 October 2006

5 year-old born again? sure.

Enjoy the freaks.

Jesus Camp - A growing number of Evangelical Christians believe there is a revival underway in America that requires Christian youth to assume leadership roles in advocating the causes of their religious movement. The film, directed by Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady (The Boys of Baraka), follows Levi, Rachael, and Tory to Pastor Becky Fischer's "Kids on Fire" summer camp in Devil's Lake, North Dakota, where kids as young as 6 years-old are taught to become dedicated Christian soldiers in "God's army." The film follows these children at camp as they hone their "prophetic gifts" and are schooled in how to "take back America for Christ." The film is a first-ever look into an intense training ground that recruits born-again Christian children to become an active part of America's political future. (synopsis taken from jesuscampthemovie.com)

This film is very fair with its subject--which I can't imagine was an easy thing to do, as the filmmakers are obviously both worldly and educated. Is it a constant laugh riot? No, actually. It approaches this hyper-conservative evangelical movement seriously and respectfully (which is to be expected, really; how else would you get their cooperation? They don't want to be made to look foolish more than anyone else does). But it has its very ironic moments, and some distinctly uncomfortable moments as well.

To Fischer, I'm split between extreme anger and extreme pity. On a very basic level she admits to the audience that she knows she's manipulating children; but knowledge of that also seems to go directly over her head. Or, more clearly, she's manipulating them, but it's "for their own salvation" or something. Her work with kids aside, she seems like lonely person--she's extremely overweight, well into middle age, and she lives alone--and maybe her perception of G-d fills that gap of loneliness for her. I really don't know.

Actually, even the children introduced are filling some kind of gap with zeal.

Levi, a ten year-old boy with close-shaven hair and a trailing rat-tail mullet, tells Becky that he was "saved" and "born-again" at the age of five. "Why?" she asks. Because, in his words, "nothing was fun anymore." ... A little five year-old for whom "nothing was fun anymore?" Had you exhausted all the outlets? Gone sky-diving and bungee-jumping already, had you? "I am five, and world-weary, and nothing is fun; woe, oh, woe is me!" You little emo yokel, you. Let me tell you why nothing was fun, kid. Your parents probably wouldn't let you play make-believe or watch cartoons because they feared for your soul or some such rot; that is why nothing was fun, not the absence of deity in your life.

Rachael, 7 years-old: "I get picked on sometimes and I don't have a lot of friends." ... Probably because you're trying to convert all of them ALL THE TIME. One scene in the film has them in a bowling alley, and she walks up to this blonde and informs her that the holy spirit wanted her to go say hello and hand her a booklet about her faith. The blonde looks disturbed and dubious (waiting for somebody to jump out and tell her she's been punk'd or something), but she says thank you anyway and Rachael goes away. At the end of the film, during the credits, Rachael and company are in D.C. to speak their pro-life agenda. She approaches these three black men sitting in lawn chairs on the grass.

Rachael: "If you were to die today, do you think you would go to heaven?"
Black man, without pause: "Yes."
Rachael: "Oh. Okay."

Didn't expect that, did you, dearie? She and her little friends walk away, and she says: "I think they were Muslim." ... Come again?

There are so many gem-like moments in this film:

* Some woman carries in a cardboard standee of GWB, and acts like it's really him. "Everyone say hello to President Bush. Tell him how glad we are to have him here today." And the kids play along. And the guy sitting three seats over from me couldn't stop giggling for five minutes, which became contagious and had the rest of us going too.

* Fischer talking about how lazy some people can be--yeah, okay, hun. Go get another Big Mac and shut up.

* Levi, after delivering his own preaching to his fellow youths, visits a mega-church in Colorado Springs and talks to the head minister. And the minister asks if people listen to Levi because of the substance of what he's saying or because of the "cute kid" factor. Levi says he doesn't know. The minister tells him to use the "cute kid" factor until he gets some substance. And Levi doesn't even seem to recognize the insult.

* Parental involvement. They can't get the little slack-jawed inbreeds to do anything on their own, so the parents have to be there. Fischer is in a room full of children and asks them to raise their hands if they believe G-d can do anything. She gets little to no response, and the camera zooms in on a mother with a baby in her lap, and the mother takes the baby's elbow to raise its hand in the air while reaching for her other son to raise his hand in the air, too. Other moments like this follow.

* Expressions of disbelief. This little blond kid (who's never named and always seems to be going through the motions) has the mic and his Bible, and he's addressing the rest of the audience. "I just want to talk about belief, and how hard it is sometimes--and I feel like a fake." And his posture goes down hill, and he sits on the ground and opens his Bible while continuing to muse about the non-presence of G-d, and there's a bunch of junk folded into the pages of the book and a dollar falls out on the floor. ... And because there's absolutely no uplifting resolution to anything he's saying, the grown-ups begin looking fidgety and uncomfortable, and the zany kids look kind of confused.

* Harry Potter. It had to show up in the film at some point. Fischer: "Warlocks should NOT be heroes!!11!" and "Back in the good old days, Harry Potter would have been BURNED AT THE STAKE!" ... apparently not making the connection that Harry Potter is a character of fantasy. Cut to dinner time with kids sitting around talking about the lecture. "My mom won't let me read Harry Potter because there's witch-craft." -- "Yeah, my mom won't let me watch the movies, but it's okay, because I go to my dad's and he lets me watch them!" (followed by uncomfortable silence).

I could go on and on. There's a line through the plot that covers the Supreme Court appointments, the more overreaching effects of the evangelical movement, and the reactions of the more secular middle-ground (and other people who recognize the dangers of intense and unyielding theopathy). It's not intensely entertaining throughout, but it is informative--and important. It's important in the way that secular audiences should know that these people exist (in droves and not just on the fringe) and want to turn back society's progress to witch-burning and religious crusades.

... And then I went and decided to bait people on imdb.com. I'm still waiting for a reaction though; this is rather disappointing.

Oh, yeah. Rachael said something about "Dead Churches" that I think I'll talk about later. It's a very unimaginative way of excluding other Christian denominations from "true faith" in a child's mind--unimaginative, but it works.

No comments: