Monday, March 10, 2008

"Perfect Love Casteth Out Fear"

Since 1992 Westboro Baptist Church, led by Pastor Fred Phelps, have been protesting homosexuals. They have done so by picketing the funerals of homosexuals, or soldiers who have died in Iraq. They claim that God has called them to tell America and the homosexuals that God hates them and we are all going to burn in hell.

K. Ryan Jones' directorial debut Fall From Grace(2007) follows this church and its members while trying to get at why it is they are the way they are. It opens with the scripture John 13:34 " I give you a new commandment; love one another as I have loved you". We are then spearheaded into Fred Phelps and his beliefs on America and homosexuals.

The film does a great job of not taking sides. We are not only introduced to Fred Phelps and his church (which is mostly made up of his sons, daughters and grandchildren) but to other Christian pastors who believe Phelps is wrong, the mayor of Topeka Kansas(where WBC is located) and some others who have encountered Phelps along the way.

At 70 minutes the film hits you quickly without giving you time to breathe. It is the perfect amount of time allotted for such a subject because any longer would have become overbearing.

While not taking sides, most will probably view Phelps as a horrible and terrifying human being(as they should). He will be seen this way, not because the filmmakers aim for it to be this way, but because he aims for it to be this way. The bits they show from his sermons are horrifying enough. It is as if you are watching a horror film. Fred Phelps is Anton Chigurh without the cow gun and bad hair cut.

Some of the issues the film brings up are interesting. The film tries to focus on the freedom of speech subject but loses its way a little while getting mixed up in focusing on the Phelps family a little too much. The question brought up is should freedom of speech be allowed even when it is utterly hateful? The film doesn't answer this but it does show the ACLU actually take a case to help the Phelps clan when the President signed a bill that would force them to be so many feet away from a funeral service for a certain amount of time before and after the funeral and during.

The juxtaposition of other Christians railing against Phelps while cutting back to Phelps shows a great divide between the two groups. The film really shines when Rev. Jeff Gannon explains that Fred Phelps is the perfect example of a person that "needs love but is so undeserving of that love".

This films major questions; freedom of speech, separation of church and state are greatly dealt with(although sometimes pushed aside) and well crafted to seamlessly fit into what could also be viewed as a character study of a family so filled with hate and fear that they are blind to what love really is.

K. Ryan Jones, who made this film as a school project by filming the Phelps family for a year, does a great job on a hard to tackle subject. This film has been highly overlooked but is important to America today because of the battles waging about Homosexual rights, especially marriage. It is also important to America because it shows that sometimes tolerance has to go both ways, even when it's this hard to do.

1 comment:

tmarie said...

The comment in your second to last paragraph of the issues being dealt with "seamlessly" and being "well-crafted" seemed a bit contradictory when they're also called "pushed aside" in the same sentence. But nicely written overall and I thought you had some good thoughts that you communicated well about your own opinions on the subject. You successfully sparked my interest - I'd like to check it out.