Several years ago an editor for the Des Moines Register asked me to review Martin Scorcese's film The Last Temptation of Christ, then the target of vigorous boycotts by conservative Christians. As I stood in a long queue outside the theater in midtown Manhattan, I witnessed all manner of demonstrations and endured numerous insults from the "good Christian folks" who did not want me to see the movie. As an evangelical Christian, I can attest that nothing I saw inside the theater frightened me nearly so much as what I had seen outside.
The Last Temptation of Christ eventually collapsed beneath the weight of its own pretensions (not to mention the abysmal, clench-jawed performance of Willem Dafoe in the title role), but the Religious Right has continued its desultory assault on Hollywood. And why not? The motion picture industry presents a broad target, from the mindless patter of Saturday Night Fever and Spice World to the ritual violence of Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sylvester Stallone, and Chuck Norris. Religious conservatives have become adept at sniffing out assaults on "traditional family values," even in the house of Disney.
Occasionally, however, filmmakers get it right, producing motion pictures that are morally uplifting and even theologically astute. Two recent examples are The Spitfire Grill, released in 1996, and The Apostle, just released by October Films.
The Spitfire Grill, which won an award from the Sundance Film Festival, is the story of Perchance "Percy" Talbott, recently released from the penitentiary after serving time for manslaughter, who seeks to build a new life in Gilead, Maine. Predictably, Percy's presence arouses the suspicions of townspeople, and viewers should pay special attention to the biblical character ...1
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