Engage with culture without disengaging your faith.
Rating: MA 15+
(action/horror/thriller/disturbing violence/some sexual content including brief nudity/language)
Length: 1.28 hours
Starring: John Goodman, Michael Parks, Melissa Leo
Writer/Director: Kevin Smith
Sex, religion and politics – an explosive combination! Red State unfolds in a small town in middle America dominated by a fundamentalist preacher, Abin Cooper who holds extreme homophobic and anti-government views. (Remember Waco, Texas and the charismatic leader David Koresh?)
This film tells the story of three high school boys who make the most of an online invitation to a sexual rendezvous with a woman. The opening sequence is a bit like a typical teen horror flick. The boys end up being drugged and kidnapped by Cooper’s fundamentalist Christian sect, which believes the world is spiraling into moral oblivion. They are prepared to take matters into their own hands to deal decisively with examples of sexual immorality and homosexuality. Thus, the boys inadvertently trigger a disturbing series of events that cause all hell to break loose.
It’s compelling viewing but there is a disturbing degree of violence in this film and an incredibly high body count. In the end, Abin Cooper is taken alive, and spends the remainder of his days locked in solitary confinement, where he spends the rest of his days pacing anxiously around his cell muttering like a madman – singing and preaching to himself.
The critics are in two minds about this movie. So, why would you bother seeing it?
Steve Parker writes: “The acting is top-notch, especially Michael Parks as the sect leader and John Goodman as the ATF officer. The story is riveting and suspenseful. It tellingly portrays contemporary tensions between religion and politics that so often centre around aspects of sex, particularly in America. The basic point is that neither religion nor government really know how to communicate and handle each other and when they come together it creates a tinder box of dangerous attitudes that have serious consequences. Red State is very violent in making its point – but religion and governments have resorted to violence to try to “manage” their agendas. If you are at all squeamish – better not to see this one. If you do see it, you are in for a very confronting experience that will have you thinking deeply for a long time”.
David Stratton writes: “Red State is filled with hatred towards both fundamentalists, like the odious Cooper, and federal agencies, like the ATF depicted here, an organisation that operates beyond and above the law. Smith sets out to shock audiences by ensuring that we never quite know who are the goodies and the baddies in all of this, and who is going to get a bullet in the head next. It’s a really strange film, terribly violent on one level and on another filled with lengthy, long-winded philosophical discourses and blind alleys. It’s well made, and has an interesting cast, but its general unpleasantness overwhelms its other qualities”.
Questions for discussion
This particular movie is challenging in content and visually. Nevertheless, it does raise some interesting questions. Some general questions might provide enough of a framework for you to discuss the movie, such as:
- What topical issues were addressed, and what themes were explored?
- What challenged you? What questions did it raise for you?
- In what way is ‘the church’ depicted, and in what ways might strongly held ‘fundamental’ views and actions and beliefs be distinguished from what would more properly be identified as a sect? What’s the ‘tipping point’? What might potentially hold such extreme views in check?
- What contemporary examples do we have of the toxic combination of sex, religion and politics?
- What contemporary examples do we have of people like Abin Cooper – charming yet sinister – who attract others to a doctrine of hate and extreme views? What’s the line between sanity and madness for leaders of this kind?
© Rev Sandy Boyce October 2011 Pilgrim Uniting Church
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