Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Film Review: One Nation Under God, Directed By Will Bakke

One Nation Under God is a documentary directed by Will Bakke. It depicts Bakke and his friends evangelizing people across the country, interviewing people about their beliefs in the afterlife, the divinity of Christ, and is interspersed with scenes of twenty-year old antics. Now, as a philosopher, I could have much to say about the content or activity of Evangelizing, but that's not the worst part of this movie. This movie is just downright pathetic.

Bakke and company confess a life of privilege. They never go into detail about their background, but some things are clear. Most, if not all of them, are from affluent Christian families. They open the film under the guise of asking questions about their own faith, but then project this inquiry onto others. When they encounter difference, they flash to a white background often rolling their eyes, or mocking the interviewed subjects. Two girls in Boston are mocked when one girl claims to believe in reincarnation. Other times, they bounce up and down like idiotic adolescence frat boys about where they are going next.

They also mock people without them knowing about it. A lesbian takes them in for the night, and they wake up in the middle of the night and start to show her apartment in disbelief showcasing what they claim is a whip with a heart on the end of it. Even if the whip is hers (you never see their generous benefactor from, the fact that they wake up in the middle of the night to showcase elements of her sexuality speak more about the limits of Protestant Evangelism of a certain class than the merits faith can ultimately provide.

They travel a weird path starting in Texas and then looping clockwise around the states moving onto California, Montana, Chicago, Philadelphia and then closing the loop somewhere in New Orleans. I get the impression that doing the documentary was more an excuse to travel and have fun. They do not show many interviews they have claimed to do. At one point, really strange details that have no bearing whatsoever on the goal of the movie like their dissatisfaction that Mt. Rushmore is not fun, and that they paid 10 dollars in parking fill most of the movie. One of the Bakke's friends gets poison ivy because they show 4 minutes of climbing down a cliff.

There are two points in this film where it could have been redeeming, had the young men, insecure with difference in this world, developed those conversations, or better yet been developed by them. One interviewer challenged the belief that a loving God would not require eternal damnation. Rather than dealing with the subject matter, one of the friends claims that's a hard challenging question. He leaves it at that, and just reaffirms his faith. He stands on the edge of a precipice and does not want to philosophically engage in a self-reflection about the limits of his own faith. Repeating a mantra is not a substitute for really wrestling with the limits of faith.

Next, Bakke and his friends were invited into a Muslim house. The Muslim and his wife simply try to articulate the difference between them. One of them reports that it was amazing conversation, and they show literally three minutes. At the end of the conversation, the poison-ivy friend says the difference between them is the divinity of Christ, repeating a text book answer. At one point, another of the friends claims that all his misconceptions had been blown away. Here, this person witnessed that what he was taught about Muslims after 9/11 couldn't be true, and the moment of self-reflection here could have been powerful, even transforming. Instead, the film transitions to a buffoonic display of bravado yet again. The purpose of interfaith dialogue is lost on them.

On Netflix, their journey is described as "a hilarious, thought-provoking journey and question everything in order to live for something." They are not hilarious, but attempt to shrug off the difference they encounter with insecure bouts of humor. Humor is a mask for their inability to push further in self-examination. Instead, the humor underscores the limits of their own faith and their judgment of others that fail to articulate what they have been told their whole lives.

They are not thought-provoking in any way. Put some coffee on and pull out your copy of Kierkegaard or Plato.

Finally, they are not questioning everything. "Questioning everything" is indie for being cool hipster-style and attempting to appear deep without understanding the depth and discipline that inquiry requires. Instead, if anything, this movie fails on all intellectual levels save one. Unintentionally, they have produced a mockumentary unwittingly about the limits to which they will strive for self-validation in the eyes of others. Such self-validation comes at the cost of revealing a common problem in American culture: the inability of the dominant class to encounter difference and those in need. Had they been more concerned, they might have lived some of their faith and donated their time to feeding the poor other than smiling half-cockingly about how they will give a Little Caesars pizza to a homeless man. The homeless man is allegedly encountered, and the camera fades. Like so much of the movie, the fade gives the impression that the impersonalizing that homeless man's suffering and starvation shall remain as such for Bakke and his friends, an impersonal affair briefly encountered, a pause on the road of acting stupid.

Their idiocy has not stopped. Apparently, Bakke and his friends have directed another movie where they vacation in Europe yet again under the guise of "questioning everything" which actually just means "questioning nothing."