Reviews: "End of the Spear" and "Black Snake Moan"

One the face of it, you'll find few movies more different than End of the Spear and Black Snake Moan: One is a tale of Missionary zeal, the other a gritty portrait of depravity and betrayal.

Thanks to an accident of Netflix and the sickness that descended upon our family, I got to watch both within a twelve hour span, and the messages of both harmonize -- Redemption is available to anyone.

In Spear will see a dramatization of the true story of Western missionaries who seek to contact and convert the killer Waodoni tribe of Amazonian Ecuador in the 1960's. A group of 4 men contact the stone-age tribe, then land their plane and befriend several of the tribe, only to be slaughtered hours later. Later, the wives of the slain men enter the jungle to continue their husbands' efforts, leading to the conversion of the tribe and the end of their murderous, warlike ways--"The End of the Spear".

This was a hard movie to watch--death is omnipresent, and we watch murder and infanticide unfold. Even the women get into the act, hacking enemies to death with machetes. Still, the overall point is genuine, and the performances by the native cast were gripping and believable.

Black Snake Moan was very hard to watch, despite (or, perhaps, because of) the amazing performances by Samuel L. Jackson and Christina Ricci. This film follows Jackson's Lazarus, divorced blues musician, as he finds, befriends, and redeems Ricci's Rae, a sex-addict. Oddly, this isn't "Showgirls" or some other gratuitous vehicle for Ricci to show her assets to the world. Instead, what we see is a portrait of a world where sex is evil--serving the same purpose as drugs to fill the emptiness that Rae feels in her life.

Both these films have characters overcoming the unavoidable facts of their existence--in Spear it's killing, in Moan it's sexual predation and addiction. In both there are scenes of definite redemption, and I felt a strong bolstering of my own faith from both. Paraphrasing the speech Lazarus's boyhood friend and minister makes to Rae:

There's sinning in my heart, there's evil in the world but when I got no one, I talk to God. I ask for strength, I ask for forgiveness, not peace at the end of my days when I got no more life to live or no more good to do

The realistic portrayal of how Christianity maps to an imperfect world was awesome. When no one else would find anything worthy in Rae, Lazarus did...and through helping her find redemption, he found the music and purpose within himself.


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