Directed by Kirk Davis
reviewed by Ian Dawe
| I couldn't help asking myself as I watched this sweet,
charming southern tale - are there really people this medieval
and superstitious still living in the world today? Sadly, I think
there are, but that shouldn't prevent anyone from enjoying Screen
Door Jesus on its own terms.
Against a rich backdrop of quirky characters and southern culture,
this film tells a series of interconnected stories set in one
small Texas town around the topic of faith and religion. One thread
involves a white hypocritical Bank manager and his treatment of
a black fellow churchgoer. Another explores the romantic entanglements
of the mayor with a sexually aggressive, manipulative woman. Another
follows the story of two seedy characters who invade the town
drilling for oil beneath the lake. Still another tells the story
of two boys, one black and one white, and their changing relationship
with regards to religion. The central event in the film, though,
is the appearance of a vision of Jesus on an old black woman's
screen door, which rapidly becomes a place of pilgrimage.
The film was based on the short stories of Christopher Cook and
it is a credit to the co-writer and director Kirk Davis that the
plot-stuffed drama never really becomes confusing or loses its
thematic focus. The relationship between all the stories seems
forced at times, and some narratives work better than others,
but the way the film drifts from one to the other has the not
unappealing mood of a lazy southern afternoon.
Religion is a hot topic in the US at the moment, and certain
plot lines deal directly with questions of faith, but as an outsider
I was often disturbed by the sheer medievalism of these people's
approach to religion. Many characters (such as a pious, sanctimonious
Grandmother) have a simplistic and childish view of institutionalized
religion that I can only hope does not reflect a modern day reality.
The very idea that a crowd of people could camp out on someone's
front lawn and offer penitent prayer to a screen door, or deny
a deathly ill woman medical treatment in the hopes that "prayer
will save her", or that someone could view a Roman Catholic
as a lustful Satanist - these ideas are just as dangerous and
potentially destructive as anything coming from the Islamic fundamentalists.
Maybe I'm just an oversensitive crank, but in this "war on
terror" culture of fear that the current US administration
has created, I'm just not as ready to laugh at fundamentalism
Luckily, whenever I became too upset over the subject, the film
broke the tension with a great line or situation. "Wake up
- it's the second coming," the Grandmother whispers to her
passive but non-religious husband. His reply, "I thought
the moon was s'posed to turn red first," is one for the ages.
All is brought to a satisfactorily Biblical conclusion in a sequence
involving oil shooting out of fire hydrants that has to be seen
to be believed. The film is also wonderfully photographed in the
lush summer colours of the south, giving everything that little
touch of magic that every parable requires.
Maybe it's best to look upon Screen Door Jesus as just
that: a parable, although one with an easy, ambling pace. Southern-style,
if you will.
freelance writer and longtime film enthusiast, Ian
Dawe is now completing a Master's Degree in Film History.
He currently teaches at Selkirk College in Castlegar, British