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Screen Door Jesus
Directed by Kirk Davis

reviewed by Ian Dawe

September 05, 2005 | 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 anymore.

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.

A 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 Columbia.

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