Christians Rated R: Part III (Application – The Boondock Saints)
For the past couple of weeks, the Papyrus has run “Christians Rated R” part I and part II discussing why and how Christians should go about engaging Rated “R” films. (We have worked to provide a method/argument for a way of coming to these films on their own terms while still retaining a Christian identity). This week concludes this series with a final installment that explores an “R” rated film in an attempt to put our thoughts into practice.
I have chosen for this piece a film from the late 90s entitled The Boondock Saints. Essentially, the film is about two Irish brothers who, after defending themselves and others in a bar fight, are attacked by low-level enforcers for the Russian mob. The brothers end up killing the enforcers, after which they receive a prophetic call from God to go and smite out that which is evil so that “that which is good may flourish.” The brothers go about systematically tracking down members of the Russian mob and other criminals who they believe are doing evil things. In this process, they develop a relationship with a federal detective who tries to discern whether or not what the brothers are doing is righteous. The brothers believe that they are acting in the truth and justice of God, for they are doing what is necessary to keep the tyranny of evil at bay. The overall sentiment of the film is that the indifference of good people is a worse evil than intentionally evil actions.
I have chosen this film for three reasons:
1) The film contains much content that would be seen as “objectionable” and would evoke a response of offense in many Christians: exceedingly gory violence, a high frequency of impolite language, scenes of sexuality that include nudity, homosexuality, and cross-dressing. Because of this content, it provides an excellent example of what we have been discussing in the past two articles.
2) This film provides an interesting discussion for Christians because it utilizes explicitly Christian language and symbolism.
3) It happens to be one of my all-time favorite films
So without further ado, I will set about putting this film under the scrutiny of the model developed in “Christians Rated R Part II:”
In which conversational language does this piece speak: “on-the-wall” or “behind-the-wall?”
This question is interesting when applied to Boondock because of the use of explicitly Christian language and symbolism. The film opens on a congregation praying the Lord’s Prayer at mass and moves into a priest’s homily. The imagery does not stop there, however, the brothers go around carrying rosaries, praying a prayer at each gun fight, cross themselves, and go to confession. Also, the film’s plot obviously portrays the brothers as believing they are on a mission from God. So, is this film speaking in the “behind-the-wall” language of Christianity because of this symbolism? I would argue that this is not so.
This film does not seem to be a discussion between Christians about the greater Christian narrative. This is not because of the objectionable content, nor is it because of the director’s religious views (honestly, I do not know whether or not Troy Duffy is a Christian). It seems to be in the “trade” language of an “on-the-wall” conversation because it is not a story told specifically for Christians. While it pulls from Christian language and imagery, the structure of the film and the overall marketing seems to be geared more towards an ethical discussion with the culture at large than something that was created with the primary purpose of building the Christian community. For these reasons I am labeling Boondock as an “on-the-wall” conversation even though it may allude to the language of “behind-the-wall” conversations between Christians.
What is the medium, what is the genre, and what would be appropriate within these contexts?
The medium is clearly film, therefore the content should be a mixture of audio and visual content. Plot is driven both by the actions, environment, and mood portrayed visually and the dialogue, music, and ambience heard through the soundtrack. Certain motifs will become prevalent in different genre of film. Boondock probably falls into the action genre, but more specifically it is a mobster crime drama with a quite high number of action sequences. Mobster flicks tend to have gratuitous amounts of violence, swearing, and sexuality as a way to portray the gritty realities behind getting one’s hands dirty to gain power. Boondock contains this type of content to point towards the corrupt nature of the people the brothers hunt down to kill as well as pointing towards the idea that the brothers are getting their hands dirty for the sake of good. Therefore, the content used in Boondock fits well into what is appropriate within the context of its medium and genre.
What narrative is this piece of art proclaiming?
The answer to this question was briefly touched upon in the plot summary above. This film broaches an ethical discussion about the nature of evil. It asks the question, “which is worse, evil or people who do nothing about the evil in the world?” The film provides an answer suggesting that morality requires action, and action requires getting one’s hands dirty. The film goes on to suggest that violence can be used for the sake of good as a means to stop the tyranny of evil. According to the film, what is required of good people is not necessarily holding to specific beliefs, but rather having the courage “to do what is necessary” to live a good life and hold evil at bay.
How is this piece of art proclaiming its narrative, and does it proclaim its narrative well?
The film proclaims the narrative primarily through the plot of the film, but also the homily at the beginning and Billy Connolly’s final short monologue (video below) provide a lens through which to view the entirety of the film because these scenes essentially state the narrative described in the paragraph above explicitly.
Through the lens of the film’s beginning and the end all of the actions of the characters in between work to discuss this ethical question and pose possible answers. Overall, the film does this very well. The writing provides an engaging story, the actors do extremely well, and the cinematography fits the gritty atmosphere of the story. Boondock works to proclaim the narrative primarily through the plot and the other aspects of the film speak to this narrative.
!!!!!THIS CLIP MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS!!!!!
If you haven’t seen the movie but plan to, don’t watch it.
How will I respond to this piece of art as a Christian?
It is now that we bring in our Christian worldview, after working to understand the film on its on terms. The content that many Christians may find offensive fits well into the genre and medium of the film. Also, this content is utilized in proclaiming the overall narrative with the film. Therefore, it is the narrative of the film and not necessarily the specific content that we should be discussing.
The narrative of morality requiring action actually fits quite well with the Christian understanding of the world. Indeed, much of Christian action is teaching people how to “get their hands dirty” in a manner which honors God: for example, living with the poor, feeding the hungry, caring for the sick, or visiting the incarcerated. Perhaps Christians could benefit from asking themselves if they “possess the constitution to do what is necessary” to live a life following Christ, and how to develop such a life that would produce this constitution. At the center of the Christian life is a call to come and die, and this seems to necessitate getting one’s hands dirty. In this sense, indifference of good people is indeed evil, and the narrative of the film seems to align with the Christian narrative.
However, the Christian narrative is also a narrative of peace. We, as Christians must ask the question of the film’s narrative, “is violence really a necessity for executing justice, or is this falling deeper into the tyranny of evil?” It seems that the Christian narrative speaks in contrast to the narrative of the film on this point.
However, even though we may disagree with parts the narrative being proclaimed, this does not negate the need for engaging the film. In fact, through an engagement of the film, we are able to have a great discussion about these types of ethical topics and define more clearly the Christian response. Therefore, not only can a Christian find such films enjoyable because it is good cinematography, screenwriting, or acting, such films can broach fantastic dialogues about how Christians should interact with the world at large. Therefore, Christians do indeed need engage such films, and hopefully this series of articles has been helpful in providing some guidance about how to do so.