Review: End of the Spear
Last night, my wife and son and I went to see the newly-opened movie End of the Spear. I had only heard about the movie two weeks ago when I happened to catch a radio program on which Steve Saint (one of the main characters in the movie) was being interviewed. I decided almost instantly that I wanted to see the movie.
For those of you unfamiliar with the true story on which this movie is based, fifty years ago, five young missionaries lost their lives to the vicious spears of the Waodani tribe in Ecuador. These five men were attempting to make peaceful contact with the tribe for the purpose of sharing the Gospel with them. For years, I was familiar with the story of Jim Elliot, one of the five who gave up his life. His widow, Elisabeth Elliot, has been an author and a speaker for most of the fifty years that have elapsed.
This movie, however, is based on the story of Nate Saint and his son, Steve. It also focuses on Mincayani, the tribesmember who personally speared Nate Saint. Without telling the whole story, I'll tell you that Nate's sister (Rachel) went to live with the Waodani after they had murdered her brother and the other four men. Steve spent many summers visiting Rachel there. It wasn't until after Rachel's death in 1994 that Steve finally found out many of the details surrounding his father's death (he was about eight years old at the time his father was killed).
Following Rachel's death, the Waodani insisted that Steve and his family come live with them. After much discussion and prayer, Steve agreed. Mincayani now is like a father to Steve and a grandfather to Steve's children.
This is a story of grace, forgiveness, sacrifice -- in a word: the Gospel.
Imagine my surprise, then, when I began to see rather heated arguments around the Christian blogosphere with some well-meaning folks even calling for Christians to boycott this movie! The controversy revolves around the fact that Chad Allen, who plays both Nate Saint and the adult Steve Saint in the movie is an outspoken homosexual. The outrage has been extremely vitriolic as some people try to outdo each other with their "stand against homosexuality". Comments have been made along the lines of how Christians are beginning to accept homosexuality because we are allowing a gay man to play the part of a martyred missionary.
If it is necessary to clarify this point, allow me to say publicly that I do believe that homosexuality is sin. I do not, for one moment, endorse homosexuality. My opinions stated here should not be mischaracterized or misrepresented as implying that I approve of homosexuality, or think that it's "ok".
I have read these arguments (I'm intentionally not going to link to them, because I don't think it's necessary. If you want to find them, it won't be hard for you to do so.) with a mixture of emotions. On the one hand, I want to applaud those who believe that we cannot compromise our values for the sake of entertainment and profit. But on the other hand, something does not seem to add up in the arguments. The question that remains is: Where do we draw the line? If we say that a movie that tells a wonderful story, contains elements of the Gospel in it, and is exactly the kind of "entertainment" Christians have been crying out for -- the sense that some folks can never be pleased is rather frustrating -- cannot star a homosexual, do we need to also eliminate adulterers? What about liars? What about divorced people? Are these not all things that God hates?
When others have posed similar questions, the answers frequently pointed out the fact that Chad is apparently an "activist" regarding his homosexuality. So, from that I conclude that others believe that secret sin is acceptable (if nobody knows about it, it's ok), but if someone is open about their sin, then we should not let them be in the movie. I guess that's where we draw the line. Or so the argument goes. Never mind the fact that Chad does not claim to be a Christian. (He claims to have a relationship with God, but also says that his "religion" draws from elements of many world religions, so from the perspective of biblical Christianity, I would have to say he is not a Christian, and to my knowledge, he has not claimed that particular label.) To expect a non-Christian to embrace the laws of God, however we might define them, is to put the cart before the horse. Chad Allen is, as far as I can tell, hell-bound regardless of his sexual orientation. That should be what we focus on.
With that in mind, it's possible that the very same compassion that Nate Saint felt for the Waodani (deemed to be the ones to avoid by many other Christians and non-Christians alike) may be what has motivated Steve Saint to approve of Chad Allen for this role (and it has been noted by Every Tribe Entertainment, the producers of this film, that Steve had a very active role in approving Chad to play him and his father). From what I have been able to gather, it seems that Steve has even befriended Chad, taking him to visit the Waodani in preparation for the movie, and continuing to have contact with him after the movie was made. Is this not the essence of Jesus' ministry? Reaching out to the "untouchables" and showing them love?
Well, I'm not trying to get sidetracked in this post with the controversy. I really want to review the movie. But I say all of the above to set the stage for my review. When I watched the movie yesterday, I was not seeing a homosexual activist. (I would not have even known that Chad was gay if I had not heard so beforehand. I even thought his onscreen kiss with his onscreen wife was very convincing!) I saw the Gospel lived out in so many ways. And I am not ashamed to say that in many places of the movie, I was moved to tears. Not just tears, but outright crying. Sobbing. The story was that powerful.
The movie has been criticized for "down playing" the Gospel, but you would have to be very blind (or be boycotting the movie!) in order not to see the Gospel message throughout. You have a modern-day example of exactly what God did to reach us. The Bible says that while we were still enemies with God, He reconciled us through the death of Christ.
The Waodani were the enemies of everyone. They mistrusted foreigners. They assumed that foreigners only came to kill them. They assumed foreigners were cannibals and would eat them. So they struck first. One of the most powerful questions in the mind of the Waodani (they asked this question of Steve Saint after Rachel's death) was, "Why did they not shoot at us?" They saw that Nate, Jim, and the others had guns. And yet when the warriors speared them, there was no attempt to fight back. Earlier in the movie, the Waodani were told that these men had not come as enemies. They came to tell them that God had a Son who was speared. And He did not spear back.
The Waodani way of life was revenge. One of their enemies would spear one of them. The Waodani would, in turn, take revenge against the family of the one who did the spearing. They would spear back. This vicious cycle of revenge was almost a "normal way of life" for them. It was all they knew. So, to hear that God had seen His own Son be speared and still loved those who speared His Son...this was amazing to them! They fully expected Steve to avenge the death of his father. Yet Steve showed love to them, even accepting Mincayani as the grandfather to his own children.
Another powerful moment in the movie is near the very end when Steve explains to Mincayani that no one took his dad's life. His dad gave his life. This is the message of Christ. Through the death of those five martyrs, and the ensuing love shown to them by Rachel, and then by Steve, the Waodani gave up their murderous way of life and trusted in Christ. They allowed the truth of God to change them.
This is also shown in the movie in a very touching way. One of the men in the tribe trusted Christ before the others did. In the movie, some of the men are discussing the changes they see in Kimo (the one who was saved). They said, "Kimo has changed. You can see it on his face." And Kimo, when given the opportunity to participate in spearing, took a stand for his new way of life and said, "No. God doesn't want us to spear anymore. I will not do it." Through his boldness, the rest of the tribe eventually followed suit.
All in all, I recommend this movie. There were a couple of times when it was hard for me to keep up with who was whom, but overall, it was a great movie. And a couple of concepts that were discussed (the Waodani talked about dying in terms of "jumping the Great Boa") were not really explained very well. But I was able to piece together what they were talking about. In terms of production quality, I would probably give it 3.5 stars out of 5. It was the first major release for Every Tribe Entertainment, and I expect that they will get better. But overall, with the story itself taken into consideration, I would probably give this movie 4.5 stars out of 5.
If the controversy surrounding Chad Allen's work in the movie bothers your conscience, then by all means follow your conscience. I would not judge you for that, and would never want to encourage you to go against your conscience (see Romans 14). But if you are like me, and do not see that as an issue over which to boycott the movie, then I highly recommend you go see the movie. It is one I will not soon forget.
Until next time,