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US Army war veteran Hazel Motes may not be a believing Christian, somehow observations like the state of a run-down country church, meeting the ridiculous frauds on the streets and memories inspire him to take up, after initially fierce refusal, the part of a traveling preacher when a cab driver insists he looks like one in his new hat. He starts his own new Church of Truth, without the crucified Jesus, his first disciple being an 18-year old simpleton with a 'prophetic gift'... Written by
As Hawks touches Hazel's face, in the next shot he's touching Hazel's hat. See more »
...the Church of Christ Without Christ. Where the blind can't see, the lame don't walk, and the dead stay that way.
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Director John Huston is credited in all the titles as "Jhon Huston". Producer Michael Fitzgerald later explained that, wanting to have a child-like look to the credits, they had an actual child write the names. The child misspelled Huston's first name, but they liked it and kept it, as a metaphor for the artificial, off-kilter tone of the story. See more »
This is not an easy movie to get a handle on, so I'm not surprised reviewers either love it or hate it. Now, I've neither read the O'Connor novel nor lived in the South nor read the Bible since Sunday school. As a result, I have to take the movie as just that, a movie, without benefit of outside comparison.
I get the impression that underneath all the black humor and exaggerated characters, something profound is going on. But exactly what? Perhaps you need that outside reference to penetrate the subtext. Then again, perhaps the profound subtext is illusory, like Hazel's view of Christianity, such that the narrative amounts to little more than artfully eccentric entertainment, courtesy sly old John Huston.
The following are what I hope are helpful interpretations, generally not emphasized by other reviewers, many of whose commentaries were, nonetheless, very helpful to me.
Above all, Hazel has come to hate hypocrisy. His motto appears to be: If you own the Truth, then live it. For Hazel, Truth is the illusory nature of Christian metaphysics, (a disavowal that doesn't necessarily equate with atheism), and by golly he's going to live that truth in his own peculiar way. Thus, the hard-eyed obsessive stare, the refusal of commitment sex (Sabbath) but not commercial sex (an over-priced 4 dollars), and the rather heartless rejection of the pathetically friendless Enoch. In short, like his adversary, the true Christian proselytizer, Hazel is a driven man.
The trouble is that he knows only one way of spreading his truth-- by preaching angrily on street corners. Worse, his gospel is one of pure and insistent negatives (perhaps why atheism has never been popular), for example,"when you're dead, you're dead!" -- not exactly a crowd-pleaser. Nor, for that matter, is he going to allow Preacher Sholes (Ned Beatty) to dilute that negative message with a crowd-pleasing brand of hucksterism. Hazel may be strange, but he is no hypocrite.
Now, it's clear that the broken-down jalopy means more to Hazel than just another hunk of iron. He's always praising it, even as it coughs smoke and bleeds fluids. It's his chariot, and while it might not take him to heaven, it will take him to the next town to spread his Word. Note that he even uses it to slay the pathetic pretender who would take his place on the street corner. Moreover, it's not until Hazel loses that chariot (hilariously) that he takes on the role of the martyred prophet. After all, rejection now means he has no other place he can get to.
For me, the most revealing part of the film is Enoch's (Dan Shor) pathetic efforts at establishing contact with another human being. Huston, of course, doesn't play up the sentiment, but it's there anyway. Also, this may constitute the most damaging perspective on the dominant Christian culture of the movie-- even more damaging than Hazel's centerpiece non-belief. After all, if Jesus' message is unconditional love, why is Enoch alone and abandoned in an empty world of nominal Jesus followers. Nor, for that matter, is Hazel's brand of soulless non-belief any help either.
Then too, just count the number of happy smiles in the film-- practically none, except when the kids are reaching out to the fake human, Gongo the gorilla. Poor Enoch thinks that by donning Gongo's costume, people will finally reach out to him. But there's no such contact in this atomized world of social rejects. In fact, a dominant theme appears to be just that, rejection-- Hazel rejects Jesus, Sabbath, his landlady, Enoch, Preacher Sholes, while even the cop rejects Hazel's jalopy, at the same time, the whole seedy community rejects Enoch. Quite a commentary on an environment where Jesus is advertised on every big rock and sold on every street corner as a friend to the friendless.
Now, I don't know if there is any particular moral to the foregoing, but if there is, I suspect it's not a comforting one. Anyway, the movie is full of colorful characters, offbeat situations, and is never, never predictable. So, like the film or not, I expect that it's one you're not likely to forget.
21 of 24 people found this review helpful.
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