Something like this actually happened in Billings. Or -- I should put "something like this" in quotes because I doubt that the actual events were so thoroughly and theatrically scripted.
Montana gets a bad rep. Outisders tend to think of it as a lunatic asylum to which everyone who wants to "get off the grid" in order to oppose The New World Order (by which they seem to mean mainly Pakistani UN troops) migrates. I worked for the Indian Health Service in Billings for one summer, a few years before this incident, and found it a decent place, a lot more accomodating than any similar-sized city in, say, New Jersey. And you can find a decent pizza and get the New York Times at the airport, and they have a Montessori School -- so what do you want, egg in your beer?
We see a lot of hatred shown towards minorities -- Indians, blacks, and especially Jews. And we see the family at the center of all this turmoil, a nice Jewish doctor with a nice ex-Lutheran wife and their child. Some minor conflicts are built into the story in expectable ways. "If we ignore it, maybe it will go away." "But that's what they said in the Old Country." That sort of thing. We see some minor conflicts in the community too, although some of them are not too plausible. (Should the hospital administrator allow the refugees from a bomb-threatend Temple to take shelter in his lobby, or would the presence of so many Jews all at once alienate someone or put the hospital at risk or taint the air with the aroma of sweet and sour short ribs?) The bad guys are really BAD. You can tell because they're always smoking cigarettes. There is never a moment when the viewer is allowed the slightest doubt about the "right thing to do."
And that's too bad because this is an issue worth exploring. Will a normal loving middle-class community always have to put up with hate mongers? Is there a good reason why there has never been a human society free of internal conflict? Does goodness generate its opposite? Or, to put it differently, does a "thesis" always produce its own "antithesis", as Hegel argued? If so, why? The movie gives us no idea of the social dynamics involved in this confrontation between good and evil. The bad guys are outsiders and speak ungrammatically and are given lines like "this country belongs to White Christians," but we haven't the slightest notion of why they've been made to believe such baloney. It's not enough to dismiss them, as the doctor does, as "psychopaths." (Not too enlightening, Doc.)
It's a touching and interesting story and it's kind of dumbed down for people who might not get the point. At a meeting in the Temple, an old Jewish woman gets several minutes to tell the kind of heartbreaking story about having survived the Nazi genocide that the viewer is already familiar with. On top of that, when everyone is hustled outside into a rainstorm my the police, she seems about to faint so that people must rush to her side and help her. PLEASE! We get it, already.
Still, I don't want to hit this film with a sledgehammer. If I find it irritating, it's not just because of the way it's been executed but because of all the missed opportunities. For instance, is it possible that, for whatever reasons, some minorities willingly contribute to their own marginality. How do Jews, blacks, and Indians feel about the rising popularity of intergroups marriages? Conservative White Christians used to ask liberals, "Would you want your daughter to marry one?" Now that sort of objection is as likely to come from the minority group that does not want to lose its solidarity, its identity, its separateness.
The issue the movie deals with has to do with the heart of human nature, and it treats it like a soap opera with a happy ending.
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