[During an interview]
You've got the duty to know the Bible as well as I do.
Because you're a human being. Because God Almighty made you and God Almighty is going to send your ass to hell.
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Enjoyable in the way Theroux's films usually are, but also upsetting and a touch disturbing too
The Westborough Baptist Church believe that America is condemned by God because of its acceptance of homosexuality and rejection of His true teaching. The members of the church are overwhelmingly from one family the Phelps family under the tutelage of Pastor Phelps father or grandfather to many of the group. In an attempt to understand why they are so hated and try to get a grip on their beliefs, Louis Theroux spends several months with them at their home, talking to them as individuals and joining them on their pickets at the funerals of dead soldiers, whom they believe are dead because God is punishing the US.
Louis Theroux has made a name for himself in seeking out the weird and the wonderful characters and scenes in the world and managing to get close to them, using his affable and harmless manner to often reach the heart of the people and let them show more than they intended. And so it is here with the Phelps family a group that we start out seeing as a group of religious cracks but gradually become more and more upsetting as the film goes on. The film does a great job of exploring its subjects and Louis effortlessly brings a lot out of some of them.
Of course it is not hard to get them to come over as hatemongers who have fixated on one sin and one teaching from the bible and are seemingly ignoring the rest (regardless of the defence that it is the "elephant in the room") and Louis just lets them preach at him. However he also nudges them to talk with mixed results. Pastor Phelps is a waste of five minute of film but the mother is interesting in her immobility in her position. Where he has much more success is with the children because they are quite normal people despite these views. He gets them talking and his style rewards the viewer by drawing out the slightest touches of doubt and a belief that seems to stem more from repetition and, dare I say, brainwashing than it does from a considered thought process and understanding. It disturbing to see because it is hard to escape the belief that the children genuinely have no chance. I suppose it is no different from those born into violent families, abusive families, overly protective families and so on but it still doesn't make it easy viewing.
Fans of Theroux will love it and the casual viewer will find that the subjects are difficult to fail to be engaged by. Enjoyable in the way Theroux's films usually are, but also upsetting and a touch disturbing too.
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