Tuesday, July 29, 2014

As it is in Heaven [2014]

MPAA (UR would be PG-13 / R)  ChicagoSunTimes (3 Stars)  RE.com (3 Stars)  Fr. Dennis (3 Stars)

IMDb listing
ChicagoSunTimes (B. Stamets) review
RE.com (S. Abrams) review

As it is in Heaven [2014] (directed by Joshua Oberbay screenplay by Virginia Oberbay) is a reasonably well crafted if somewhat tendentious low-budget indie film / cautionary tale about a small Christian-messianic sect/cult/community.  It played recently at Chicago's Facets multimedia.   

It all begins innocuously at the (sect/cult/community) leader's farm somewhere in rural Kentucky.  Though already "a bit off the beaten track," one would imagine that even if one were to happen upon it, one would not necessarily see anything "strange" about it.  There's a farm house, there's some pasture, some of which is cultivated into a field or two, some woods, a small stream running by.  Only if one spent some time observing could one have discerned that there seemed to be more than one family living in said farm-house.  HOWEVER even then, the sect/cult/community was NOT that large -- perhaps 10 maybe 15 people, no more.  And the deed to the land, if one were to have the interest to look it up, would have probably list the sect/cult/community leader as its owner as it probably was in his family perhaps for generations.

The locals would probably know the group's leader, Edward was his name (played by John Lina), as a preacher.  The group did apparently have something of a church or "mission" at a strip-mall at the outskirts of town.  The locals would probably know that "some from the congregation" apparently have taken-up residence on his farm, but they probably would not have made anything of it.  He was "preachin' the word," his group was "helpin' the homeless" "baptizin' the previously lost" and doing so in a way that would be UTTERLY INDISTINGUISHABLE from ANY NUMBER OF "LITTLE STORE FRONT CHURCHES" both in the hinterlands (and in the inner cities) across the U.S.A. today.

Let me add one more bit of information, Edward himself was probably NOT EVIL.  He had devoted his life to Jesus.  He had opened his doors to the poor.  He had given a little community that sprang up around him hope and some joy.  They WERE living in their little corner of our Earth "As it is in Heaven" (Matt 6:9-15).

So what went wrong?

Well, for whatever reason and _not unlike_ a lot of fundamentalist preachers (at least at some point in their lives) Edward became convinced (and quite suddenly) that the world was, indeed, going to end and ... end quite shortly.  We hear him telling his group, at a nice, matter-of-fact "community meeting" or perhaps "Bible study" that "Who would have guessed that Jesus was going to return in just 30 days?"

Now if nothing else happened, 30 days would have passed and ... nothing would have happened ;-) ... and Edward and his little community would have happily gone on, writing off those "30 days of End Times" as a "misjudgement" on the part of their leader.  And if he insisted on pushing the matter further, then the group would have probably broken up.
But that didn't happen here.  Why?  Well, some hours after announcing quite calmly to the group that the world was going to end in 30 days, he himself has heart-attack... BUT ... he does not die right away.

Instead, he lives long enough (hours more) to "anoint" a member of the group, David (played by Chris Nelson), as his successor.  More troublingly, he _burdens_ David with the responsibility of "getting the group ready" for Christ's coming in 30 days.  Remember, Edward found himself _suddenly_ on his death bed.  He didn't have a lot of time to give David instruction.  He just tells him, "YOU HAVE TO GET THEM READY.  I DIDN'T HAVE THE TIME.  NOW IT'S GOING TO BE UP TO YOU. ... IF THEY ARE NOT READY, CHRIST WON'T COME FOR THEM."   And these turned out to be Edward's last words to ANYBODY.  A few moments afterwards, Edward slips into unconsciousness and dies shortly thereafter.

Now David was a relative neophyte.  In the opening sequence in the film, we saw him being baptized and entering the group only one year earlier.  Now became clear that Edward saw in him qualities that he didn't see in HIS OWN SON named Eamon (played by Luke Beavers) who was also David's (mid/late-twenties) age.  Now Edward left David in charge.

But ... there are some rather obvious problems here:  (1) How prepared is David, still something of a wide-eyed 20-something neophyte, TO LEAD the group?  and (2) Because David is a relative neophyte, will the rest of the group, including Edward's own family (especially Edward's oldest son, but presumably also Edward's widow, the mother of Edward's oldest son) going to accept David as Edward's anointed successor?  Remember, this is not a large group, 10-15 people of which Edward's family (his widow, his children, even Eamon's presumed wife or girlfriend, with a baby) still makes up a substantial part.  And remember the whole group is even still living on Edward's (family's) presumed farm.

BUT ...Edward's last instructions to them were, first (to the group) that Jesus was coming in 30 days, and second (to David) that David needed to "get them ready."  SO ... if the clock weren't "ticking," perhaps some of the groups problems would have naturally resolved themselves.  Now, since there were only 30 days left anyway, arguing over actually who "owns the farm" on which the group lived probably seemed rather "beside the point."

SO ... the group seemed to largely give David (as Edward's successor) the benefit of the doubt.  What's 30 days, right?

BUT ... How exactly does one PREPARE for Christ's coming in a way that would be substantially different from how the group had already lived?  (Remember that Edward told David that the group _wasn't_ ready and that DAVID had to MAKE THEM READY in those 30 days).

Seems like "drastic actions" were called for ... So wide-eyed, in over-his-head but sincere 20-something David ... calls for a 30 day Fast.  That would get the group ready and heck "Fasts" were even Biblical.  Right?

Well, but there's also a baby in their midst ..., there _is_ under-the-immediate-surface division in the group and, finally, Edward was venerated by the group as not merely a Prophet but ALSO "a nice guy" ... HE never called a fast ... but then HE told David that David needed to get them ready ...

The rest of the film ensues ...

I found the film fascinating, and yes, it can serve as a cautionary tale about "messianism" and "apocalyptic" thinking.

But I also think that there were a number of circumstances written into the story here that drove its outcome.   If Edward had not died in the circumstances that he did, then the rest of the story would have played out very differently.  It the group did not have to simultaneously deal with both Edward's somewhat surprising choice of successor AND "prepare for the imminent end of the world," then the story would have played out very differently.  

The film's main message becomes "bad things happen when decisions are made in a pressure cooker,"  which is absolutely true.  The way out of making "bad decisions in a pressure cooker" is to look for ways to "slow things down" so as to _deescalate_ the situation.  And that would have worked for this little Christian community living in the rolling hinterlands of Kentucky, just as it did work out for the whole world during the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis ... 

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