By Bonnie Anderson and Dan Webster
Mad Max and Prophet’s Prey…distorting scripture
Two recent films, one documentary about a contemporary religious cult leader and the other a redux of a post-nuclear disaster world movie, unfortunately harbor some chilling religious and faith themes.
‘Mad Max Fury Road’ must be the longest chase movie ever filmed. The violence it dishes out is perfect for a society addicted to it. Some have said it is an update of the original 1979 and 1981 movie series but with a feminist twist.
What’s surprising, from a faith perspective, is the amount of symbolism it draws from the bible.
Immortan Joe, the ruler of one of the post-apocalyptic desert enclaves, tells his subjects, “I am your redeemer” right before he turns on just enough water to keep the people dependent on him. When the water flow comes out of a rock fortress housing the ruler, the image comes to mind of Moses and water from the rock during the exodus of the Hebrew people.
Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron) is trying to escape with Joe’s women, one of whom is pregnant, across a huge desert to a homeland she has only heard about. That’s where the chase comes in. And that’s where we see the “feminist” twist.
But it’s really nothing more than women doing what men have always done in movies—the death-defying, shoot’em-ups with great special effects—so it’s more of the masculinization of women than it is feminization. At least in the bible we read numerous stories of women being strong without acting like their male counterparts.
Joe has no interest in anything but his power. The young men who seem so loyal to him sound like modern day terrorists when they shout, “I live. I die. I live again.” One of the women tries to tell the young “war boys” they are just war fodder for Joe.
The documentary, ‘Prophet’s Prey,’ also has chase scenes though there’s no violence on screen. We can only imagine it behind the scenes. We hear of stories of abuse of young children unfortunate enough to have been born into the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (FLDS).
The distortion of scripture is rampant as its leader, Warren Jeffs, discards people like fodder because they no longer fit his vision. This documentary will make your blood boil especially when you hear an audio tape of him allegedly having intercourse with a 12-year-old girl in a religious ceremony. (Eventually he was sent to prison for that act).
The producers chronicle how Jeffs evades the law, abuses young girls in the name of Jesus Christ, then runs his church from behind bars. ‘Prophet’s Prey’ was making the rounds of film festivals since premiering at Sundance in January 2015. It may be awhile before it is on Showtime, one of its producers, at your local art house theatre or available on demand.
Both films point out how despotic leaders can co-opt religious or moral values for their own purposes. They remind us of what one author has said: Beware of anyone who claims to speak for God.
Bonnie Anderson is a very active lay leader in her parish, diocese and in the wider Episcopal Church. She is an experienced community organizer and lives in suburban Detroit. Dan Webster is an Episcopal priest in Baltimore, Maryland and a former broadcast news executive. But don’t expect only east coast urban perspectives here. As it turns out, we both grew up in Southern California. They blog about films and faith atFaith Reels.