I hate having to do this.

Defiling the sanctity of something I find precious--fiction. For whatever our beliefs (or non-beliefs), fiction is a personal forum, replete with all the amenities afforded to self-expression. With fiction, it doesn't matter what you believe or think, only that you're honest in the storytelling.

Which is why I find it distasteful to hear myself utter derisive sighs at the 2003 film Saints and Soldiers. A taut, unpretentious, intense, gritty WW2 film, it follows 4 American soldiers and one British pilot in the Nazi-occupied French wilderness during a harsh winter. The US soldiers have escaped a massacre and are on the run when they meet the Brit, who has parachuted from a shot-down aircraft. The Brit carries critical intelligence, and though ill-equipped and outnumbered, they must keep him alive (he's the only one who can read his own code) as they attempt to sneak past a fully-armed German platoon. There are no big-name actors in the film, only a couple of familiar faces. The writing is concise, the pacing is beautiful, and the interaction between the characters adroitly manages to avoid being cliche, for the most part. I was duly impressed with the crafting of the picture. Except for one detail...

The religious crap.

Yes, yes, it's the writer's prerogative. If they--Geoffrey Panos and Matt Whittaker--are spiritual people, and they wish to advance their beliefs through film, more power to them. But being a staunch secularist and atheist, I'm just as welcome to be annoyed at the portrayal of the only vocal atheist character, the medic, as a nihilistic, self-serving twit jaded by the effects of war. And just as annoyed by the pious, humanitarian, and, of course, heroic religious corporal. We learn of his inadvertent sin (NO SPOILERS HERE, DON'T WORRY), and the climax to the film is the one place where the script does become cliche, at least where the latter character is concerned. The resolution made me groan audibly, not because it was predictable and maudlin, but for the religious bias I just decried.

Again, it's their film, and their opinion. They've every right to it, and I applaud them for their expression, especially since it was done so beautifully. But yet again, religious (or shall we be new-agey PC?--"spiritual") short-sightedness threatens to stultify. I mean, of course atheists aren't capable of being humanitarian, right? Of course we're selfish nihilists. Without God pouring "goodness" into our hearts, we're empty vessels in danger of corruption...and so on.

Sigh. Not all religious people are rabid zealots, and it is unfair that so many writers and filmmakers issue the opposite view, but does this kind of bigotry help? Do two wrongs make a right?

Or am I just taking fiction too seriously?



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Comment by Howard S. Dunn on January 22, 2010 at 2:38pm
Did anyone see the soloist? It's based on a true story and one big theme, in general (I don't mind themes in my art - I think it is up to atheist artists to balance the message gestalt) was that if we underestimate the destitute, hard on their luck, and even totally mentally ill - we lose. We miss out on the fact that people may have more to offer than we ever imagined - that beauty can come from the most unlooked for places.

But I found the film slightly more perplexing in one regard. The truly religious character - who tutors the main character in cello - is totally annoying as soon as he opens his mouth with his 'godly compassion - god's gifts, etc.' And this annoying, proselytizing, "let me sprinkle a little Jesus on my compassion for you" is not overlooked and nor simply accepted as part and parcel of compassion.

But there is a strange scene. The other main character - the reporter - when he loses track of his 'big story' (the homeless virtuouso) interviews an atheist who is picking up litter along a piece of atheist sponsored 'adopt a highway.'

First - this is NOT the big story - the reporter is 'settling.' Fair enough. Second, it DOES portray the unexpected - an atheist who seems to give a crap about his community. But the cameo portrayal goes for its brief run as 'you don't believe in god?' "what do you believe in?' etc. It was really hard to tell if it was a snarky dismissal of of atheistic community involvement or an ironic nod to atheism. It was weird that it was included. It was very ambiguous - I mean, while it was a terribly unsatisfying portrayal of out of the closet atheist community involvement - the atheist was bland - but neither offensive or annoying. I'm not sure what the writer was getting at.
Comment by ryan cameron on January 22, 2010 at 2:04pm
I love movies, and will probably enjoy anything that meets the primary goal of movies -- to entertain. The idea of using movies as a vehicle for philosophical propaganda is, in my opinion, ridiculous, but I suppose there might be some usefulness to it for some people. As soon as a director's or writers personal world view comes in to any movie, it almost always ruins the experience because it breaks the suspension of disbelief and pushes you "out of the movie".

James Cameron's Avatar did this in a few areas and although it was overall a great movie, those bits were definitely the worst, most tedious parts.

Its a bit easier to overlook these things if the world view happens to completely mesh with your own so you tend to miss the reference, but movies, IMO are meant to entertain, engage, and make people a bit happier than when they got there.

If you want to product propaganda...stick with tracts sermons...we expect it there.
Comment by mossface on January 21, 2010 at 2:44pm
The film was written and produced by Mormons (look up Excel Entertainment). Some of the actors you've never seen, are somewhat known in the Mormon world (look up Kirby Heyborne). My personal feeling is that the movie was produced with the hope of breaking out of the tiny Mormon film market, while relying upon Mormon filmgoers to make a buck or two. The character Deacon is understood to be a Mormon (though it's never explicitly mentioned, that I recall).

Anyway, that may help explain the religious overtones. As an ex-Mormon, I recall seeing the film while still being a believer, and I think at the time I thought it a pretty good film. Obviously, I am much more inclined to agree with your point of view now.
Comment by greyfoot on January 21, 2010 at 12:17pm
A little follow up...

The caption to this film reads that it is based a true story, but this is misleading. It is based on a number of stories from that era, thereby making it Historical Fiction. But fiction nonetheless.

Just to clarify.




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