Savaging sex and religion


This week we take a look back at Eureka Street assistant editor and film reviewer Tim Kroenert's top five most memorable films of 2011. 

1. Red State (R) — Not previously reviewed

This is not the first time filmmaker Kevin Smith has had a go at religion. A Catholic uncomfortable with some Church teaching and practice, Smith's 1999 Catholic comedy Dogma was irreverent, but ultimately championed humanity and independent thought over dogma and 'blind faith'.

If Dogma had hints of the contemporary parable about it, Red State embraces the form. It divides its characters into three camps — Sex, Religion and Politics — and pits them against each other in a violent showdown. Billed as a 'horror' film, its message and morals are murkier than Dogma's.

Three teenage boys are lured into the midst of a cult waging a brutal crusade against society's sexual profligacy; the 'God Hates Fags' Westboro Baptists re-imagined as violent extremists. The boys are caught in the crossfire when trigger-happy government agents corner the cult into a Waco-style siege.

There are no good guys in this savage satire. All are corrupted by short-sightedness or self-interest. Smith's characters are faced with redemptive opportunities to discover empathy and self-sacrifice, but reject them out of spite or stupidity. Red State is not a hopeful portrait, but a cautionary tale.

This profane parable repeatedly finds new ways to surprise and unsettle the viewer. It also showcases a compelling performance by 70-year-old character actor Michael Parks as the cult leader whose charm, charisma and menace allow him to manipulate the minds of his impressionable charges.


2. Incendies (MA) — Reviewed 20 April 2011

Residents of a Christian orphanage have their heads shaved by Muslim militants. One small boy stares into the camera with an expression of fierce defiance. 'Don't forget about me', the stare says. It's both a clue for the audience and a threat to any who oppress him.

Nawal, disgraced and exiled from her Christian village for an affair with a Muslim man, conceals her crucifix necklace and hitches a ride with a busload of Muslims. Shortly, the bus is halted by Christian militants. What ensues is one of Incendies' most powerful sequences.

Nawal's harrowing life story is marred by the bullets and blood of interreligious conflict. The roots of her personal formation and the origins of her now adult children Jeanne and Simon can each be discovered among the ruins of this fraught history.


3. Tree of Life (PG) — Reviewed 29 June 2011

American Jesuit James Martin describes watching Tree of Life as like 'living inside a prayer'; this is apt, for it contains, in place of voiceover narration, the whispered, questioning prayers of its characters.

These tumble across the film's mundane, 1950s American suburban setting, and follow us also into space and into the far reaches of history; to the very corners of the universe and of time, in gripping visual sequences that set the characters' tiny lives in the context of a vast continuum of existence.

The film's metaphysical elements divide audiences, yet its vision of humanity is profound. It contains one of the most authentic portrayals of childhood brotherly love that I have seen on screen.


4. Snowtown (R) — Reviewed 11 May 2011

The phrase 'torture porn' will be used by some to dismiss Snowtown and its sordid content. But this does no justice to the remarkable, if gruelling, achievement that is director Justin Kurzel's bleakly atmospheric retelling of Adelaide's Snowtown murders.

Kurzel followed the lead of last year's superb crime drama Animal Kingdom by taking as his focus the corruption of an adolescent by amoral adults. It is a gift to the audience that we have this central tragedy to sustain our sympathies.

It is unfortunate though that more time is not spent on building sympathy for the murderers' victims. In this, Snowtown skids dangerously close to sadistic voyeurism. That said, at all times it regards the taking of human life as a fundamentally immoral horror. It is right that we be shocked.


5. In A Better World (MA) — Reviewed 30 March 2011

This Oscar winner (Best Foreign Language Film)  reflects upon the various human responses to violence, in a world where both justice and morality can be difficult to either define or obtain.

Shortly after the death of his mother, Christian starts at a new school. There he meets social outcast Elias, who is a victim of bullying. Together the boys learn a dangerous lesson: that violence can sometimes be defeated by more extreme violence.

Their experiences are contrasted with those of Elias' father Anton, a doctor working in a refugee camp in Africa. Anton is faced with the prospect of providing care to a militant who has committed atrocious crimes. This tests his pacifistic principles, with those around him baying for the man's blood. 


Tim KroenertTim Kroenert is Assistant Editor of Eureka Street

Topic tags: Tim Kroenert, Westboro Baptists



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Existing comments

All those movies are disgusting. They are made by people who have warped minds placing their personal prejudices into play-acting which ultimately makes a mockery of Christianity and its values. We all need to lead good lives living under the Social Reign of Our Lord, Jesus Christ and the one true religion, the true Catholic Church outside of which there is no salvation.
Trent | 15 December 2011

Thoroughly enjoy your reviews, your insight and humanity (and lack of judgement) each and every time. I look forward to more beautifully written reflections on the many wonderful and challenging films we are blessed to see in this country next year. Have a lovely Christmas.
Sarah | 15 December 2011

The only one of those films I have seen is "Incendies". A beautifully made film with a harrowing storyline.
I'll also look forward to reading your film reviews next year.
Pam | 15 December 2011

I thank Tim Kroenert and Eureka Street for their ongoing attention to aspects of the arts such as film reviews. I find it hard to understand the 'dog in the manger' mindset of some commentors (especially at Christmas!), and the relish with which they consign other people to the fiery pits of their disdain. Consequently, I genuinely value and enjoy the light that Eureka Street shines on cinematography, with its exploration of ethics, the artistic pursuit of life, the mystery of God and the perplexities of the human condition. Life is complex, pat answers don't apply to pain, and Tim and Eureka Street do us a service in acknowledging that truth.
Barry G | 16 December 2011


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