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Family and Friends is my everyday journal. Captain's Log is where I pontificate on religion and politics.

Thursday, January 24, 2019

Friendly Persuasion

I came across an article that gave five reasons Why Christian Movies Suck. The five reasons are:
  1. They are propaganda.
  2. Have an imagined reality ie too perfect.
  3. Narrative tidiness. The Christians always convince non-believers with their arguments.
  4. Theology made of platitudes
  5. Not cool. As propaganda they're out of tune with what makes a good movie.
Jared C. Wilson is spot on with the movies produced by Lifeway, and other Christian groups. I've gone to promotional showings of The Love Challenge, War Room,  and a few others. I compare them to Hallmark movies. Sugary feel good movies with bland music and actors who show little emotion other than smug contentment.
On point five the writer says he's never seen a good movie about Christians. Here I have to disagree. There is a classic, at least it shows regularly on Turner Classic Movies. Friendly Persuasion. I'm going to go into detail before comparing why this is a good Christian movie compared to the ones mentioned above.
The movie came out in 1956. It stars Gary Cooper, Dorothy McGuire and a young (pre Psycho) Anthony Perkins.
The setting is 1862 Illinois with the Birdwell family. They're Quakers. Jess and Eliza have three children: Joss a young man, Mattie a teen aged daughter and Little Jess a rambunctious boy. They also have a pet goose named Samantha. It doesn't take long to get into the rhythm of them speaking with thee's and thou's.
The movie starts with Little Jess getting bitten by Samantha while getting water from the outside well. The boy and goose do not get along. Eliza keeps her son from harming the bird and then gets everyone in the family ready for Sunday Meeting.
In their surrey going to the meeting house they meet up with Sam Jordan and his son Gard. Mattie is happy to see Gard as he's home on furlough as an officer in the Union army. Sam and Jess have a race to see who has the fastest horse, which Sam wins and the Birdwells get a face full of dust.
In the meeting house a Union solider enters and tries to get the men to defend their farms. Rebel raiders are on their way and all the men are needed to stop them. He tries to shame them as hiding behind their religion and challenges Josh and another young man named Caleb. When they won't commit, an older man named Purdy declares that "Nothing could induce me to violence. Nothing!"
Jess then say's "I don't know what I would do if my family is threatened." Friend Purdy then says he has doubts about Jess's commitment to the Lord.
 In the next scene Gard Jordan rides over to court Mattie. Little Jess wants to know if he killed any Rebs and Eliza says there'll be no talk of fighting and killing. Gard asks if Mattie could go with him to the local Fair. Eliza says that there is too much temptation. She adds that Jess could go to sell Red Rover and get a horse that doesn't want to race. Somehow Jess convinces Eliza for the family to all go.

It's surprising how the fair then is not much different than going to one today. They split up and agree to meet back in an hour. Jess meets up with Sam and they go into a tent where organs are being sold. Quakers don't believe in musical instruments. Josh and Caleb watch a wrestling match, Mattie takes off with Gard and Little Jess ducks out from Mom. He goes to a table of a shell game and points out the winning shell a number of times.
Eliza gets upset when she finds Mattie and Gard dancing. Rounds up Little Jess.
Caleb gets talked into wrestling the pro that taking on the locals. When he hears the man moan he quits. Caleb and Jess are the surrounded by the other spectators and start getting slapped because they won't fight back. Jess steps between the two sides and one of them tries to slap him. He says, "Thee needs cooling down, Friend," then dunks him in a barrel of water. Eliza comes up from behind and says, "Thee having an altercation?"

Jess is a nursery man and he takes Josh along with him as he visits neighboring farms to sell his stock. He meets a widow and three marriable daughters they take one look at Josh think he's on the menu.
The widow Hudspeth takes Jess out to see her land so he could tell her what crops to plant. They run into a guy who wants to race. The widow tries to slow down Lady. But this horse won't be passed. Jess takes the reins from her and wins the race. They trade horses.
When Jess and Josh get back Eliza is happy that he traded in Red Rover for Lady. "Just what I prayed for, I plain horse that won't fill every man on the pike with notions of racing."
Jess replies, "Lady will discourage racing I assure thee."
As they walk up to the house from the barn the organ merchant from the fair delivers the organ Jess bought.
Eliza when she learns of this stands in the doorway and tell Jess, "I forbid thee to let that musical instrument into the house."
Jess tells her, "Eliza, when thee asks or suggests I'm like putty in thy hands, but when thee forbids thee's barking up the wrong tree."
Eliza then declares she's going to barn as she wont be in the house with it.
Jess then spends the night in the barn with Eliza and in the morning as they're walking up to the house it's agreed the organ will be in the attic and no playing on first day.
Sam Jordan then comes by to see Jess's new horse. He shocked that he would trade Red Rover for what the calls "Crow bait."

On first day Jess and Eliza go to meeting in a buggy as the surrey is mysteriously missing a hub nut. Sam and Jess meet up on the way and Jess leaves Sam with a face full of dust. Usually the race is over well before they get to the Methodist church and the Quaker meeting house, but Sam doesn't give up until the end. Jess is ecstatic, Eliza is not happy and then meet the stares of their fellow worshipers.

Jess asks coming in for lunch, "What does thee see in that shifty eyed bird," referring to Samantha.
Eliza says, "Oh, Jess, she marches along so lordly like."
The Jess tells her, "She marched quite lordly like through six pecks of young strawberries this morning." 
When he goes back into the fields he sees smoke. Going back up to the house Gard has come to ask Mattie to marry him and Josh rushes up with news that the rebels are burning all the surrounding farms. Gard encourages them to go into the woods and hide. Jess and Eliza take a strong stance. Jess answers, "This I is our home,."
"If they come, they come like fire of flood." Eliza tells him.
Josh tells Gard he'll go with him. He's decided to fight. Gard tells Josh to come by in the morning and to talk it over with his parents.
Jess tells Josh that he'll have to kill. His mother tells him to stay true to his faith. He says he'll pray. In the morning he comes down with one of their hunting rifles. At first Eliza turns her back on him, but as he leaves goes out to hug him. 
After Josh leaves Sam and Purdy ride up while Jess is chopping wood. Purdy, the one who said nothing would induce him to violence, tells Jess that the rebels burned his barn and stole every thing he had. Jess offers to help him, but Purdy says, "If thee wants to help pick up a gun."
Jess answers, "I'm not ready to do that."
Purdy says, "War time calls for another kind of thinking."
Sam steps in, "Times have changed but you haven't. Last week you told me Gard was going to hell for fighting, now you tell Jess he has to fight. Whatever's right for Purdy has to be right for everyone else."
Purdy leaves, Jess asks, "They hit they place Sam."
"Naw," he says, "I'm just going to see how the boys are getting along. If there's any fighting to be done I'll do it for both of us." As he mounts up he adds, "I'd like to see someone stand up for finding a different way of settling things."
There's a battle as Gard is commanding the militia. Lady returns to the barn without Josh. Jess gets his rifle and goes out to the horse. Then comes the most meaningful exchange in the movie. Little Jess says, "Kill a Johnny Reb for me."
Jess bends down and tells Little Jess, "Son, never talk about another man's life like that."
After Jess leaves to find Josh. The rebel raiders ride in. Eliza greets them and tells them where to find their chickens and other food. She invites them inside to eat hot food at the table. While Eliza is dishing out food for the men, outside one of the Rebs sees Samantha. He starts chasing the goose around the front of the house. Eliza hears Samantha's squawking and rushes out just as the man is about to ring her neck. She grabs a broom and starts clobbering him about the head. "Samantha's a pet. A pure pet." She yells at him.
The man grabs his hat and stands up saying, "I wish I'd known that sooner."
The men thank Eliza for all the food and ride out.
Eliza is mortified. She is filled with guilt over resorting to violence. Little Jess picks up the broom and says, "What a whacking."
Mattie tells him, "Papa should never know."
While Jess is riding to find Josh he comes across Prince, Sam Jordan's horse. He finds Sam gut shot and he dies in Jess's arms. Jess is then shot, but the bullet only grazes his forehead. While he's playing dead the reb comes up to take Lady. Jess stands up and the guy misses his next shot. Jess takes the gun away while reloading. The man stands waiting for the shot that will kill him. Jess tells him. "Go, I'll not harm thee." The man walks away.
Jess finds Josh. Josh is wounded and holding onto the arm of the man he killed and crying. Jess tells him, "Thee did what thee had to do." then picks him up and takes him home.
The next first day Little Jess is playing the organ which in now in the parlor instead of the attic. As they're starting to leave Jess notices that Samantha is being friendly to Little Jess.
"What's come over that bird?" He asks.
Little Jess then tells him about his mother whacking the Reb. Jess then teases Eliza making her blush with shame again as they leave for first day meeting.

Comparison of Friendly Persuasion to today's Christian movies.
Does this movie have the same flaws as described above of today's Christian movies?
Jess likes to race Sam on the way to meeting and is upset when he loses and happy when he wins. There is temptation all around them. First in the meeting house, when asked to fight and shamed when they refuse. At the fair just about every moral tenet of their beliefs are challenged. When the raiders come they give into violence.  Josh decides to fight, Eliza picks up a broom, Jess disarms the Reb. They're human. Eliza came the closest to resisting temptation, but when Samantha's life was threatened there wasn't any way to save her except by hitting the guy with a broom to get his attention.
It's how they deal with their weakness that makes them strong. Josh saw what the rebels were doing and felt he had to do something. 
Jess had every reason to kill that Reb. He killed his friend and shot at him twice, but once his life was no longer in danger he let him go.
Jess and Eliza had a disagreement over the organ, but found a way to compromise. Josh and Eliza both feel remorse for the violence they resorted to. Nowhere in the movie did they try to convert the others around them. They simply tried to stay as true to their faith as possible.
Naturally in every movie the viewer tends to associate with the hero. Yet when I examine my own faith I find the one character that come closest to me is not Jess. Yes, I would like to think I could let the Reb go, but I would have pulled the trigger. I'm closer to Purdy. There's the natural tendency to think other people should be like me. I'm smart, they're stupid. If a driver is going slower than me he's an idiot, if he's driving faster than me he's a maniac. As George Carlin pointed out. Our streets are full of idiots and maniacs.
The last point made by Wilson is that Christian movies can't be cool. They're made by Christians to reinforce what is supposed to be the perfect Christian.
Friendly Persuasion was a book by Jessimyn West. It was about her family. The move was made by a studio that wanted to make money. As Turner Classic Movie channel pointed out in their history of the movie, the original script didn't have Josh going off to fight. William Wilder felt that made the movie too flat. It needed more conflict, which is the heart of any great story. Josh leaving to fight, the family confrontation before he leaves, and then the acceptance and forgiveness afterward is what in my opinion makes the movie cool.