First of all, Ben, thanks for your latest response about the film. I knew I could count on you to at least see it for what it was, even if you didn't like it. I think what you said was right on--she was approaching a difficult subject in a way that felt comfortable to her and that would give her some distance in case things didn't go so well. She could always hide in "director mode," right? Regardless, the comments about self-promotion were bothering me, but I have more important things that I want to share about the film.
I find it unfortunate that the film itself made it difficult for people to engage the material. It's a situation where, more than probably your typical art appreciator, I am willing to put a work in a smaller context and assess it accordingly. It's clear from the start that Julia's not a professional and that the film was low budget, so I was able to get over that pretty quickly and concentrate on the content. This is probably why I like mumblecore as much as I do--I don't begrudge it it's so-called "laziness" (not lazy at all, actually). Adrienne said it was too long, and perhaps it was a little, but I appreciate the moments away from talking heads to take in the amazing setting. Again, taken by an amateur cinematographer, but good enough to evoke the real thing if you've been there, which I have. It's not a great film, but I still think there's plenty to discuss.
One thing I liked about it is part of what made it a not good film. It's so very ordinary--a brother and sister reconnect and it's not what either of them thinks (or hopes) it's going to be, but it's the beginning of a new bridge built between the two of them where previously there was only remnants of an old one. Just like the sort of thing that happens every day in real life--real life not aggrandized like actual reality television and more flashy documentaries. King of Kong, for example, is one of the best documentaries I've ever seen, but it doesn't tell the whole story. As a film, it's great; as a document of the truth, well, who knows? Brother Born Again is probably as close to telling the truth of the situation as a film could--and it ends up being not quite as exciting, because, face it, life isn't exciting most of the time.
So the question is posed, Why do we want to watch this? Obviously, not everyone does. I chose the film because the topic is one that is very close to my heart. I was raised in a conservative Christian home and embraced the faith I was raised with. I went to an even more conservative Christian high school that further pulled me towards the kind of fundamentalism that Julia's brother's community espouses. Sometime in college, the wider world of Christianity (and other faiths for that matter) was opened to me and my beliefs changed pretty dramatically. Over time, the fundamentalism I had embraced became foreign to me. It was almost the opposite of what had happened to the brother. So, to some degree, my present self is like Julia--liberal, open-minded, questioning--while my past self is like her brother. There was something fascinating and eye-opening about watching the two of them interact. Except that I had the advantage over both of them of being able to access simultaneously my experiences from both perspectives.
Since I've been away from that mindset for so long, and feel safer from being sucked back into it again than I ever have before, I've found myself curious about fundamentalism. I want to understand it, but as I am now. I knew many, many incredibly kind and loving and giving and committed people in that world I was in, and I often find myself alone in being able to appreciate them in the circles I inhabit now. It is a paradox--that a person can be "good" and still confine their thinking to a rigid set of guidelines. It is a paradox that choosing to live that way, if you are truly at peace with those around you, can be a valid life choice, and even one that is God-ordained for those that choose it.
This is something that Julia began to understand about her brother, even if she didn't want to accept it. I was struck by her admission that becoming a part of the Farm probably saved her brother's life. I was struck by the thought that for some people fundamentalism (not the violent kind--there is a difference :)) is keeping them from the bottle or wife-beating or bulimia or suicide. And not only that. It takes dedication and discipline to be a fundamentalist. You hold yourself to a high standard. The brother (I should look up his name) mentioned that the rules were difficult to follow sometimes. But for him there was a value in that discipline. It's easy to make the comparison to a monastery because they're all living apart from the secular world at the farm, but there is an element of monasticism to the lives of those who live by such strict rules without the benefit of physical isolation. Even if I disagree wholeheartedly with their beliefs, I have to respect their dedication.
I was struck by the scene where Julia and Marc were talking about heaven, and she was getting on his case for trying to find verses to help him articulate his views. It was probably the pushiest she got through the whole film, and I imagined I was seeing through her self-imposed attempt at objectivity for a few minutes. I kept thinking about his explanation (in addition to feeling sorry at his inability to get her to back down) and how it really did make sense. No one will take me to task for referring to my knowledge of the laws of science to back up my perspective on the natural world, but somehow to refer to a sacred set of scriptures to back up my perspective on the spiritual world is seen as weak or illogical. I really wanted Julia to see that, but she couldn't.
Speaking of Julia, I was less interested in her as a character, but there were still things that made me think. I understood and felt sad because of her desire to be accepted fully by her brother--something that she would probably never experience. To his credit, Marc seemed to be able to separate the "sister" from the "lesbian"--recognizing that he needed to in order to be able to connect with her at all, but it's difficult for me to relate to that ability to cut yourself off from a person in certain ways (sometimes in all ways!) because of a difference in belief.
I was surprised that Marc agreed to go home to see his mother and grandmother; it was a nice, if unnecessary, epilogue to the story. Too bad his mother never was able to be more than a one-dimensional (almost stereotypical) Jewish mother, but her character was ultimately non-essential to the story, so whatever.
At the end of the film, and in real life, a brother and sister have an opportunity to at least begin to try to understand each other, even though they come from completely different worlds. There isn't enough of that in the world I live in, and I like seeing it and knowing it's actually happening. It's beautiful and inspiring.
P.S. The movie makes me think of an excellent series by Morgan Spurlock called 30 Days. In each episode, people from two polar-opposite sides of an issue (pro-choice/pro-life, for example) are put in a situation for 30 days where they are forced to come to grips with each other face to face, with often inspiring results. I highly recommend it, and it's on NWI!
I'm still waiting for Brandon's and Lisa's posts on the film, then I'll choose someone else.