27 September 2013

Movie Review: The Wise Kids

I wasn't sure if this movie was a real movie or a documentary. The synopsis I had to work with was this:
In a Baptist church community, three teenage friends contemplate the next stage of life. There's Brea, an introspective pastor's daughter; hyperactive Laura, a devout believer; and Tim, a gay teen navigating his faith as he prepares for college.
I really wasn't sure what to expect and half way through the movie I was wondering if this was a fundamentalist Christian propaganda movie where, at any moment, the gay teen would be whisked off to ex-gay camp.

No, that didn't happen. I would call this movie poetic. While it appears that the movie is an ode to Tim, and in fact, there is an ode to Tim, this movie is not about Tim and his blossoming into a gay adult man from the bowels of fundamentalist American Christianity. This movie is about Christ and Christianity. Tim is not the Christ figure. He represents a new way of living which is in opposition to the old order. But he is not conflicted about this. There is uncertainty but little conflict.

The conflict, the cross to bear, the Yggdrasil from which one must hang, is for another who has planted both feet firmly in the old order but is gay. And that character is Tim's music/drama teacher, Austin. Austin has been married to Elizabeth for eight years. But he has developed an obvious crush on Tim -- who represents the shadow part of his life -- and gawks at every same-aged man that passes within his field of vision. He and his wife cannot bring themselves to discuss this issue. Maybe they ask themselves, what is there to discuss? And they discuss nothing. It has a corrosive effect on the marriage.

The teenagers help to flesh out Austin's conflict in many ways so that when we meet Austin in a scene, we can focus on the incredible weight of tension and conflict he suffers -- silently. Then there is the crush on Tim with all its awkward glory. The movie ends with the conflict and tension never resolving and that is the tragedy of this film. He does not come down from Yggdrasil, collect the runes from the Well of Wyrd. He was not buried. He did not rise again nor does he ascend to heaven. Nor does he sit at the right hand of the father.

It's worth seeing to get a glimpse in the part of America that is rarely shown with any nuance in cinema. That is the white, fundamentalist Christian society in America. It is a society cloaked in mystery and intrigue -- in my mind. Two other posts previously that come to mind are Men Like That and Straight to Jesus. Cone's rendition of Austin helps put a number of fragments together but Tim's successful transition to his own life seems somewhat empty in the face of Austin's unresolved conflict. But Cone sets up the feeling tone of this movie exactly right. Even if I did suspect I was watching fundamentalist propaganda.

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