In 1991, Pamela Bucklin was married at the age of 22. Pamela’s Prayer is the incomprehensible story of how she found herself in that position, despite being figuratively shackled by her father like property to be traded or sold. Of course, the movie doesn’t speak in those terms – it talks of her father’s love for her, which is why he treats her like he does – and it blissfully skips by where the heart of the story ought to lie: how on earth she was able to forge any sort of relationship with a man under her father’s authoritarian rule.
Yes, Pamela lives in a world full of evangelical Christians. To give you an idea of just how immersed in this life she is, know that on her sixteenth birthday, her family tells her to “say a prayer and blow out the candles”, then ask eagerly what she prayed for. Because wishes are too secular, I guess. Now our girl Pam is reaching those teenage years when all her friends begin dating, and all of the boys are scoping the hallways for chicks they haven’t nailed yet (as all boys do). Jerry, whom Pamela describes as “probably the best Christian in the whole school” – apparently they’re ranked? – is eager to take her to a basketball game, if you know what I mean. No, I mean, he wants to take her to a basketball game. Not to spoil the movie for you, but it eventually does happen, and when the camera shows the two of them sitting side-by-side in the stands surrounded by a hundred other people, sinister music begins to play.
However, Pamela is first obstructed from her go-to-a-basketball-game plans by her father, who lost his wife when they were both young. In response to this, he is disturbingly overbearing when it comes to raising his own daughter. He initially refuses to take a business trip because he prays with Pamela every night and is freaked out by the thought of one or two nights without this routine. He probably would have had a panic attack if his father hadn’t come up with a brilliant plan which might allow him to go on the business trip and pray with his daughter… use a freakin’ telephone! As she grew into her teen years, this sickness progressed at an amazing pace. When Pam asks if she can go on a date, her father refuses on the basis that he doesn’t want her to kiss anyone. It gets worse. He disallows her from kissing a boy until she is married. You heard me right: Pamela’s father tells her that he doesn’t want her to kiss a boy until her wedding day.
Now I suppose that this could all be a thin metaphor for sex. This would explain the moment later in the film where Pam’s friend Jessica arrives at her house in tears, upset because she had gone to Lover’s Lane with her boyfriend, who told her that they had reached a “turning point” in their relationship, if you catch my drift. This is the extent of her explanation for what happened up there, but Pamela understands completely why Jessica would feel guilty and ashamed. (They kissed… with tongue! Yuck!) Similarly, when Pam tells her father about Jessica’s situation, she just says that she “went out” with her boyfriend. The implication being, I guess, that she went all out with her boyfriend? Again, her father is able to read between the lines.
But then again, maybe kissing isn’t a metaphor for sex at all. Date rape aside, maybe it really means kissing. This interpretation is backed up by Pamela’s father’s insistence that there’s a reason the pastor says to the new husband, “You may now kiss the bride.” Furthermore, he poses this hypothetical question to his daughter regarding her friends who are dating, like Jessica: what would Jessica’s future husband think if he knew she had dated? Yes, I can see the man’s revulsion upon finding out that his wife had… eaten dinner with, or possibly even.. oh god, no, attended a basketball game with another man! How horrible! And if she had touched lips with him or, god forbid, “turned a point”, well, she might as well be dead. Pamela points out that her father cannot name one verse in the Bible which says that dating is wrong. What she fails to point out, however, are the many verses which OK polygamy (Solomon, for instance, had 700 wives!). No matter though, there’s some rationalization her father could have come up with. Let me take a crack at it: in the original translation, the word “wife” meant “friend” and “concubine” meant “acquaintance” – Pamela you’re misinterpreting God’s inerrant Word! Ooh ooh, I’ve got another one: when Jesus came, he changed the unchangeable laws! Or how about, as the author of a rebuttal to the Skeptic’s Annotated Bible suggests, none of these marriages were happy marriages & therefore that proves that God doesn’t approve of polygamy! Nevermind that God kills for much lesser crimes.
But I guess there’s rationalizations for that, too. Not to get off on a tangent here, but take the rebuttal to God’s killing of Egyptian children: “Notice first of all, that every child of the Egyptians could have escaped…The Egyptians received warning beforehand, with exact instructions what to do to escape God’s wrath….The author of the SAB might ask: these little children had done nothing. But they were under their parents protection. If parents don’t put their children in seat belts, and subsequently their children die in a crash, is it not the parents fault? It surely is. The children are part of the parents and it is the responsibility of the parents to take care of them, physically and spiritually.” Amazing. If I call in a bomb threat and people die when the bomb explodes, it’s their fault for not leaving after the warning. And when I kill people with a bomb, it’s the victim’s fault because it’s the equivalent of not wearing a seatbelt. This is the sort of crazy bullshit that nobody bats an eye at only when God’s involved.
Pamela’s father doesn’t raise these arguments in the film, of course, because there’s nobody to argue with him. Some express concern about his backward moral code, but nobody questions the bizarre religious justification for it. In any case, a boy begins working with Pamela’s father at the Christian film library. This library is the best part of the movie, as it’s plastered with posters for other Christian movies I have to see now, such as: Kevin Can Wait, Super Christian, and Ordinary Guy. None of these seem to be available on Netflix currently, likely because of liberal bias. This boy visits the home of his boss on occasion and by virtue of being around, he and Pamela become close with one another. There’s no way to tell whether they have anything in common, because the film has a habit of playing sappy music over scenes where characters share dialogue. I’m not even talking about a montage scene here, I mean the camera will focus on two characters and cut back and forth between them in close-up as though we are supposed to be paying attention to the words they are saying, but their lines are inaudible.
The film library boy eventually asks if he can take Pamela out on a date to the middle of nowhere, a request that her father readily agrees to. This proves at last that his concern wasn’t that she would go out with a boy and kiss, but that she would go out with a boy he didn’t like. Pamela’s father knows that the two are meant to be together forever when the boy tells him that as a child, he too made a promise to God that he would not kiss a girl until his wedding day! I think they’re allowed to hold hands, though, which is just sick and depraved – they apparently have no concern whatsoever for the fate of their souls. But the couple eventually get married and prepare to turn their own point, and we see Pamela’s father making dinner for himself alone. He reads in silence, until it’s time to go to bed. Only now does the full truth of his overbearing attitude come to light: his chief concern was a desire not to be alone.
I always go into Christian films, particularly those made by those masters of the art, directors Dave and Rich Christiano, looking for something hilariously awful. Pamela’s Prayer is certainly awful, at least.