I’ll readily admit that I watch religious films because I’m looking for something funny. It’s an addiction I can’t break, and often I’m able to get my fix quite easily. It’s true, sometimes you have to dig through bland dreck like Sarah’s Choice to get to the gems like C Me Dance, but then again, maybe it’s just that I’ve built up a tolerance and only the most jaw-droppingly awful stuff will give me the rush I’m dying for. The 2011 film The Freedom of Silence, made by one-and-done Kansas City production studio Robertson 6 Productions, is something different. It’s awful, no doubt, but in a way that defies explanation – hard to tear your eyes away from, sometimes hilariously constructed, but not necessarily enough to keep the viewer rolling with laughter. I feel like a connoisseur sampling a new flavor of wine and grasping to find the words to describe what I’m tasting. I can say this: there’s an unmistakably nutty flavor.
The film begins with news reports giving us a run-down of what’s happened between the present day and 2030, the year in which the movie is set. In the past 19 years, the President pushes universal healthcare through onto an unwilling public (just let us die in pain, like God intended!) and then began passing a bunch of hate crimes bills, culminating in the sinister “Religious Tolerance” bill, which experts say is actually bad for conservative Christians. Hmm… could it be because conservative Christians thrive on hatred and division? Exhibit A: this movie. In any case, in the year 2030, Christianity has been outlawed – literally outlawed, and it seems like it happened even earlier… in flash-backs, our hero Zach Thompson as a child is nearly thrown out of his home for reading the Bible. “This book is illegal!” his mother cries, his father tossing it on the floor in disgust.
Let me back up a little bit, because it’s actually important to describe the way that young Zach got turned onto this illegal religion. While hanging out in the middle of town one day, he came across a preacher telling everybody the word of God before men in black SUVs show up and take him away, no doubt to be executed without a trial!!! I mean, I assume that’s what happens. But before the preacher is taken away, he shakes Zach’s understanding of the world by noting that everybody in this irreligious country believes there is no such thing as right or wrong, that what’s right for one person is not necessarily right for the next person. In an incomprehensible analogy, he compares two people who like vanilla or chocolate ice cream to a man who beats his wife… either way, it’s a lifestyle choice, right? There are so many reasons this analogy is insane, not least of which is the fact that it relies on the listener’s understanding that beating your wife is wrong to suggest that “there is no right or wrong” in this society. Also, it seems to suggest that there is a RIGHT ice cream flavor to like. Alas, the government carts the preacher off before he can tell us which one. IS IT ROCKY ROAD? WE’LL NEVER KNOW.
Fast-forward to present day, Zach is in the same place as that preacher, captured and held in a covert holding area to be questioned and tortured by a sleazy government agent named Captain Johansen (Jeffrey Staab, My Step-Dad’s a Freakin’ Vampire). It’s slowly revealed over the course of the film that Zach and his “home church” have done something that has really ticked off the U.S. government, and they’re not afraid to water-board their prisoner, beat him nearly to death, keep him awake for days, etc., if it means that they’ll get the information they need. The irony that the government is going Zero Dark 30 on Zach, using techniques on their prisoner that were brought to the U.S. by evangelical Christianity’s lord and savior George W. Bush, is never noted. Zach, for his part, tells Johansen that he’s not going to break because his parents taught him to fight for what he believes in. Did they? Johansen admits that the concept of fighting for what you believe is admirable, provided what you’re fighting for is reasonable. “Who decides what’s reasonable?” Zach asks, and apparently he feels that he does. Johansen tells him it’s the Constitution that decides, but Zach’s not having it, claiming that judges in black robes have warped the Constitution… even though that’s their, um, you know, job? To interpret the Constitution? Never mind, the concept is probably over your head.
Johansen leaves for a little bit, giving a nurse sympathetic to Zach’s pain time to tend to his wounds and ask him to admit that there is no God, so that he can be allowed to leave. Zach refuses, to which the nurse responds, “If there is a God, why are you being tortured?” The movie conveniently cuts to a flashback montage before Zach can answer, no doubt because he cannot. No, I’m joking – he could answer if the movie gave him an opportunity to. The answer is: free will. Or is it a test… of his faith? Just part of God working in mysterious ways? One of those, take your pick. As for the flashbacks that pepper the film, they show Zach meet his wife and hang out with his friend Aaron. Zach and Aaron begin working on some “project” that seems like it might be a bomb. Almost all of the flashback scenes, for whatever reason, have been ADR-ed, quite obviously; even when the friends are at a playground, their voices all sound as if they’re speaking from inside of a small room. Additionally, no matter how intense the characters’ reactions to any given stimuli ought to be, they speak in a uniformly monotonous, level tone. It’s those weird tics that make the movie feel… off, just a little bizarre. Yes, it’s funny when a scene of SWAT team members canvassing a home with percussive music playing over the image cuts abruptly to a serious conversation between Zach and his wife, but in the context of the whole thing it’s simply jarring rather than hilarious.
Let’s get back to Johansen and Zach in the present day. Zach seems like a smart guy, so why does he cling to these thousand-year old superstitions? “It would be irrational not to believe,” Zach sighs, noting as evidence the complexity and order of the universe. Johansen scoffs at this, rightly, and says that from where he’s sitting the evidence points elsewhere. Johanson believes in things like chemistry, biology, evolution, and astronomy. This is when Zach says one of the most incredible things I’ve ever heard spoken in a Christian film. Are you sitting down? You might want to sit down for this. And make sure you’re not taking a sip of beverage, because you’re liable to do a spit-take. Okay, here it is: “If you make up your mind on a subject before you begin, you can find evidence to any conclusion.” Just so we’re totally clear here, he’s saying that chemistry, evolution, biology, and astronomy are examples of people making up their minds on a subject in advance, whereas Christianity comes from following the evidence without bias. Yeah. Take some time to let that sink in. I don’t know, maybe it isn’t so surprising that he would say something so unimaginably stupid; after all, he’s likely among the same people who believe that creationism is science, but evolution is “just a theory”.
And just for the record, he follows this up with the assertion that “it’s logically impossible to prove that something doesn’t exist” when Johansen says that science has proven God to be unreal. Not really clear on how that helps his cause because even if that were true, it doesn’t prove that something does exist. And I say “even if that were true” because it’s definitely not. As an example, could you prove that there isn’t an AMC Pacer in the room you’re in right now? You can easily do this, simply be looking around the room. Unless I want to change the definition of AMC Pacer so that it means “the feeling of happiness” or make some outlandish claim that the Pacer is in the room, but on a different plane of existence we can’t see and I have no reason to suppose is even real in the first place, your ability to see is sufficient to prove that the alleged Pacer does not exist. Congrats, you’ve just “proven that something doesn’t exist”, you illogical scamp! To those same ends, it’s incredibly easy to prove that that the god Christianity sells doesn’t exist – let me draw your attention again to the fact that the sun causes skin cancer, or to the vast emptiness of the universe. Oh wait, I forgot, you don’t believe in astronomy. The point is that if “God” has our best interests in mind, or has us in mind at all, as Christianity claims, a cancer-causing light source and zillions of miles of empty space directly contradict that. Unless you want to re-define your God to account for these things (or deny them entirely, as Zach apparently does), they prove the concept you’re pushing is false.
But I’m getting off-track here. Overall, the moral of The Freedom of Silence is that we should repeal all hate crimes legislation because if crimes against certain minorities are penalized more heavily because they are being singled out, it can only lead to CHRISTIANITY BECOMING COMPLETELY ILLEGAL. It’s a ridiculous suggestion from a bizarre film, a movie made with only semi-competence and with next to no intelligence. But even if the taste is unusual, the movie is still delicious.