2001 was the year I discovered Flannery O'Connor. I was a college senior doing an independent study on post-WWII Christian literature. My advisor suggested that I add O'Connor's "Wise Blood" to my growing list of semester reads.
It was one of those books that went on to change my life--the one that made me say, "I've never seen the world in this light before."
For the past four years in college, I had been intrigued by the idea of the sacred and profane; the idea that even in the most sacred places of the world were always broken vessel, more polluted and shameful then those who followed them.
I have been curious to see John Huston's adaptation of the movie ever sense I put the book down; unfortunately, it was one of those classic movies long out of print in any format.
Earlier this month, Criterion restored and rereleased the film on DVD; for obvious reason, I put my order in when I first found out, and got the chance to watch it this past weekend.
The film, like the book, follows Hazel Motes--a young soldier returning home to the South, who discovers just about everything, but the religion, has changed. Hazel is a changed man, and wants to forget that God ever existed; he's so convicted in his ways that he intends to start his own church called, "The Church of Christ without Christ" (which, Hazel later clarifies is a Protestant denomination!)--for those who have not read the book, Hazel actually called this "The Church Without Christ," and then another man started a church called "The Church of Christ without Christ" to rival his.
You would think people would just pass up Hazel as a crazy war veteran, but they don't; they are intrigued by his church, and that lies the power of both the film and the book--we all have a void inside us that we try and fill in some way; if we try to strip away religion from our hearts we still are searching for something to replace it. Every character in the movie has something that's not God which they cling to as a form of God--from a gorilla to a historic artifact. Hazel tries to believe that you don't need God if you have a car, and even uses that vessel to play the part of God and take someone’s life by running them over.
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The tragedy of the movie is Hazel never can replace God; when a police officer’s pushes his car into a lake, he takes away the one thing that Hazel thought could replace God, and it crushes his soul. He inflects bodily torture on himself to try and redeem himself, but none of it works because only God is capable of giving this kind of redemption, and Hazel refuses to accept God, and is left empty.
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No film can ever match O’Connor’s, wit, or gothic charm; and it would be impossible to capture the idea of free will and redemption that O'Connor thematically, and perfectly, captures in her novel--but that's not to say it's not a worthy viewing; however it is you that you get your movies: rent, own, or illegally download--get this movie, watch it, and tell all of your friends to do the same.
And if you have never read the book, then it's about time you did so...