Video Picks & Passes
Beyond the Gates of Splendor: PICK
The Interpreter: PASS
The documentary Beyond the Gates of Splendor, debuting this week on DVD, takes its title from the 1957 mission-field account Through Gates of Splendor by Elisabeth Elliot, widow of martyred Protestant missionary Jim Elliot and sister of prominent Catholic convert and writer Thomas Howard.
In 1956, the world was shocked by the news that five Protestant missionaries in Ecuador had been murdered by the notoriously deadly Huaorani Indians. Though the missionaries had guns and could have defended themselves, they were resolved not to do so (“We're ready for heaven, and they're not”).
Even more stunning, however, was what happened afterwards. Widow Elliot and the sister of one of the other men continued their mission work in Ecuador, later making contact with and ultimately converting the same Huaorani Indians who murdered their family members.
The women even moved their families into Huaorani territory; the children of the martyred missionaries became friends with the children of their killers. Most remarkably, the Huaorani culture was completely transformed to one of nonviolence.
The documentary tells not so much the story of a tribe of heathens accepting the Gospel of Jesus Christ, but of a murderous culture being transformed by an encounter with a lived message of forgiveness and reconciliation.
Also new this week on DVD is Sidney Pollack's The Interpreter, starring Nicole Kidman and Sean Penn, noted for being the first film to receive permission to film in the United Nations (permission denied to Alfred Hitchcock for the U.N. sequences in North by Northwest). Although not exactly an infomercial for the United Nations in the way that, say, Top Gun was for the Air Force, The Interpreter does turn on a touching belief in the international body's ongoing effectiveness and relevance.
The premise requires one to accept that a murderous African dictator would be sufficiently worried about the possibility of being indicted by the United Nations for genocide that he would come to New York City to defend himself — and that the United Nations might indeed uncompromisingly come down against ethnic cleansing in Africa.
Though slick and professional, The Interpreter falls between stools, too inplausible to work as a thriller and too muddled to make a political statement.
And finally, after a 10-year hiatus from home video, Disney's Cinderella returns in an extra-laden special edition. After the greatness of their early films from Snow White to Bambi, Disney's Cinderella represents the early stages of Disney-itis, with less-than-classic tunes and cute animal sidekicks overstepping their bounds into the main plot. But the fairy tale remains compelling, and the animation is rich and satisfying.
CONTENT ADVISORY: Beyond the Gates of Splendor contains a good deal of graphic violent language and non-explicit archival footage of the discovery of the slain missionaries, and is suitable for teens and up. The Interpreter contains a few sequences of brutal violence and mayhem, some profanity and crude language, and a strip-club scene with a pair of barely clad “exotic” dancers. Cinderella contains nothing problematic.
- October 2-8, 2005