It's not the kind of movie I normally watch, but tonight I did so with theological themes in mind, and I have to be honest; under the influence of the philosophy of Flannery O'Connor. I can't explain exactly why, but I think she would have loved this movie.
While there are themes of vengeance and outright violence, it takes place in a town seemingly-improperly named: "Redemption".
The characters are all fallen, none are necessarily likeable (outside of the little girl who suffers an unspeakable offense), and even that child displays the concupiscence of the world that surrounds her, yet none of the protection given to other children her age.
The film juxtaposes those who are murderous by nature, those who have reformed and are trying to overcome their nature, and those who are there by choice but truly have a more benevolent nature. All are fallen, all have sinned, and in the same way, but not all share the same level of depravity.
The lone voice of reason and holiness is quiet (but far from silent), is vilified by all sides and even falls himself, seemingly a discredit to his own attempted reform. In this movie, that which is holy is chained, disarmed except to be armed for battle for the enemy, and then forced into that battle, forced into a temptation so strong he cannot overcome it.
The protagonist enters with a vengeance, but in the process, learns the soul of the antagonist and seeks to flee. She is bolstered by a voice from the past, the only one who knows who she is and what she seeks. That, too, is a temptation, and she returns to the battle, only to learn that her chance to stand down is gone. It is a metaphor, at this point, for addiction.
The duel scene between Herod and his son, "The Boy", are the antithesis of the Gospel, for in this movie, the Father not only directly kills his son in a town named "Redemption" but does so for his own glory, and then denies his patronage to the deceased boy. The Boy was somewhat of a town hero; if anyone should have won the duel, it should have been him, but in Redemption, evil holds court, reveling in a taste of Hell that just continues.
It's no surprise that the Woman, the protagonist, deals the killing blow, crushing Satan beneath her heel, and in so doing, passes on the star that represents the Law into the hands of the Holy Man, the lone representative of moral law.
I don't know if the author of the original story, Simon Moore, is a Catholic, but based on this movie, I see Catholicism, I see Christianity.
Now, before you object, I am not saying that the moral play-out of this movie is Christian, or that what the characters did was right, or that it didn't twist Christian themes a bit. However, I do see an allegorical nature to it and think we might legitimately take notice and use it to examine ourselves.
The protagonist, the female gunslinger, came a bit too close to home for me, although I'm not willing to express all the dimensions of that. Certainly, as a woman who once ventured into law enforcement and worked hard to harden myself to the world around me, the main character here could "speak" to me.
In all honesty, I sought to be what she was: cool, collected, tough, and a great shot. She could play with the big dogs and still maintain her femininity while placing them at bay.
Tonight, as I watched the movie, though, the scene that most stood out to me was her response to the vermine that stole the innocence of the only innocent character in the movie. She struggled with justice and mercy, opted for mercy even as "Satan" egged her on, then found herself in a position of self defense. She was triumphant, but struck to her very being. She was not innocent and had entered into this walking her daddy's line.
When she blew the pedophile's *ss away, I said to myself that I would have done the same thing, but I would have had no mercy. I would have taken him out piece by piece, slowly and with great relish to ensure he suffered as slow and painful a death as possible.
That's murder, folks. That's murder in the heart, and yes, I'm capable of it. I hold a hatred and anger so deep within myself that I could look you straight in the eye and tell you in person what I stated above, and I'm neither the victim of such a crime nor the relation or friend of one who has suffered it (to my knowledge).
But oh, yes, I know it is within me and in that knowledge, I am brought to my knees by the words of Christ, who, in Matthew, 5 asserts that sin in the heart is as real as that sin made manifest. As we give life to temptation, so that temptation becomes sin and therefore palpable in the eyes of God, even if not physically committed.
Yes, I have committed murder in my heart, I did so tonight and have done so many times before. Too many to count. I know I could and will kill in hatred and vengeance; my own conscience tells me it's possible. What I learned in psychology tells me this: That which we can conceive in our imaginations we have the propensity to commit.
I recall standing in the early morning corridor of an apartment building, a gun in my hand, loaded, pointed at a man who had just drawn on us. I did not want to kill him, for truly, he was just being stupid and had no intent, on his own part, to kill anyone else, certainly not us. We were to learn he was a regular guy, if a not-so-bright-one and in my professionalism, I had no desire to pull the trigger. Although I knew I might have to kill, I had an innate sense that the level of force we offered was sufficient.
I can't say, though, that if I was emotionally involved I would have the same restraint.
Yes, I have it within me to pull the trigger. I have it within my fallen nature to take a life.
I have it within my nature, for I have, through the trials of life, been formed in a murderous culture that fed into my own propensities, making it possible to give license to such murderous evil.
I have had murder in my heart, and therefore, in God's eyes, I have been guilty of murder.
Lord, have mercy on me, and defend me from evil.