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A Matter of Faith

Year: 2014
Production Co: Five and Two Pictures
Director: Rich Christiano
Writer: Dave Christiano/Rich Christiano
Cast: Jordan Trovillion, Harry Anderson, Jay Pickett

I think I knew the flavour and reason for being behind this film before watching it – Christian propaganda from that curious market where writers, directors and production companies have an agenda of espousing blatantly Biblical values, dress them up with attractive young casts and end up in a weird Twilight Zone where they talk solely about and to religious types.

But I watched it expecting to wade through all of that because something about it (the poster? the tagline?) made me think it was going to attempt to bridge the gap between science and religion, something I'm always interested in and was prepared to swallow a Bible thumping lecture to see.

Unfortunately, whether I misinterpreted the creative intention of the story or it just failed to actually fulfil that promise, I had to sit through all the eye-rolling chaff I expected and little else. Among that chaff, attractive teenagers and twentysomethings who'd be smoking pot and exchanging STDs with abandon in real life but who are as pious and chaste as the churches of the world wish they were, family values, the perceived attack on their beliefs by scientists armed with – you know – evidence, etc.

Cute and perky Rachel (Jordan Trovillion) goes off to college, her loving Christian parents sad to see her go but excited for her journey on a life of alcohol free, clear-eyed and virtuous learning unsullied by the hellfires of sex, hormones or the scientific method.

But she starts to fall under the heathen spell of her biology teacher, the infamous Dr Kamen (Harry Anderson), who teaches evolution. Before long Rachel is straying from the path by wondering if science might be right until her father Stephen (Jay Pickett) starts to sense her falling toward the fires of eternal damnation.

You need no more evidence about what kind of film this is than the fact that Rachel's straying from the path isn't getting abortions or swapping crystal meth for exam answers, it's not calling her parents for three days and not opening her Bible - which her Dad discovers to his horror when the $20 he slipped into its pages is still there weeks later when they come to visit her.

Dad does the only thing he can think to do – make the case for religion and faith by offering to debate Dr Kamen in the popular debate series the sociology department has on campus every few weeks. Rachel's mortally embarrassed and her Dad is doubtful (Kamen is notorious for taking down religious zealots), but he must stay on the path he beleives God has laid out for him.

What's most fascinating about the movie is its point of view. The writers (twin brothers Rich and Dave Christiano, who make a living at this sort of thing) do such a good job of setting up the character of Dr Kamen and his scientific knowledge that Rachel's father, the debate and the film at large have nothing to say against him other than some clumsy eleventh hour backstory about how he got a religious colleague fired years before, a guy who has to turn up at the debate to save the day for Jesus.

But every other character and line of dialogue comes from a very particular and alien viewpoint that represents the way church types want the world to be rather than what it is. Even the young villain, who's grooming Rachel to think he likes her, is only doing do because 'he thinks she's cute'. It's not because he wants to bang her like some 20 year old kid would in the real world – wanting to date her just because he's attracted to her is the evil that makes him the bad guy.

By contrast, I couldn't stop thinking about the real world of American college life The Hunting Ground lifted the lid on – I kept waiting for Rachel to bat her eyelashes, smile and say 'do you want to drug and sexually assault me here in the library or take me back to your dorm so your friends can all do me while I'm unconscious too?'

How you take this film (and others life it) depends completely on your own personal beliefs and politics. You might be deeply offended by every sentiment. You might feel the light of the Lord blessing you. But it's a good way to get a little slice of a really interesting industry that shadows the way Hollywood works, operaring within very strict sociopolitical boundaries and producing content that couldn't be any more different from it. Just don't hope for a grand unified theory enmeshing religion and science like I did.

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