Friday, January 20, 2006

What I saw in "End of the Spear"

My wife and I went to see "End of the Spear" tonight. We were disappointed. I tried to ask if my disappointment stemmed from the sad circumstances surrounding the lead actor or from other reasons. By the time the movie ended, I was convinced that it simply is not a good movie. I expected it to be good, thus my disappointment.

The story behind the movie is amazingly inspiring. It has been told in various books through the years (most notably Shadow of the Almighty and Through Gates of Splendor by Elisabeth Elliot). Unfortunately, that story gets lost in the movie.

I appreciate those who can take a good story and, with artistic license, make a good movie. This has often been done with sports stories, as in "Chariots of Fire," "Hoosiers," "Remember the Titans" and most recently, "Glory Road." In order to translate historical narrative to film certain liberties are inevitable. But those liberties should serve to strengthen the telling of the story and not detract from it. Unfortunately, "End of the Spear" fails at this point.

They have taken a great story and, with artistic liberties, have produced a not-very-good movie. I am still wondering just what the point of the movie is. Had I not been familiar with the events surrounding the deaths of Nate Saint, Jim Elliot, Roger Youderian, Ed McCully and Peter Fleming, I might have enjoyed the movie more, but I still would be left wondering, "what is the point?"

I get the impression that Steve Saint is wanting to tell his story in this movie. Thus, he is portrayed as an older boy than he actually was when his father was murdered. The other missionaries who served with his dad are almost an afterthought in the film. Even as a portrayal of his own story the real reason that he has a story worth telling was completely sublimated. The serious--as it turns out, deadly serious--faith of his father and his father's friends is almost completely skirted. It is as if there was a concerted effort not to portray the character and content of their faith so as to cloud some other, elusive point. But what that point is escapes me.

Greater accuracy would have provided greater poignancy. Yet, the movie goes out of its way to downplay the very real Christianity that motivated these men--and their widows and Nate's sister after them--to take the Gospel to the Waodani people. This was a strategic mistake, in my opinion. I am not criticizing the movie because it was not more evangelistic, but because it was not more accurate. Had it been, the Gospel could not have been omitted.

The acting was too noticeable throughout and the music score was too unrelenting in its intensity. I hate to be so negative in my comments, but I found the movie to be lacking in many of the qualities that makes a film worth seeing. The contrast between the movie and the documentary about it ("Beyond the Gates of Splendor") that was released last year is striking. This was made more evident as the final credits rolled and clips from the latter were shown. I highly recommend the documentary. It is available on DVD.


Jeremy Weaver said...

Thank you for confirming my decision to not see the movie.

I want to be charitable towards Steve Saint, so I ask this question, "Did he have any say in the movie content at all?"

Eric M Schumacher said...


We watched the documentary as a church and were inspired by it, but we understood the story behind it. In some ways, I was disappointed by the documentary because I felt that the gospel wasn't as central as it should have been. Viewing it and Steve Saint's interviews, I came away with the impression that this story was amazing because savages can now fly an airplane. (I've had others comment the same.) The inclusion of anthropologists, who seemed to attribute the change to simply seeing a different way to live, did not help promote the gospel.

Have you read Mr. Saint's book? I'm wondering if the gospel is more clearly present in that.

Sled Dog said...

I think Tom and I share the same critical eye towards film. I was a tad bit more generous in my review, but essentially left the movie with the same concerns that Tom had. My review mirrors much of what Tom has shared:

Sled Dog said...


I'm halfway through the book and the Gospel is there, but not prominent. A few lines here and there. Not as much as I would hope for.

Tony said...

Thanks for the review Tom. I had decided not to see the movie and heard differing reviews considering the gospel being present. It is also sad that it did not follow more closely to the actual story.

I have often wondered why when Christian movies are made the Gospel is veiled but when a movie is made concerning homosexuality, or some other world view, it is made prominent, such as in Brokeback Mountain. Before the Golden Globes Brokeback was being shown as not doing well at the box office but that does not seem to deter the gay community. Should we as Christians not take a similar view and just make good quality movies and present the message clearly. Should we not be as shrewd with what is true as the world is with what is false (Luke 16:8).

I would agree with the Eric that even the documentary could have been more clear on the Gospel. Actually there was a great opportunity to contrast the views of the anthropologists with the true reason for the change. When we showed this at church that was one of the points we made, the world sees choices and Christians see hearts changed by God. What better message to deliver.

Again thanks for your insight.

Gordon Cloud said...

From what I have learned concerning the controversy surrounding the movie, is it possible that the light of the truth was hidden under the bushel of social agenda?

blake white said...

If I am a non-believer going to the film, I would leave thinking, 'Wow. the tribe doesnt spear anymore, and now wear clothes. Oh yeah, and Nate Saint must have been a great man.' I think Nate Saint would have preferred it be much more Christ-centered.

Jim said...

I agree Tom, especially about the poor acting.

I was interested in the story because I knew the Gospel background. If I hadn't, I'm sure I would have been bored.

The worst of the "over-acting" was near the end of the film when Nate's son was confronted with his father's killer. All the screaming and crying... It just wasn't believable acting.

T A Blankenship said...

Thanks for your review. I was excited about the movie until I began hearing who the actor who portrayed Nate Saint. I will not be attending the theater to view it.
Tim A. Blankenship

justin said...

I'm going to see the movie on Friday. I am sad to hear that a story this powerful is not good enough to be told as it happened.

My prayer: Lord, use this moive to lead people to "The Shadow of the Almighty" and "Through Gates of Splendor." In spite of its shortcomings, use it to lead people to You.

Jeff Fuller said...

I really appreciate your review. I wasn't really planning on seeing the movie anyhow. Although it is a great springboard from which to share the gospel, the link to the good news seems to only be a sidenote in this film. There are better films to use as springboards which are still fresh in the minds of pop culture anyhow!

autodidacticus said...

Thanks for this. I still can't convince myself that watching the portrayal of murder (no matter who is involved) is entertainment. I can do downtown and watch it for free . . . I agree, "what is the point?"

autodidacticus said...

I know I just posted a moment ago, but why are we so busy raising a stink over this movie? What about Brokeback Mountain? While we are busy tending to this little brushfire here, a bonfire is raging at the Oscars! I think the theme here is that the homosexual agenda has set the tone for the year. God help us.