Red State:The Enemy Within

“You’re already dead sinner. You destroyed your spirit in a waste of shame.”
-Pastor Abin Cooper
“People just do the strangest things when they believe they’re entitled, but they do even stranger things when they just plain believe.”

-Agent Joseph Keenan

Earlier this week I had the opportunity to watch Kevin Smith’s new movie Red State and have to say that is an audacious exercise in film-making unlike anything that I have ever seen before. Smith, more famous for his comedic talents seen in movies like the cult classic Clerks and the religious satire Dogma boldly goes straight for the jugular in this scathing work of truly important social commentary. With America having been flipped fascist, largely through the work of Christian zealots whose gospel bears scant resemblance of the teachings of Jesus Christ far too little serious attention is given to the dangerous and hateful enemy within. The type of venomous, intolerant, anti-intellectual and when it comes down to it just plain anti-American Evangelical Christianity that wants to remake society into a theocratic militarized dictatorship to enforce their brutal vision of utopia on all who are different from them is horrifying and dangerous. This sort of mutated Christianity has metastasized throughout America like a ravenous cancer or in a red state context, an alien strain of kudzu and has played no small part in the destruction of our once functional but now failed political system. Red State does the unthinkable in post 9/11 America by calling a spade a spade regarding the menace of Christian extremism.

The movie is set in an unidentified part of heartland America, likely a state that is solidly Republican where the mundane suburban communities contain the truly monstrous, the good Germans and little Eichmanns of this rotting and adrift empire. Innocuous homes with finely kept lawns similar to where religious fanatic Michele Bachmann’s hero John Wayne Gacy once lived and brutally murdered gay young men all while appearing to be outwardly normal. The movie particularly focuses on the savage homophobia, scapegoating and desire to eradicate gay people from the world looked down upon by a wrathful and merciless God. The plot begins when three horny teenagers named Travis, Jared and Billy Ray surfing the sex sites on the internet via their smart phone set up an arrangement to meet an older woman who has promised to take on all three of them. The boys borrow one of their parents’ car and head off to fictional Cooper’s Dell in search of that nasty sort of sexual debauchery that only a youngster with little maturity and a dick as hard as Chinese arithmetic can truly understand. Making jokes along the way to the encounter about how it’s going to be like fucking their mothers the boys sideswipe a vehicle where the local sheriff, Sheriff Wynan is engaged in sex with another man and flee the scene of the accident.

Travis, Jared and Billy Ray then roll up in front of a trailer where the woman who had solicited the encounter, Sarah Cooper who is played by Melissa Leo (who just won the Oscar as Best Supporting Actress for her tour de force role as the conniving mother in The Fighter) greets them. The boys are offered beer by Sarah who insists that they drink before having sex. As the three get undressed they discover that the beer has been drugged and all pass out. When they awaken they are in a chapel with a handful of worshippers although not sitting in pews, Jared is in a cloth covered cage being carried into the room while the other two are bound in a crawlspace below the pulpit. To his horror they realize that they are captives of the virulently anti-gay, militant pastor Abin Cooper who played by Michael Parks, former star of the 1960s television series Then Came Bronson. Parks performance, loosely based on the notorious Reverend Fred Phelps of the Westboro Baptist Church is mesmerizing and while due to the subject matter which would scramble hordes of thuggish Christian activists like squadrons of S.A. brownshirts he will sadly not receive the recognition that he is deserving of for this role. Parks is not the hellfire and brimstone type, preaching politics from their taxpayer subsidized den of iniquity churches, he is actually soft-spoken but the demeanor masks a dark fanaticism that is the one most dangerous trait of the true believers, an incandescent inner psychotic fervor.  This is an Oscar winning caliber type of performance by Mr. Parks, a career keystone yet Red State will likely be ignored by the cowardly media and corrupt and morally debased Hollywood kingmakers.

We soon find out that Sarah, the woman who lured the boys into a trap is the pastor’s daughter sitting among the other in the pews. Cooper begins a long sermon on the evils of society and blaming homosexuals who he calls “Satan’s instrument on Earth” in the manner that Evangelical Christian pastors across the land do on a daily basis. The children in the audience are then led from the room by Sarah’s daughter Cheyenne (Kerry Bishé) and the sermon continues. Now it is seen that a man has been bound to a cross on the altar with plastic wrap, a bondage gag-ball like the ones in the basement scene in Pulp Fiction in his mouth to muffle his cries. This is a gay victim previously entrapped in an internet chat room scam who was lured into the clutches of the church similar to the three boys. After more anti-gay demagogy in his soft voice, Cooper gives the order, a gun is produced from inside a bible and the man is executed. His body is dropped into the crawlspace where Travis and Billy Ray have been imprisoned. Jared soon discovers that he is to be the next one on the cross to be denounced and murdered. 
Meanwhile, Sheriff Wynan has dispatched a deputy to find the car that hit him and sits in his office distraught and fondling his pistol while looking at a picture of his wife on his desk. The deputy finds the boys’ parents car with the damage at the Cooper compound. Inside the church Jared and Billy Ray have now managed to cut through their plastic wrap using a protruding broken bone of the dead gay man and are desperately trying to escape with several church members in hot pursuit. Billy Ray pursued by Sarah’s husband Caleb through the narrow basement corridors enters a room and finds it is an arsenal, stocked with various forms of weaponry. The grabs an automatic rifle as Caleb pulls his own gun and they both shoot each other. Abin Cooper has gone to the front gate to meet with deputy Pete who hears the shots and is then himself shot dead by church member Mordecai. Cooper gets on the slain officer’s radio and taunts and threatens Sheriff Wynan with exposing his homosexuality to his wife using pictures that the church has taken. The sheriff then appears ready to put his gun to his head but right before doing so spots a notice from the ATF on the office wall and  puts in a call to bring in the Feds. In a new scene the phone rings at the home of special agent Joseph Keenan, played by John Goodman rousting him from bed that ends up with an order to go to visit the compound. The church had been under investigation for the acquisition of weapons.
Back inside the chapel, Jared is now on the cross while Sarah wails at him over the death of her husband, his body now in front of the congregation as Abin Cooper sermonizes and plays the piano in a service for Caleb. Travis, who played dead when the men of the congregation went to investigate the shooting has grabbed and automatic weapon and makes a break to escape with the male church members in hot pursuit. When Jared emerges from the building into the courtyard he is shot down. The ATF force led by Keenan is now outside of the gates of the compound. The shooter was closeted gay Sheriff Wynan who is pounded upon and dressed down by Keenan for his trigger happy escalation of the situation. Keenan is outraged, having already made reference to the agency’s past history when on the phone with his superior he fully understands the potential for violence. Inside the compound the members arm themselves and prepare to go out in a blaze of glory. Keenan announces through a bullhorn the intent to execute a search warrant on the property and after a brief moment of quiet Cooper appears in an upper window with a hunting rifle and kills an ATF officer with a shot to the head, taunting the heavily armed government men by shouting “come on” after which all hell breaks loose.

Keenan calls to request backup and to inform his superior officers that the situation has escalated into a shoot out. He is asked about media and gives the response that due to the remoteness of the compound that media is not a factor. Keenan is then given the order to storm the complex and kill all within to which he pleads that there are kids inside before asking for something in writing to protect himself and his field office before he agrees to execute the order. In the next scene, Keenan is in a stable when he informs one of his agents that the situation has been “reclassified” and that they are going to “take down this domestic terrorist cell.” As the agent pleads with him for a measured response Keenan reads an email from his cellphone. The email is an official statement:

Our investigation of the Five Points Church in Cooper’s Dell has uncovered an extremely hostile domestic terrorist cell, heavily armed with intentions of bombing a local shopping mall this morning. When we came with arrest warrants they opened fire on us, killing the assistant special agent in charge, giving us no choice but to take the premises with deadly force. In the resulting firefight all suspects were killed. 

The young agent named Harry is distraught and argues with Keenan that there are children inside and that they are going to be the “bad guys” in this situation but is rebuffed coldly. Keenan says “I got eighteen years in, I’m not telling my wife she’s got to clip coupons till we’re dead because I can’t follow a simple order, shitty as that order is…and we’re not talking about Gandhi here”. Harry struggles with the order and then passes it on. As Cheyenne has gone outside to plead with the agents for mercy due to the children an agent produces a throwaway weapon, fires shots and gives it to her, his intent is obviously to gun her down in cold blood as soon as she takes it but while he is distracted and struggling with the girl Sarah walks up behind him and shoots him in the back of the head. Back inside, Cheyenne frees Jared who is bound to the cross and implores him to go with her to the agents to tell the real story, that the terrorist threat was bogus and that they could both stop the slaughter. Sarah finds the two in a room and a struggle ensues where by accident Cheyenne shoots her own mother. Her and Jared then run from the building to confront Keenan imploring him to keep the ATF men from killing the children but she is then shot in the head at point blank range by agent Harry who also guns down Jared. He is just following orders.

Then a bizarre and deafening sound like a roar of a mighty trumpet is heard, the agents are confused but the sound is heard by Pastor Cooper and the remaining live members of the church who have not been killed in the shootout begin to celebrate. They have interpreted the sound as God’s message that the judgement day has come and emerge from the compound unarmed. Cooper sermonizes to the stunned agents about the four angels being loosed and that the Rapture has come. He rants at the “G” men, “G” for godless, “G” for government and advances, taunting Keenan to shoot him. The camera then pans out and the next scene has Keenan in front of his superiors in an inquiry explaining what happened next,  that he subdued the suspect with a head butt and rounded up the remaining church members. The horn of God was revealed to be just a random act by a bunch of hippie pot farmers on a neighboring property who had hooked an ipod up to a fire engine siren in order to fuck with Cooper’s flock who were being harassed by Cooper’s goons by getting their hopes up for the Rapture. He was chastised for disobeying a direct order and then told he’s been promoted. When asking about Cooper’s fate he is fed the whopper that “the U.S. government doesn’t kill people in or out of custody” and that under the Patriot Act that Cooper would be disappeared without trial. The recording device is then turned off and Keenan’s superiors state, quite correctly that “if you kill an American because of a religious belief, you are a terrorist” and that people like Cooper should be locked up under the post 9/11 rules that have eviscerated the Constitution. Keenan then asks why he was given the order to kill the Cooper clan and his boss replies with a smirk “fuck people like this, they’re animals” and that Jesus saves but he isn’t going to save Pastor Cooper from a fuckload of prison rape. The final scene has Cooper in a prison cell sermonizing and singing and one of the fellow prisoners shouts “shut the fuck up”.

Red State is brilliant in it’s commentary, not only for bringing attention the the seriously dangerous form of violent Christianity that has become so prevalent since the 1980’s and the militia types that are drawn to it but also in that it criticizes the heavy handed actions of the government. The “terrorist” attacks of 9/11 and the transformation of the United States into a fascist police state where posse comitatus and habeas corpus have been junked have enabled local police and governments to become militarized. The use of this power, not constrained by any sort of traditional law will become more commonplace as the ongoing economic collapse worsens and as the people take to the streets in protest. The police are already using violence to put down Occupy movement demonstrations that are a real grass roots uprising unlike the phony right-wing Tea Party and if they continue to grow they will represent a threat to the status quo that absolutely will not be tolerated. Serious civil unrest is coming to America very soon, one need only to look at the rest of the world and the growing backlash against vampire capitalism. The ruling class is not going to wait much longer before loosing the government on the protests which will only worsen the situation as the society begins to unravel. The wild card are the Christian fanatics, who truly harbor terrorist intent and are like Pastor Cooper’s clan, armed to the teeth and ready to rumble. They will be used by the establishment as shock troops when the time comes and they will be backed by government thugs as they defend the existing order. Judgment day is getting closer although not in any biblical sense and be assured that there will be blood.

I would strongly recommend Red State to all readers, this is not a movie that is going to be promoted by anything other than word of mouth, heretical that it is to the powerful and those that they depend upon to maintain their blessed order. 

Just my two cents

EE

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Posted on 2011/11/05, in Christian Fascists, Kevin Smith Red State, mIchele Bachmann John Wayne Gacy, Red State Movie, Religious Bigotry. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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