Wednesday, January 14, 2015

The Overnighters

I include where and how I see a movie in these posts because it can be important - if you know these locations, you probably have some idea how the environment effects the experience. In this case, it's less the quality of projection than the general milieu and audience that defined how (at least) the final act was received.

We are a liberal bunch in Cambridge, after all, and while there are certainly churches and other places of worship around, there was also a cheerful sign up on the common across from Harvard University during the holiday season about how festiveness and generosity doesn't exactly need to be tied to the particular season in which your beliefs specify celebrations and rituals. Consider that, among the group that spends its time in Harvard Square, the self-selected subset watching a documentary at the Brattle on a weeknight may be even less a representative sample of the country as a whole.

Or maybe not; maybe I'm only speaking for myself. But I wouldn't be shocked if the attitude toward the churchgoing people in this movie was perhaps a little bit condescending and patronizing; it's easy to be cynical about religious people in this day and age, and see Pastor Reinke's generosity as out of the ordinary. He's a "good Christian", inclusive and charitable just like they're supposed to be even if so many fall short. We laugh a little at how he goes from doing good to wanting those he does good for to come to church on Sunday, but not maliciously; we're just not used to it. For much of the movie, I was kind of curious how it played outside of places like this, where much of the audience likely was church-going folk. Was Reinke seen as less unusual and the conflict with those who aren't so generous a little more uncomfortable? It's a genuinely interesting question, I think, because for all that I sometimes found the film's construction awkward, there's an impressive balancing act done where it could possibly feel informative and raise conflicting emotions no matter what sort of bias toward religion one arrives with.

And then it hits the last act and...

SPOILERS!

... you could feel a wave of disappointment go through the theater when Reinke talks about how he has struggled with same-sex attraction. This isn't a room where not being cool with men liking men is going to win you any points. That's also about when I noticed a couple copies of a book titled "Evolution Exposed" sitting around his office, and, yeah, a little checking after the film ends confirms that this is a publication putting forth young-Earth creationism. And while there was a scene earlier in the movie that I thought might have been meant to imply Reinke was gay or bisexual, this was the first time when the audience gets confronted with potentially less-than-progressive views.

I figure it has to be deliberate, but I kind of wonder what the goal is, and how different audiences will react to it. I certainly came out of those moments thinking less of him for feeling his orientation is something to be fought against or apparently peddling anti-science; suddenly the guy's not a "good Christian", or at least not an enlightened one, any more. Is it meant to make him more complex? Because even if it does, I think it might have the effect of restoring the viewer's initial assumptions rather than making us consider him more carefully.

I also wondered how strongly we were meant to assume that the unnamed person blackmailing Reinke at the end was the guy he was trying to convince not to leave earlier, though it was later implied that he was staying in the pastor's home before being kicked out for a registered sex offender. There's a vibe of attraction in the former scene, I think, although it's not made specific when the relationship Reinke is being blackmailed with took place.

!SRELIOPS

It's an unusual sort of last-act twist, if you want to look at it that way, kind of derailing the story and calling attention to how director Jesse Moss built the movie with certain important pieces obscured. I appreciate the ambiguous nature, but I also must admit that I don't like it when ambiguity seems to clearly come from a documentary filmmaker manipulating what the audience sees, rather than arising naturally because there's no actual way to know something.

The Overnighters

* * * (out of four)
Seen 12 January 2015 in the Brattle Theatre (Some of the Best of 2014, DCP)

The Overnighters starts with economics on-screen and probably could have the same sort of genesis as a project: The fracking-based oil boom in North Dakota brings people there in search of jobs that pay well, but a lack of lodging leaves many still homeless or paying exorbitant rents as supply-and-demand fails to work for everyone. You can still see hints of that wider perspective throughout the film, even though a more intriguingly knotty story has taken center stage.

That would be the case of Jay Reinke, pastor of Williston's Concordia Lutheran Church. Reinke, in an act of Christian charity, has opened the church's doors and parking lot to those seeking work but who do not yet have a place to stay. This is not exactly a popular move to a congregation and community already tending to look at the outsiders arriving as criminally-inclined invaders, and that's before it becomes clear that Reinke is willing to offer a helping hand to even those with very questionable backgrounds.

There are a number of angles filmmaker Jesse Moss could have taken here, from focusing on the cross-section of transient guests of the church that give the film its title to perhaps comparing the environmentally questionable methods used to extract shale oil to what seems like a similarly exploitative way of churning through employees. Pastor Reinke winds up not just being the common thread connecting a number a different narratives, but a figure not seen often enough in movies not specifically made for a Christian audience: A man who takes Jesus's exhortations to charity and forgiveness seriously, and is willing to make personal sacrifices or take personal risks to that end. There's a cheerful sincerity to his voice that can sound naïve or put-on to those who don't encounter that personality type regularly, although he seems genuine most of the time.

Full review at EFC.

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

I love when progressives say they are inclusive but not inclusive of those who just gag at homosexuality as if we have a choice - no more than those who say they were born that way. I was born that way - it is not natural to me. So when we are made uncomfortable about it you think less of us - but it is a reflex of our nature sorry. You cant say you are born one way and I am not born this way. I gag at the idea and know a lot of men and women who do.

Jason said...

You were really born looking down at other people, Anonymous? Even if that were the case, it sounds like something one would want to overcome.

Anonymous said...


What happened here is that a closeted gay man, Has completely lost touch with his true Identity...
Only the Problem here is not Jay Reinkes so called same sex 'attractions' the problem is right wing fundamentalism and its
Primitive doctrines which are irrational, unnatural, unscientific and easily bought into by people who are plagued
By Personal Guilt! I'm commenting on this because it hits close to home for me as my parents attend this church! I feel
That my family has been deceived by this Pastor and that pisses me off yes but I can forgive his affair. However for him
To continue to oppose equality and rights of glbt people even after this whole documentary and other bulshit that he has
'Suffered' through. I guess what I'm saying is that although I believe his heart is in the right place I don't respect this man
At all! I feel sorry for his wife and Children and it would have been a lot better for them had he chosen to get a divorce
And start to be honest with himself and get some psychiatric help. Who knows how many times he's chosen to cheat on her and lie to to his kids before he finally got caught... And when he cheats again what then? Is that woman going to just sit back and take it? Goddamnit Pastor Jay Reinke get your freaking head out of the sand PAUL From Denver

Tim Viall said...

My name is Tim, and I'm from Williston. I am looking for leads to the disappearance of Joe Lee who was and (Overnighter) and went missing from the Springbook Dam area May 31st-June 1st 2013. Williams County Detective Calub Fry has no interest in solving this assumed murder and I was hoping to find people who knew Joe or of Joe. Please contact me at dakotacoolhand@hotmail.com if you have any leads. Thank you