Monday, November 21, 2005

Walk the Line Ignores Cash's Christianity

Walk the Line Ignores Cash's Christianity ... or so says Jack Langer at Human Events Online. This article is worth a read just for the Kenny line below ... quote!

Just as I began contemplating walking out of the new Johnny Cash biopic, Walk the Line—it was when Cash is in the throes of a drug addiction withdrawal scene ripped off from the movie Ray—I turned my head and saw the middle-aged woman next to me dabbing her tears with a handkerchief. I found the display deeply surprising and somehow unsettling; I’ve been more emotionally affected by Kenny’s death in most episodes of South Park than I was by any scene in this movie.

... and ...

In order to establish the tired Hollywood trope that Christians are strange and intolerant people, the movie inserts several incongruous scenes that serve no purpose other than to ridicule Christianity: when Cash’s brother dies young, his unhinged father yells out, “The devil took him! The devil took the wrong son!” Jerry Lee Lewis inexplicably launches into a fire and brimstone tirade declaiming that he, Cash, and all their listeners are going to hell for the songs they sing; and a typical illiberal Christian woman approaches June in a store and, for absolutely no reason, tells her that June’s divorce was an “abomination.” Thus it comes as no surprise when the story of Cash’s real-life conversion into an evangelical Christian is reduced to an insignificant ten-second scene in which he and June walk from a parking lot toward a church.

Due to the filmmakers’ discomfort with Christianity, the film ignores the entire aspect of Cash’s career that was occupied by gospel music. For example, the record producer at his first audition reacts to Cash’s performance of a gospel song by telling Cash that gospel doesn’t sell and that Cash obviously doesn’t believe in all that “I’ve been saved” nonsense anyway. He tells Cash to play something that really means something to him, so Cash plays a secular country tune and gets the contract. The film implies that this marks Cash’s abandonment of gospel, as henceforth it makes no other reference to Cash’s gospel music, except when the warden at Folsom prison self-servingly asks Cash to play gospel instead of his edgy prison-themed songs in order to keep from stirring up the inmates (Cash, of course, refuses). Cash’s real-life decision to leave his original record label partly because it prohibited him from recording gospel albums (of which he would record many throughout his career) is omitted from the film.

Having insulted the religion to which Johnny Cash dedicated much of his life, the movie jarringly ends in 1968, as if the end of Cash’s drug abuse and womanizing left nothing interesting to tell of the following 35 years of his life. It never explores the fascinating duality of Johnny Cash that was reflected so strongly in his music—the outlaw Man in Black who was deeply enmeshed in Christian spirituality. Instead, we are treated to a story whose starring character is essentially Robert Downey Jr. in a black shirt. I suppose there’s a reason why Walk the Line could bring a person to tears, but it lies more in the film’s hilariously trite stereotypes and comically formulaic storytelling than in its critically-acclaimed quality.

This is a shame. What a fascinating story Cash's Christian faith would have made. For more on that read The Man Comes Around: "A Religion Based on Johnny Cash." Perhaps someone will tackle this topic in the future and give the pic a proper title, like: "Ring of Fire."