Jesus is everywhere, and that’s not just according to The Bible. In this materialistic eBay era, Jesus is on Eggo waffles, toast, and a variety of other breakfast foods and inanimate objects. When an elderly woman in East Texas spots the image of Jesus on her screen door while doing some gardening, a full-fledged frenzy breaks out and the tight-knit community sees virtually every petty difference and moral dilemma our society faces today come to light. A lesser film would lecture us and pound us into the ground with its “message,” but Screen Door Jesus take this touchy material and not only gives us a fair perspective from a religious standpoint, but also from a political standpoint. Talk about a juggling act!
After Old Mother Harper (Cynthia Dorn) spots the image of Jesus on her screen door and the hysteria begins, we meet an ensemble of characters, each facing a different dilemma. The film tackles such difficult issues as marrying someone of a different faith, administering medical treatment to a dying person, even though your religion forbids it, the ethical ramifications of converting to a different religion for other motives, and the ties between religion and racial intolerance.
The residents visit the screen door for a variety of reasons. Some seek healing, some seek help, and some just seek entertainment. The screenplay by writer/director Kirk Davis (based upon stories by Christopher Cook) does an outstanding job of covering as many points-of-view as possible. He keeps all of his characters down-to-earth and focused throughout. Films that deal with such heavy issues live and die by the audience being able to relate to the people depicted, and on this note Davis has succeeded in making a completely accessible film. He knows when to throw in humor, he knows the everyday quirks in people that we all encounter on a day-to-day basis, and, most importantly, he knows how to balance it all.
The performances by the ensemble cast are superb. Davis gets mature, absorbing performances from his actors and the hard work is quite evident on screen. Marc Dalton, as troubled singer/security guard Duane, emerges as the most memorable, and that’s saying something when everyone working around you is also a gifted actor. His on stage country-rock performances light up the screen and truly add another emotional dimension to the film. This is a very noteworthy and memorable collaborative effort.
Davis and Director of Photography Daniel Stoloff give Screen Door Jesus a beautiful palette of colors. Making generous use of crane shots, Davis’ camera flows in an almost surreal manner. Mood is established early and effectively, and Max Lichtenstein’s original score adds depth and emotion superbly. This is among the best productions I have ever seen for a film with a limited budget.
Screen Door Jesus accomplishes perhaps what is its biggest goal, and that is to get people to reflect and talk about its subject matter. These are all issues that, in most cases, when discussing usually end in an argument of some kind. When a film comes along that confronts tough issues and manages to keep everything real without dividing its audience, it deserves massive praise. On that note, Screen Door Jesus is one of the best films I have seen this year.
Studio: Indican Pictures
Length: 119 Minutes
Rating: R for language and some sexual content.
Theatrical Release: March 12, 2003 (South by Southwest Film Festival) / October 24, 2003 (Hamptons International Film Festival)
Directed by: Kirk Davis
Written by: Kirk Davis. Based upon stories by Christopher Cook.
Cast: Cynthia Dorn, Marc Dalton, Silvia Moore, Julius Tennon, Scarlett McAlister, Alaina Kalanj