Saturday, November 7, 2009
Wise Blood, John Huston’s adaptation of the Flannery O’Connor novel, brings to mind Robert Duvall’s The Apostle (probably the best American film about religion) in that both films explore the intersection of hucksterism and faith. And while Huston’s film contains a sardonic touch that distinguishes it from Duvall’s, both maintain complex views of morally complicated figures, avoiding pious judgments and instead reveling in the paradoxes of human nature. Huston, playing the skeptic to O’Connor’s believer, does get his digs in at the exploitation of spiritual fervor, but he’s also fascinated by the peculiar convictions of Hazel Motes, an angry young man who preaches a church without Christ and ends up a martyr to his own esoteric belief system. Brad Dourif taps a rare self-immolating energy in his brilliant depiction of Motes, bringing lacerating intensity to the most mundane conversations. Even something so simple as gassing up his rickety car becomes an ordeal for this man. All of life becomes Motes’ personal Passion play, with himself in the roles of both Christ and Pilate—making for a film that is at once funny, tragic, and gloriously strange.