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Review: Wise Blood (1979)

Directed by: John Huston | 101 minutes | drama | Actors: Brad Dourif, John Huston, Dan Shor, Harry Dean Stanton, Amy Wright, Mary Nell Santacroce, Ned Beatty, William Hickey, J.L. Parker, Marvin Sapp, Richard Earle, Herb Kossover, Betty Lou Groover, John Tyndall, Gillaaron Houck, Philip Mixer, Sharon Johnson, Joe Dorsey, Stratton Leopold, Leonard Holmes, Daniel Albright, Tommy Alson, Harold Horne, Jim Barbee, Gene Howard , Raymond Foskey, Vicky Dyer, Jerry Rushing, Ken Flower, Gladys Hill,

The 1952 novel “Wise Blood” by American writer Flannery O’Connor tells the story of Hazel Motes, a former soldier who returns to his native region and comes into conflict with a blind preacher who is proclaiming the faith on the street. The aversion to this preacher’s and his daughter’s proclamation of faith, and Motes’ belief that man can consult himself better than Jesus Christ for his spiritual salvation, lead him to establish his own church: “The Church without Christ” . Motes finds his parental home abandoned, his father died. Then he goes to town. Here he meets a number of strange characters who are all engaged in confessing and proclaiming the faith in their own way. There are the aforementioned blind preacher Asa Hawks and his daughter Sabbath Lily and Hoover Shoates, an entrepreneur and con man who sees a profit in Hazel’s differing views.

The “blood” in the title refers to a statement made by Enoch Emory, a boy who is enthusiastic about Hazel’s ideas, and who, like his father, claims to be able to see things through his “wise blood.” Many of the figures Motes encounters are caricatures and fulfill their specific function within the deeper religious themes of the film. Issues such as the struggle between traditional and more modern forms of creed, the underlying motives of the proclaimers of this faith and human suffering as the ultimate form of self-salvation can be found in the story of the film (reading the book on the right will probably provide a view of matter). The blind preacher Hawkes who, through his (feigned) blindness and self-mutilation, says he has come to a deeper understanding, his daughter who turns out to be anything but decent and the commercial-minded Shoates (a good role by Ned Beatty) who tries to make money by a “ false prophet ”are the dark sides of the religiosity depicted in the film. Emory, on the other hand, is the simple, sincere believer who is just looking for “a Jesus” to believe in. But Motes itself also has an ambivalent past with regard to faith. Coming from a deeply religious family (his father, played by director Huston in the film, was a preacher), he is at the same time bitter and disappointed in the faith as he knows and encounters it, but also colored by his own religious upbringing and origins. He preaches a more human and less metaphysical variant of the old gospel. In his opinion this is the only way to “real” salvation. His fanaticism, however, leads him more and more to embrace suffering as the supreme means of salvation. The themes from the book and the are not light fare and the average home viewer will have to get used to the subject.

The contains, in addition to a lot of religious symbolism, several layers and can be viewed in several ways. In any case, it seems clear that the criticism of religious fanaticism is indeed one of the themes that writer O’Connor incorporated in the original book. A more historical view of the era of the American South from that time is also possible, but the original novel may offer a solution for this. In any case, “Wise Blood” is a movie that you will not just take in. In terms of acting and technical merits, Dourif in the role of Motes stands out because of his dramatic outbursts and wild looks as if he were a real pastor. At the time, the actor was known for his role in the Oscar-winning “One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest”. In any case, it is a bit different from the roles that Dourif played in the “The Lord of the Rings” and “Child’s Play” series that most probably know him from.

The supporting roles, including and Harry Dean Stanton, are also of an excellent level. Huston is also a very skilled director (he has been running since the 1940s) and this can also be seen in the camera work and staging. It all looks fine. But the inevitable question arises as to whether the religious theme will be equally manageable for everyone. “Wise Blood” is full of peculiar dialogues, characters and sometimes strange religiously tinted statements that sometimes feel comical, sometimes tragic. Fascinating and comical to some, to others run may be incomprehensible. At first it may not be entirely clear where you can best place this story. Nevertheless, “Wise Blood” is a great that depicts religious themes in an unconventional way.

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