I watched Rust (2010 on New Year’s Eve as it is pretty normal for me to try to force myself to stop working and relax (I sort of succeeded, only worked a half day on projects). If you read the Freethunk News Bites, you may have some idea that Rust was written and directed Corbin Bernsen (LA Law, Psych). He took time to comment on a post about the San Diego Christian Film Festival where the film was to compete against other faith inspired films.
Therefore I may want to tread carefully, but thoughtfully as Corbin Bernsen might actually take time out of his schedule to read this review. I want to be fair due to my own biases but also fair to my regular Freethunk readers. …That usually means I’ll offend everyone and satisfy myself. I’m fine with that. As long as I’m just not spouting off (which I’m guilty of on several occasions).
CB, as he doesn’t seem to mind being called that, has made it clear that he doesn’t want to be labeled and subsequently I would say doesn’t want his creative work labeled as a “Christian Film.” Fact is, he stressed that he shouldn’t be “put in a box.” I can sympathize as assumptions are made whenever you say you are a Christian or Atheist, however, I personally do not mind labels as long as they can be stretched and expanded. It’s hard for people to not categorize books and movies, especially when you are attracted to one genre over another. For our purposes here, I will label Rust a faith film, but not necessarily a Christian film.
Rust takes place in Kipling. It is a small town film reflecting small town values that are undermined by the blunt honesty of people just being people. What I mean by that is Rust doesn’t uphold the small town illusion. The mood is bleak often reflected by the literal cold and isolation of winter and the residents of Kipling all have their crosses to bear. The problem is, they don’t really know how to bear them, with the exception maybe of the aging Pastor Barrow who asks more questions than gives answers.
The main character, James Moore, in the opening of Rust seems to almost have a panic attack towards his religious profession as a minister and just walks off after questioning a statue of Jesus. We’re not even quite sure what instigated this? Is it just a mid-life crisis or something more?
He returns to his home town of Kipling to find himself or refresh himself on why he started on a pastoral career course in the first place, but all around him is just a feeling of hopelessness and an acceptance of mediocrity. His Dad seems indifferent to his return, apparently disappointed with his son leaving in a time of need. His sister is divorced with her former husband having a relationship with a younger woman. And his childhood friend Travis (who is slow but not what I call mentally retarded) is in lock-up for arson after a well-liked family burned inside their home. …Fun stuff! Kind of depressing for New Year’s Eve–but then I’m a strange sort anyhow, I enjoy the cold of winter and this is nothing compared to my reading list of heavy-handed books.
Here, with all of the bleakness of his life and the other lives he’s known since he was born, is where James Moore looks around him, looks at himself and then doesn’t know what to do. Oddly enough, I didn’t see him reaching out to God, but listening to his father tell him to finish something in his life. To me, that is very subjective, “finish what?!”
But when we have those panic attacks–I’m such and such age and I’ve accomplished nothing–we look for something to divert attention away from our perceived failures. Something else that we can complete that will have more meaning. In this case, it is discovering the truth about the fire and why Travis is accepting the blame. How this helps James restore his faith in God the end, I’m not sure I could follow. I do know that when you feel like a failure, sometimes stepping away from your career or going on a quest of sorts will bring you back around. Maybe that’s the point. Maybe this film isn’t even about God (uh-oh, did I just suggest that?).
Was restoral of faith in God necessary? Or was it a restoral of faith in one’s self? See, as someone who doesn’t believe in God, when I viewed the opening of the film I saw James Moore talking to himself–not to Jesus through a statue. I saw the same thing throughout the film and to some extent at the end of the film. I didn’t see a necessity for God at all in Rust. The tagline on the DVD is “A journey home, a faith restored.” Faith in what (?) is not mentioned really until the end and even then what does James Moore or rather CB as the writer do? He doesn’t quote scripture, not even after reading from a Bible (huh?). He quotes Samuel Pierce (who?) I won’t give that part of it away, but if you study that last scene in the church–no scripture is taught. Not one word from The Bible. It is CB’s personal view of God and of faith, not The Bible’s. It is not, in my opinion, even Christianity (there I go again with the labels). The rust in Rust is referring to how we live our lives despite the creaking of our hardships (to extend the analogy of the title) and how we live our lives for others.
Now I know CB or Christian readers may call foul, but that’s my personal interpretation. Rust is about someone walking away from himself and then coming back around because he knows he can help be a thread in the “fabric” that creates the blanket that covers us all. James Moore refers to that fabric/blanket as something of God. I don’t see how that applies. That blanket is the empathy of the human race, our relationships to family, friends and strangers and how we come to each other’s rescue in small and large ways. The analogy of the blanket being noted, by the way, is another reference to the last scene with the sermon.
Is Rust a film for freethinkers? For entertainment purposes, no–for reflection yes. Drop the word God and you have a humanist film. Faith can be applied to the view that we, on this fragile planet, are getting better at weaving the blanket. Dare I take the analogy away from God? Of course I do.
Christians are more likely to be drawn to the film because after the hardships are lain bare, relief is given by Moore’s restoral to his “calling.” Freethinkers will have objections, but not necessarily against the writing so much as what I call the elephant in the room as I describe below.
The acting is above par for a small budget project and the film does not present a fantasy faith that cures all. The script, in my opinion, is incomplete as there is more to explore and the wrap-up at the end, for lack of a better phrase, is “too sunny.” I would have actually liked to have seen more screen time with Travis–if that guy is acting he’s damn good, if he’s not he’s an interesting individual– and why he did what he did as further character exploration, but I realize that the arson mystery was there to fuel the healing of the main character James Moore (the movie really wasn’t about a fire). I do believe the ending is too simple, that any jubilation the characters were shown to be feeling after the resolution to the tragedy would be short-lived. A family died horribly in a fire because of stupidity. Throughout the whole film you should be asking, “Where was God?” My faith was in James Moore as a man bent on finding the truth. God was lacking.
The Elephant in the Room –You know as an atheist I am going to have to comment on the obvious and it all has to do with the fire. While James Moore’s faith was restored by the fire, what about the family that was burned to death?
When they were calling out for help, where was God? If this was God’s plan to restore Minister Moore’s faith then it was a pretty f’d-up plan. Oddly enough, CB’s script seems to reject the idea of God’s plan in the sense of planned tragedy or God putting “hurdles” (as Minister Moore refers to them) in our path for us to overcome them, but then he contradicts himself when he has Minister Moore indicate in the same sermon that God has planned our journey (which would include the hurdles). Do we dare get into pre-determinism/Calvinism? It is a no-win conversation.
Suffice to say, if God has planned the journey he knew the fire would happen and he knew how to prevent and/or rescue the family. You can’t explain away God’s apathy if you believe in God. The only logical explanation is there is no God planning anything. Fires simply happen and we mortals have to do our best to cope. Fact is, we do better than coping as we overcome natural and manmade disasters each year through our own ingenuity. God is not due the credit as an all powerful being that can’t lift his hand for one moment towards a burning baby is not worthy of worship. It does not matter if He did not cause the fire. You too are guilty if you stand idly by and watch a family burn without doing anything (even it is only calling 911).
The Martyr –The other point I need to make is Travis. Travis commits a Christ-like act by taking the sins of others upon himself. In other words, he took blame for the fire so the kids would not judged by Kipling society. The problem is, he indirectly caused a kid to blow his brains out. For those who haven’t seen the film and are reading this, it was a teenager who inadvertently dropped a cigarette which was the real cause of the fire–not Travis intentionally starting the fire because he had a conflict with the homeowner. The kid, keeping his silence due to Travis falsely confessing, feels so much guilt that later on he shoots himself.
Is that a fair thing to say? If Travis had not accepted blame and if the police were more competent, the kids would have been caught. They would have faced the consequences and gotten counseling or parental help. Now we know it was an accident, but no kid or adult is going to live well hiding a secret that caused the death of an entire family. It would eat them up inside. That’s exactly what caused the subsequent suicide of the boy after the fire.
That makes Travis a tragic figure. Now the alternative is that Travis could have turned all the kids in and still the boy in question may have commited suicide. This is something unforseeable. However, it would not be as a result of Travis trying to play Christ. It makes you wonder about other unintentional consequences there are to being Christ-like. This would be good subject matter for a faith film.
SIDENOTE: What I found more touching was the DVD extra where CB spreads some of his father’s ashes in Kipling. I almost wonder if he had written the film with the “movie father “passing away at some point in the script that we could see more of who James Moore was. It certainly showed more of who CB was. This is armchair directing though and probably unfair. The father was well-played, not slick acting like you might think, and much like Travis, I would have liked to seen more scenes with him.
Well hopefully after this battering there will be more. I like to see these films though I know most freethinkers dismiss them. I think they’re useful to understand and cross examine (LA Law pun intended). Exploring faith, without literal adherence to scripture or obvious propaganda, may lead someone to a more intelligent view on the subject and even an understanding of why the need for a God is questionable. …At least, that’s my optimistic opinion. On the other hand, it is easier to examine and argue a film with a literalist perspective. Thank no-god for TBN inspired films.