Late One Night: Intermission
I’m not too surprised (but I am very pleased) at the wide variety of reactions to Late One Night, and especially to the character of “antagonist” Larry.
Ivan, for example, finds himself more in sympathy with Jesus than Larry, pointing out that Larry is engaging in the very behavior for which we criticize evangelical Christians: aggressively pursuing a debate about faith when the other person just wants to be left alone.
Nerrin finds the Christians who work at the factory to be hiding behind their religion (and even finds some sympathy for Larry going through Jesus’s pockets!).
And Vermic brings up the Magical Negro problem in a movie that, unlike so many Christian movies, has multiple characters who are POC. (Although it should be pointed out that all of the POC are black men between the ages of 30 and 50.)
For the record, the four POC in Late One Night are smarmy factory worker Riley, diner owner Jackson, Larry’s friend Mike, and Tract Guy. Of these four, I would count two of them (Jackson and Tract Guy) as candidates for the Magical Negro title. Riley may say he is trying to help possible-anti-hero Larry, but he is taking way too much pleasure in preaching at him and shooting down his hopes to qualify for the trope. And Mike, like Larry’s other friend Vince, acts more as a sounding board than a font of wisdom.
So, yeah, complications in a Christian film! This is…new.
Time to figure this stuff out! As much as I like Larry’s character, as much as I appreciate complicated and damaged anti-heroes and would love to think this is what Larry is meant to be, I suspect I may be grafting my own atheistic hopes onto the story.
But perhaps we can figure out exactly what is going on—because I have the DVD of Late One Night, which includes interviews about the movie!
And so, we will have an intermission before Larry totally loses his shit and grabs Jesus by the shirt.
The first thing you need to know about this interview is that it cuts between only three people: writer/director/producer Dave Christiano, and actors Josh Gaffga (Jesus) and Hugh McLean (Jackson).
Yep, Brad Heller is not there. But his spectre looms large: the Late One Night cover/poster is in the background. Heller may be conspicuously absent from the proceedings…but he is there.
Dave Christiano explains the why of Late One Night, while Brad Heller’s stolen soul looks on.
“My vision for doing the movie Late One Night was—it went back to when I grew up in upstate New York. I lived there for 19 years, it was a great place to grow up, but I never heard the gospel of Jesus Christ, I never knew a Christian, never met a Christian, didn’t know what a Christian was. It wasn’t until I moved out of New York, down to Arkansas, when I, you know, heard about Christ and became a Christian. So I wanted to shoot a film that would explain to people that I grew up with in New York State, what a Christian was, what it meant to be born again, so they could hear the gospel, hear the truth about Jesus. And that’s the whole purpose behind this film.”
I’m sorry, but that is (how shall I put this nicely) highly unlikely to be true. I have harped on this point many times before, but it is almost impossible to grow up in the United States and not know about Christianity. Hell, I was raised in a secular home and went to public schools, and I had Christian friends, went to church on occasion, and knew full well who Jesus was and what a Christian was.
Let’s investigate this some more:
Turns out Dave Christiano grew up in Waterloo, New York, with his twin brother, Rich. Around these parts, we know Rich from Second Glance and Time Changer. Rich explains a little more about their Christian-less upbringing in this interview at Christian Fandom:
I was born in upstate New York in a small town of 5000 called Waterloo.
I went to a Catholic grammar school and a Catholic college called St. John Fisher in Rochester, NY. After I became a born-again Christian in 1980, I went back to graduate school in Communications at Arkansas State University.
You went to Catholic school and your brother claims that during his whole first 19 years of life, he never once met a…
It’s a Catholics-aren’t-Christians thing.
Too long of a story to tell how I left the Catholic faith and became a true believer.
They aren’t true believers; they’re fakey believers.
Yeah, definitely a Catholics-aren’t-Christians thing.
Oh, and by the way:
Nope, no Christians in Waterloo, NY. That’s for sure.
Anyway, back to the interview and on to Late One Night itself:
“So I wanted to shoot a film that would explain to people that I grew up with in New York State, what a Christian was, what it meant to be born again, so they could hear the gospel, hear the truth about Jesus. And that’s the whole purpose behind this film.”
I guess I was wrong about Larry’s “What’s a Christian?” question. I thought it was a sarcastic question, meant to see if Jesus could give him a good answer. Nah, guess it means that Larry has lived to the ripe old age of 32 without ever learning what a Christian is.
Except he knows about Hell. And about being born again (but more on that in Part 2 of the critique). And he has Riley and all the other Christians in the factory quoting the Bible at him every day, enough so that he knows they don’t practice what they preach.
WHY ISN’T BRAD HELLER IN THIS INTERVIEW??? I really wanted his take on the character, so I could know if my impression, that Larry is spoiling for a debate and just wants to “test” Jesus and let off some steam, is correct.
“And so people watching this film, if you don’t know what it means to be born again, or you’re not sure, go to the Bible, John, Chapter Three, the first several verses, and see what Jesus had to say about it. Ask the Lord, ‘Lord, I don’t even know what this means. I want to be born again.'”
Why is it that the more I listen to this, the less sense it makes? You want me to ask something to happen to me that I don’t even know what it is?
Anyway, the rest of the interview reveals little more: Gaffga and McLean relate the stories of how they were hired, and Gaffga especially comes off as a nice, fun guy.
Gaffga is a pretty hip Christian, what with his pierced ears, crystal necklace, and skull bead necklace.
Also, you can’t see it in this shot, but his shirt says “They will know we are Christian by our t-shirts.” Which, admittedly, is pretty cute.
Gaffga seems to have a more realistic and sensible take on his audience than Christiano:
“One of the awesome things about this film is that, you know, Christians in media are portrayed as just real closed-minded and real judgmental.”
Gee, can’t imagine why.
“And we, as Christians, have not done a real good job, I think, of reversing that stereotype.”
Okay, Gaffga is definitely growing on me.
“And I think this film does a great job of showing us this guy who’s just a really loving, caring Christian, and really humble. And I think I want non-Christians and people that are seeking, I want them to come away going, “Okay, hey, maybe, you know, there’s something to this God, and there’s something to this Christ, and there’s something to Christians, and they’re not all bad.”
So, even though we don’t get much insight into the character of Larry, here, we know more about they were trying to do with this.
We’ll see if they succeeded in Part 2.