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.

DaveChristiano

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.”

Um.

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.

Wait, what?

You went to Catholic school and your brother claims that during his whole first 19 years of life, he never once met a…

Ohhhhh.

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.

That’s…always nice.

And if you need more convincing, just read Great Bible Authority Jack Chick!

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.

*pout*

Christiano continues:

“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.

JoshGaffga

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.

Anyway:

“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.

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Posted on July 4, 2013, in Late One Night, Movies. Bookmark the permalink. 10 Comments.

  1. Haha. I suppose a comparison to a 7 year old child really doesn’t reflect all that well on Larry, really.

    I know it was more than a century ago but I’m kind of interested in how Waterloo is right on the edge of the historical burned-over district. It’s an area that should be very familiar with Christianity and evangelism and so on, so it just makes Dave sound ignorant of one of the bigger parts of his home’s local history.

    (On a tangent, the wave of revivalism that coined the “burned over district” term also spawned William Miller and the Great Disappointment – Miller was a preacher who told his followers that the Second Coming was going to happen in early 1844, and then pushed the date back to October. And then that obviously failed to happen, and, well, his followers didn’t remain his followers for very long. Harold Camping: not even remotely original even in the details of execution.)

  2. I too enjoy it to have a movie who’s morality is debatable. Debatable among us commenters here. Pretty much all previous movies have had highly debatable moralities, it’s just that we were pretty much in agreement that their moralities were FUBAR.

    I was expecting it to be a “I never met a Christian, except for all those worshippers of Jesus who didn’t believe exactly like I did, so they don’t count” kinda deal. But great investigative work finding such clear proof Ruby. We use the RTC label so often, it’s good to know that, in some instances at least, it’s not just a joke on our part, it’s a pretty good description of how they really do see themselves.

    I don’t quite like Gaffga’s explanation of his character though. I stand behind my statement that I could sympathise with his character in the situation as presented in the movie. But I also maintain that the situation was highly unrealistic. And this is pretty much an admission that the movie’s intention was to present a situation in which the christian could be the timid, demure one who’s being bullied in telling the angry atheist all about salvation.

    And it is of course hillarious that Gaffga says this movie does something about Christians being portrayed as judgemental. Maybe you shouldn’t have included the director casually dismissing everyone who isn’t a proper born again Christian like him as non-Christians who don’t know the truth or the gospel.

  3. You know, I’m not convinced Tract Guy is a potential Magical Negro either. So far, we’ve only seen him distribute tracts and tell random passersby that God loves them but they won’t get to heaven unless they’re proper Christians – something commonly done in real life by certain types of evangelicals, but rarely regarded as wise, insightful, or life-enriching by the passersby being addressed.

    And as you pointed out in Part 1, his main scene involves him giving his whole “But are you a real, true Christian?” spiel to the guy who’s clearly portrayed as already being one and thus having no need whatsoever to hear Tract Guy’s “wisdom”.

  4. Dave (& Rich) Christiano’s* background also highlights one of my personal pet peeves with a hypothetical Christian God: the fact (loosely speaking) that, if they hadn’t moved to Arkansas, even though nothing else were inherently different about them, it would have completely changed their afterlife destinations. Of course, it’s written much larger on the global scale, where entire nations are presumably condemned by God just for having been born in the wrong place, in essence. But the Brothers Christianos’** story highlights how even within a majority-Christian nation, just an arbitrary, unrelated decision to move elsewhere or not could be the very thing that determines whether you end up saved or not. And I really don’t like the idea of things working that way; it’s inherently unfair.

    * I am somewhat uncertain about where to put the apostrophe there.
    ** I am very uncertain about where to put either the ‘s’ or the apostrophe there.

    • Fundamentalists have an irritatingly frequent response to that–God foresaw that people in the places in question would NEVER accede to the decrees of the Gospel, so he didn’t bother to send prophets or apostles there. UGLY fatalism. It’s also trotted out to justify Josue’s (not-terribly-corroborated-by-archaeology; I strongly suspect Josue was composed in an attempt to make the Assyrians et al. hesitant to try to conquer Israel and Judah) conquests.

    • The World Is Kinda Weird, exhibit #23,349,659: There is a man who had never encountered the gospel of Jesus as a child. And his name is Christiano.

  5. Thanks for the elucidation of the Magical Negro question, Ruby. I’m inclined to give some credit to the filmmakers, not only for casting more than the required minimum number of POC characters (i.e, one), but also making them individuals. In fact, in general it appears Late One Night does a fair job of providing nuance to its Christian characters. Whether that happened by design or by happenstance, it’s appreciated.

    • I’m inclined to give some credit to the filmmakers, not only for casting more than the required minimum number of POC characters (i.e, one), but also making them individuals.

      I agree wholeheartedly. There is much more going on here than just the Token Black Guy. Indeed, the color of the characters is never mentioned or alluded to—there is no sense from Larry that Mike is My Black Friend; he’s just his friend.

  6. It’s an interesting question: who gets to decide who’s part of a group and who isn’t? “Those guys over there aren’t Christians, even though they think they are” doesn’t make them over there happy; but We Over Here are equally unhappy with “we can call ourselves Christians, even though we don’t use the Bible or believe in the divinity of Jesus or any of that stuff”.

  1. Pingback: Deconstruction Round Up, July 7th, 2013 | The Slacktiverse

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