A few months back Lisa suggested that after I finish with Hallmark movies I take a look at this film. Seeing as I am still battling the onslaught of Hallmark movies, I decided to just go ahead and take a look at it now. I have to admit, I was intrigued by the plot summary. I mean I know why God was running a bar on August 8th, 1953.
He was there to tell Dr. Sam Beckett that by making differences in the lives of those who he had met during his journey leaping around in time putting right what once went wrong that he had in turn touched more lives than he could imagine. He was also there to finally let Sam give the greatest gift he possible could to his friend and guardian angel Al. That being, to visit Al’s first wife Beth and tell her to wait just a little longer because Al would be found in Vietnam, and be repatriated. And of course, to bring the show Quantum Leap to a close. A show that, along with MacGyver and Real Genius, taught me not to be ashamed of being smart and different. That the world will always need smart people. Not just any smart people either. Smart people who leverage their intelligence to help others. Unconditional help, kindness, acceptance, and love. No membership or surrender required.
So let’s find out what God is doing at a roadside diner roughly 60 years later.
I started the DVD, and I know this isn’t the filmmakers fault, but should I really be seeing this on any film, let alone one that is supposed to be about an encounter with Jesus?
Apparently, I can be put in jail for up to five years and/or receive a $250,000 fine for making a copy of the DVD. At present, running a red light, which can kill people, will only get you about a $500 fine in California.
The movie opens up and we begin to be introduced to our characters. There is a young girl walking down a country road at night with fog around. A car is coming and instead of moving to the side of the road like a smart person would, she moves further into the middle of the road and swings her arms around. Even the most careful driver, which he isn’t by looking at his cellphone, can accidentally hit someone who isn’t wearing any reflective clothing standing on a dark foggy country road no matter where they stand. But, when we cut to the businessman inside the car and hear him say “what an idiot”, we are supposed to know he is a bad guy.
Next, we meet the characters who are the central focus of this film. They are a married couple. The wife obviously wants out of the marriage, but the husband clearly still cares about her. Just in case we don’t know the kind of person she’s going to be portrayed as, they have her say, “Yeah, as long as being me means being Mrs. Hank Miller.” in response to him saying, “I’m not stopping you from being you.” Sounds a little on the vague side. It never really gets any better than that. They too are traveling on this same road and spot the girl walking along it. He wants to pick her up, but his wife doesn’t. Again, meant to setup her character as needing redemption except it’s never safe to pick up hitchhikers no matter what their age might be. This doesn’t establish anything as far as she’s concerned, but it does show a lack of backbone in him. Oh, and by the way, she also steps out into the middle of the road again. She’s not the brightest person in the movie.
Next comes this lady who is also traveling on this road. See the subtitle? I’m glad I had them on because the voice is so low that I didn’t actually hear it. It’s supposed to be the voice of Jesus telling her to pick up the girl. He also tried to tell the husband to do the same thing, but since that didn’t pan out, he tried the next person who came along. Of course she does.
After a brief glance at the diner the film will take place in as one of them passes it, we meet one of two actors who are well cast in this movie.
This guy (Kass Connors) has an important role, and in the short time he’s on screen he’s good. He does look like he belongs on the set of an 80s slasher movie, but still. I guess I am a little biased seeing as he does remind me of the sheriff from The Boogieman episode of Quantum Leap where the Devil confronts Sam about fixing the things that the Devil made wrong.
He tells the people that the road is out. Seeing as the lady who picked up the girl spotted the Last Chance Diner, she suggests they go back to it. The officer tells them there “was a diner” and to “tell the guy at the diner Officer DeVille sent you.” Spoiler alert! He’s the Devil. Think they’re gonna explain why he has conveniently cut off the roads so these people will go and talk with Jesus? Then you are clearly watching the wrong movie. Remember, this movie could have the alternative title of Salvation: It’s Your Decision.
They go to the Last Chance Diner and we meet Jesus. And this shot is probably as good a time as any to point out a real systemic problem with this movie. Even if you have no issues with the material. Even if you know this is the kind of movie clearly made for you. It is poorly shot. As you can see actor Bruce Marchiano’s face is out of focus. That happens a lot in this movie. The camera is shaking all the time as well. There’s actually a point where the focus is moving from a character in the background to one in the foreground, but mid change it just cuts away to something else. For anyone watching this movie, these problems really do get annoying and get in the way of the film. And there are other such issues that I’ll point out as we go along.
Before I do continue, I want to mention that just as Kass Connors is well cast as the Devil, Bruce Marchiano is well cast as Jesus. He’s got the right looks for the role and the charisma. I just wish that he was given a more fleshed out and three dimensional character to play here. You do get a few brief glimpses of the kind of performance he could give with a better script, but then he has to go back to what has been written for him, which is unfortunate.
Before anything Jesus responds to a comment that the state trooper said his place was closed with that he has been trying to keep people away from him for years. Then he’s really lousy at it because he shut off the road giving them no choice but to turn around and go to the diner. I’m sure it all has to do with the free will thing. And by free will in this movie, I mean either become a Christian or the Devil is going to take you away. That is the only option given these characters. Jesus even stops time if you pay attention to the clock that never moves in his diner.
The first thing we learn, aside from his name, is that the only drink he serves is water. They even have Jesus say it’s “two molecules of hydrogen and one of oxygen.” His own recipe as he puts it. Think he’s gonna turn that into wine at some point? Nope, but somebody does ask him to do it. He just doesn’t. Have to admit I’m surprised he didn’t answer the request with: “Wouldn’t want to send you out onto the road tipsy, now would I?” Also, if he only serves water, then why are there signs on his wall offering Root Beer, Coke, and Lemonade?
I know the prices are meant to evoke the 1950s look of the diner, but considering he will immediately and consistently say he only serves water, then it’s confusing. They sort of explain it by saying he took over the diner from someone a long time ago, but still, it’s a sign right behind him saying he serves the very thing he says he won’t. It’s just another one of these little things that should have been fixed before the movie was finished.
Now of course people need to get some food. It goes without saying that the phone doesn’t work and that Jesus knows all their names. We learn that the businessman is an ex-football player who runs a chain of successful restaurants. When Jesus is asked for a recommendation on what to have for dinner, he says he has a special knack for knowing what people want and need. It also goes without saying that everything he’s going to offer is free. Course we’re talking free as in you have to accept all the things I ask of you or the Devil gets you. I think I would have preferred the food offered unconditionally to these people who are hungry. Then again, this isn’t a community kitchen at a Sikh temple, and it is a movie.
There’s a humorous little scene where the husband says it’s a little weird having Jesus ask if he wants fries with his meal, but I would find it a little weirder eating bread given to me by Jesus. You know, given the whole body of Christ thing. Whether it makes sense or not, I would think I’m kind of being a cannibal.
Oh, and inside the first 20 minutes of this movie he is already saying this.
He’s trying to cut to the chase here, but it is an 85 minute movie. I think it could have benefited by working towards that rather than just shoving it in everyone’s face right out of the gate. The wife and businessman respond by getting up and trying to leave in his car. By that I mean so that the movie can mention that they have essentially made a Twilight Zone episode.
I think it goes without saying that the car doesn’t start. Inside, the girl asks him basically to prove that he’s Jesus. That she could say she’s Britney Spears, but that it doesn’t make it so. So this is when Jesus performs a miracle which he can do cause he’s Jesus. Just kidding, he pulls out a driver’s license.
Then he just keeps rattling off things that are supposed to show he knows everything. Now is when he says he can save the one guys marriage if he just asks him to. Think that means he is going to have a heart to heart with the wife. Nope. She kind of just disappears from the film, then reappears and is more willing to give things another shot after just listening to everything else that happens. Five people worked to make this script the way it is. You’d think one of them could have made that happen. But I kind of lied earlier. While the married couple really are at the center of the story. It’s the businessman who gets the most attention.
Then this happens.
The restroom sign points to the left, but she walks to the right instead. I’d try and give them the benefit of the doubt and say the bathroom is outside, but considering a mistake later, I don’t think so. This happens several times.
Now we get one of those scenes where we get a glimpse of the kind of performance Bruce Marchiano could give with a more fleshed out character.
He talks with the businessman about his family, he comes across as someone who has been watching his life, and the lives of those around him. I could totally get behind a series of movies where Bruce Marchiano as Jesus goes around helping people. But that’s not really what you get here. He’s here to conduct the equivalent of a time share pitch meeting. This is when Jesus says that if he hadn’t intervened then they’d all be dead because the road was flooded. The businessman has a natural question that since he’s Jesus, he created the storm that caused the deadly conditions. Jesus responds that humans live in a “fractured creation” that caused the storm. Not exactly sure what he is referring to there, but I’d guess it has to do with the whole Garden of Eden story. But regardless, his next lines that say he took advantage of the situation to make a “personal appeal” means he’s working with the Devil because the only reason they returned to the diner was because the Devil told them the road was flooded and blocked them from using the road.
Oh, and this movie still has an hour to go at this point.
Now Jesus starts to lay into the married couple. The problem according to Jesus is that the husband was listening to his wife, not him. So, he just ignores her entirely? Of course not, the point is that the root of this unexplained problem is that she isn’t a real Christian. She snaps back that she goes to church on Sunday and teaches Sunday school. This is a job for Super Christian!
No such luck. She just storms off to the bathroom which still is apparently in the opposite direction of where the arrow is pointing. The nice lady joins her in the bathroom to talk to her. This conversation just reminds me that I do need to get around to watching Every Young Woman’s Battle since this whole marriage plot is based off of the material in that lecture.
There is a little back and forth where Jesus takes credit for acts that hurt people, but kept them from getting killed. It doesn’t matter because this is another time when we get a glimpse of the kind of performance we could have gotten from Bruce Marchiano. The businessman asks him “how many people are going to blow themselves up in your name today in the Middle East” or the people who “blow up abortion clinics”. Jesus says he never asked anyone to do those things. Then the businessman asks him whether he remembers “telling the Israelites to kill the Canaanites before they entered the Promised Land. Men, women, and children. Even the livestock.” He says we call that genocide. Jesus responds that he is “also holy and I cannot allow sin to go unpunished and that’s not just for my sake. It’s for yours. I don’t want you to wallow in sin and rebellion and guilt. I want you to thrive in unending peace and joy. There isn’t one human being on this planet that’s an accident. I hand formed you in your mother’s womb and I formed you for a purpose. I put before you a path of love and worship. And the degree with which you’ll enjoy experience love and joy and the good things of life is the degree to which you’ll bend to my will.” This of course gets the response that anyone who doesn’t bend you your will dies. Jesus says that not everyone needs to fear death. That believing in him essentially makes death inconsequential because as long as you believe, then Heaven is waiting for you.
First off, killing people is killing people no matter who or what you are. If he wants to not have people “wallow in sin and rebellion and guilt”, then why is he spending his time to talking to a handful of inconsequential people at a diner? Has he ordered any more people to die after the Bible was written? He keeps talking about being around all this time and interfering in people’s lives. For the better, but it means he’s taking actions here on Earth and apparently has a history of ordering mass killings. The rest is just comfort food that doesn’t really say anything. None of these things have actual answers to them, but if you’re going to lay things out for me and say I either receive eternal damnation or eternal happiness, then these questions need answers. At least he doesn’t break out the leap of faith line here.
Now we get some stories where Jesus apparently helped these people.
The first is from the nice lady. She was going to kill herself when a Christian friend of hers called her up to go to a Christian film festival. She says the movie was like nothing she had ever seen before. I don’t know what to say here except it’s depressing that this girls backstory is a plug for and encouragement to go see the very kind of movie you are watching. I can only assume that since I seriously doubt she was at a festival showing something like The Passion Of Joan Of Arc (1928), The Flowers Of Saint Francis (1950), Ordet (1955), The Gospel According To St. Matthew (1964), or even The Passion Of The Christ (2004). And they never give any details except that it felt like it was directed right at her.
Now he tells her that she can’t marry, or at least strongly suggests that she shouldn’t marry the man she was on the road to go to see. The reason is that this guy doesn’t believe in him. He goes on to give some reasons that seem reasonable, but it all comes back around to that he won’t believe and will hold her belief in him against her. In other words, this Jesus believes that people who don’t believe in him, are adversaries of those who do. I would write this off as just a specific case, and not generalize, but these are the same people who made God’s Not Dead. In that movie, Kevin Sorbo plays precisely the person he is describing. An atheist who resents his wife for her being a Christian. A man who does eventually come to Jesus, but only at the point of death. So, when he says he doesn’t want her to be “unequally matched”, he means only two Christians can truly love each other because they both love him and receive his greater love.
It’s also during this conversation that the boom mic drops into frame.
Cause of course it drops into the frame. It doesn’t seem to matter what I watch lately. The boom mic always makes a cameo appearance.
Then the businessman says something stupid. He actually compares their conversation to “Deal Or No Deal”. Ummm… have the writers actually watched that show? The whole show is a series of gambles that can fall in the contestants favor or not. He says that she should say “no deal”, but in the context of the show that means taking a gamble that there’s something beyond what you have in front of you in order to get something greater. Isn’t that exactly what Jesus is asking of her? To take a chance that instead of listening to the facts in front of her, that he is Jesus and knows what he is talking about.
Then Jesus says something stupid. He says that the businessman’s car wouldn’t start because “it’s not my will that anyone should perish.” Except didn’t you just get finished saying you ordered people massacred? I know religions and ideologies in general are full of contradictions, but why bring them into the movie? He also says he’ll never force himself on him or anyone. Except that’s what he’s been doing this whole time. People have a funny idea of what constitutes forcing something on people. Taking advantage of a situation to preach to people who would otherwise exercise their free will to leave is forcing. He says “what would be more unjust and unfair? For me to steal you at the moment of your death and force you to live in my presence and in my will for all eternity?” Except again, that’s kind of what he’s done here. They were going to die on the road so he closed it to give them all the option of either choosing to live in his presence and in his will for all eternity or leave and die. The only difference is he’s stealing them at the moment of death, then giving them a choice, which really isn’t a choice. He also says no one goes into hell blindfolded. He says “in one way or another, I’ve revealed myself to everyone.” Examples? The nice lady says that maybe if they could just see him. Jesus responds that “not even that would be enough.” Then what’s the point of revealing yourself explicitly to these people? I mean other than there wouldn’t be a movie otherwise.
But he just shifts topics. He starts in about Satan being a root of evil. He says “scratch any sin and just below the surface you’ll find pride.” While we are here, does all this talk about Heaven, Hell, and belief in him mean that anyone who doesn’t automatically goes to Hell? Because it sure sounds like that when you watch this movie. The writers then throw in a little bit about “hoping from bed to bed” for the abstinence crowd, but couch it with “to just satisfy themselves no matter who it hurts”. Oh, and by the way, right after he says that, it cuts to the husband. Is that why the marriage is on the rocks? She’s been sleeping around? It never says.
Now at roughly the 53 minute mark, he finally brings the food they asked for. And there’s still 40 minutes of this left. Go figure! It’s the best food they’ve ever had. This is also when the wife comes around. It kind of comes out of nowhere.
This is when we get the second example of how Jesus helped one of these people in a major way. It comes when we finally get the story of the girl who was walking on the road. During her story she pulls back her shirt to reveal a scar.
And by scar, I mean something that looks more like a peeling sunburn. I can’t say I’m super familiar with all the different types of scars, but I have more than my fair share of ones from being cut. Regardless, after the movie cuts, it looks more like an actual scar.
Now we learn more. Apparently, she tried to blow her head off with a gun, but it turned out there were no bullets in it. Jesus had a part in this as we learn. He made sure her stepfather stumbled so that he would take out the clip from the gun.
That was nice, but who picked up the clip between that shot and the next, when it suddenly isn’t next to the gun anymore.
During this heart to heart with the girl Jesus asks her if she will “forgive all those people who hurt you, even as I forgive you?” I get the forgiving you bit cause the movie is for people who believe suicide is a sin against God, but why is he asking her to do something he has stated he can’t do. He said he ordered women and children killed because he considers himself holy and they were sinning against him, just as those who have sinned against her. Again, contradictions you find in things like religion, but if you aren’t going to address them, then why put them into the film like this? It doesn’t do the religion any favors. Then Jesus in order to relate to her pulls back his sleeve to reveal where he was crucified and blames it on the sins committed by people such as her stepfather.
And just in case we weren’t sure that that businessman is an atheist and that all atheists are evil, he gives a stupid speech about how Jesus doesn’t even merit his attention to hate. That he treats him with indifference. Jesus digs into him about how he is the way he is because he caved into pressure. An example being that he dropped his accent because he was embarrassed about it. This manages to reach the businessman somewhat. We even get a flashback to when his grandmother fed him a piece of pie. A lot of this is standard stuff, but for the film the problem isn’t that he ignored his past, doesn’t treat people well, and it’s not even pride as this film suggests. It’s that he doesn’t believe in Jesus, and as a result, all of these problems spring to life. That the solution is Jesus. The businessman asks him “what kind of weak-willed man do you think I am?” To which Jesus responds that he’s “the kind of man who hasn’t opened himself up to unconditional love since he was a child.” Back the movie up a little bit and Jesus says that Hell is a place where love doesn’t exist. Hell is a place where those who don’t believe in Jesus go. So if you don’t believe in Jesus, then you go to a place without love. That’s called conditional love. He never says I continue to love those who go to Hell. That means, according to this film, the love of Christ is conditional.
Never thought I’d say it, but thank goodness Satan now shows up to bring a stop to all this.
Satan says he’s surprised he’s still in business. That he’s surprised anyone is buying what he’s selling. Jesus responds that he isn’t selling anything. Could have fooled me. Earlier in the film you said you took this opportunity to make this impassioned plea to these people. You were trying to sell them on the idea of believing in you as their lord and savior. Again, not necessarily issues with the religion, but with this movie. The Devil says that the road is all clear and they can all now leave. What took him so long? The clock stopping thing is an easter egg in this movie. It’s not brought up. So it’s not like we are supposed to think the Devil has been frozen out there this whole time. And again, why did he close the road in the first place? Several of these people would probably have gone to Hell in addition to the businessman. It doesn’t makes sense from the Devil’s position. At least we do get to see Jesus do the Darth Vader neck grip thing here.
As he does it he says, “four set free”. Then Satan says, “we’ll meet again.” Sequel bait! But there’s a little more left. Jesus now tries to justify to himself why it’s perfectly fine for him to let this guy go to his death because at least he did all he could. Short of making the road no longer dangerous. I guess it’s better that he dies, then continues to live?
Ah, rest in peace Ronnie James Dio who happened to die the same year this film came out. And by the way, the horns thing doesn’t have to do with the Devil. I’m getting really sick of jackasses holding things like that over ignorant people. It’s an Italian thing to either ward off the evil eye or give it. Here’s a picture of Sophia Loren doing it in Ghosts, Italian Style (1967) to ward off ghosts.
Now cut back to the diner, basically to give some parting words which include “that book has all the wisdom you need for your life.” Just in case you weren’t sure this was made for Protestant Christians. He also basically gives the husband a little pat on the back. Then he tells the wife that her husband loves her, but not as much as he does. It’s nothing to read anything into, but it’s interesting that he tells the three girls he loves them, but just gives the husband a little wink and a nod. Just seems a little odd to me. That’s all.
Then we get what we all knew in the first place.
The diner doesn’t exist, the officer they dealt with doesn’t exist, and that the businessman died in a car crash. Seriously, the movie could have ended on the nice lady leaving the diner. Well, then they show this to make sure we know there’s a sequel called The Encounter: Paradise Lost (2012).
It’s the director of this film David A.R. White who is being asked that question by Jesus who has apparently gone to the tropics for the sequel. I have that movie in front of me right now. I probably don’t need to watch it seeing as Jesus was obviously not successful. David A.R. White would go on to produce and star in one of the most slanderous, hateful, ignorant, and anti-Christian films I have ever sat through called God’s Not Dead (2014). And I’ve sat through Jud Süß (1940) and The Eternal Jew (1940).