If there’s anything that I’ve learned from watching several politically-themed films over the past few weeks, it’s the easiest way to win an argument is to have the screenwriter on your side. Seriously, as long as you can control what the opposition says, it’s very easy to stump them with your arguments.
The other thing that I’ve learned is that apparently no one ever disagrees solely because they have a different opinion or way of looking at the world. Instead, there’s an ulterior motive to every disagreement. If a businessperson says that we need to keep taxes low, it’s never because they sincerely believes that lower taxes will encourage economic growth. No, in the movies, it’s always because they’re just greedy and not willing to pay their fair share. Of course, it’s never really explored as to what exactly “paying your fair share” means but that’s not important. Not when there’s someone who would rather see people die than pay their taxes.
By that same token, any military leader who argues for more defense spending isn’t doing so because they sincerely believe that a strong defense will keep America safe from its enemies. Instead, it’s always a case where they just want a war because ….. well, why not?
If the film is religious in nature, you can rest assured that no skeptic will be a skeptic just because they happen to have a different set of beliefs or because they were maybe just raised in a nonreligous environment. Instead, in the movies, every skeptic is a skeptic because something traumatic happened to them in the past and it led to them getting so angry with God that they renounced their faith. This, of course, always leads to the question of, “How can you be angry at a God that you don’t believe in?” and a moment of awkward silence as the skeptic realizes that he doesn’t have an answer.
The 2011 film, The Freedom of Silence, is built around scenes of a man named Zack Thompson (Tyler Messner) being tortured by one such skeptic. The skeptic is Captain Johansen (Jeffrey Staab) and it’s not enough that he’s a fascistic authoritarian who uses his position to legally indulge in his own sadistic impulses. He also has to be a Hollywood atheist, a man whose disdain of religion is all linked back to a past tragedy in his own life. To a certain extent, I think he would have been a more believable character if he had just been motivated by his own need to create pain. There’s been enough real-life examples of sadists-in-power that I think that no one would have doubted that a character like Captain Johansen could exist in the real world. After all, a world that gave us Klaus Barbie, Lavrentiy Beria, Joseph Mengele, and Pol Pot could certainly give us as a Captain Johansen. By making him a Hollywood atheist, the film reminds us that Captain Johansen is just a fictional strawman, a character created specifically to be outargued by the story’s hero. It makes him less effective as a character, despite the fact that Staab does a good job playing the role.
The Freedom of Silence takes place in 2030 and imagines an America where the first amendment has, for all intents and purposes, been outlawed. Since this is a faith-based film, the film focuses on the idea of Christianity being banned (or, as the government argues, replaced by a new unified, national religion) and bibles being forbidden. Have other religions also have banned? Can having a copy of the Koran get you thrown in prison? The Freedom of Silence doesn’t say but I think it might have been a stronger film if it had.
Anyway, Zack has a plan to broadcast the word of God despite the government’s rules. He’s going to need the help of Aaron (Chris Bylsma) but Aaron has a new girlfriend named Trisha (Lauren Alfano) and Trisha is secretly working for the government and you can tell where this is going already, can’t you?
And the thing is — I’m a bit of a free speech absolutist and I’m certainly no fan of government regulation and I do believe that free speech is under attack, by both the Left and the Right, in this country. And yes, I did enjoy the scenes of brainwashed American citizens blandly talking about how they had to follow the law no matter what. Unfortunately, the film itself has some serious pacing issues and, with the exceptions of Staab and Lauren Alfano, the acting is a bit inconsistent. I think we’re supposed to excuse the filmmaking deficiencies because of the self-declared righteousness of the film’s message but the film is so disjointed that, at times, it’s nearly impossible to follow the plot. That’s not something you can just ignore.
This is one of those films where, if you’re on the film’s side, you’ll enjoy it because you know it’s the type of thing that would annoy people who disagree with you. But if you’re not already predisposed to agree with the film’s point, The Freedom of Silence is not going to convince you to change your mind. This is a film that solely exists to own the other side. And sometimes, that’s enough. Audiences do tend to like films and books and songs and shows that confirm their already held beliefs. But I don’t know. Sometimes, when it comes to important issues like free speech, you want and the issue demands something more than jut a heavy hand and strawman arguments.
Anyway, if you just want to own the other side, you might get a kick out of certain parts of The Freedom of Silence. If you’re looking for more, look elsewhere.