Movie Mom

Can you forgive the unforgiveable?

Fifty years ago, five American missionaries were killed by members of the most violent culture ever studied by anthropologists, the Waodani tribe in Ecuador. The homicide rate was 60 percent. The widows and children and one sister of the murdered men reached out to the Waodanis, helped care for their children, and through the power of their forgiveness and generosity forged a friendship that transformed them all.

The film-makers, who began by making a documentary version of the same story called Beyond the Gates of Splendor, have now made a feature film, with Chad Allen (of television’s “Dr. Quinn”) as both the missionary Nate Saint and his son, Steve, who came back as an adult to live with the Waodanis again. (The real Steve Saint did the stunt flying for his father’s character in the film.)

Even with subtitles, it is a little hard to follow and it sometimes veers into Sunday school-style sugar. But the story has great power and the film-makers resist condescending to the natives. Still, the footage of the real characters over the closing credits is so vivid and engaging that we wish the entire movie had been letting them tell their own story.

Parents should know that the movie is very violent for a PG-13, with many characters murdered or injured. There are some mild sexual references.

Families who see this movie should talk about forgiveness, and what makes it possible or necessary for people to forgive the most devastating injuries. Why didn’t the missionaries try to defend themselves? What could they have done to better protect themselves? Families may also want to talk about the ethical issues that arise in imposing one culture’s ideas about “civilization” on a native population.

Families who appreciate this movie may also enjoy The Gods Must be Crazy. And they will like my interview with Steve Saint about his experiences.

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