Israel, the holy land for all of the world’s mainstream monotheistic religions, is a major center for pilgrimage and sightseeing. However, it’s doubtful that I’ll ever personally visit the geographical birthplace of my Christian faith. As a result, I have a keen interest in films and books that seek to take readers to biblical sites, while offering educational and spiritual insight.
In a personal journey to uncover some of these treasures for himself, Brandon Trones set out for the holy land, planning a series of four 10-day fasts of various types (water only, bread only, fruit and vegetables only, liquids only) while he seeks to capture rarely filmed sites of biblical repute. Billed as something of a voyage that takes you to forbidden, secretive, or closed locations, Trones offers a lightning speed tour through both the well known tourist locales and those off the beaten track.
Trones covers a great amount of ground over his 40-day journey, but each site is covered in such a compressed amount of time (most often less than one minute, with around four minutes maximum) that it was difficult to take away any real feeling of educational value or spiritual depth. The pace is so rapid that the journey seems disjointed and often choppy, leaving viewers without a sense of purpose, plan, or cohesion. His ‘dangerous’ exploits amount to filming in tourist locations where recording devices are forbidden, jumping over a closed fence, and sneaking into a cave section that is off limits. Personally, I found these exploits somewhat tame and less than the life-threatening adventures Trones would have us believe they are.
At least as much time is dedicated to the challenges experienced by Trones as he fasts – his weekly weigh-ins, his struggles, and the delight of the solid meals he experiences when he switches to the Daniel fast. I wasn’t expecting so much emphasis on the fasting aspects, which lend themselves more to a Super Size Me documentary-style film, and served more to take valuable time away from exploring the target destinations in my mind.
Trones largely fails to incorporate biblical references and proof texts for the sites he visits, instead relying mainly on hearsay and tradition. He visits churches that supposedly contain the bones of saints, works his way through the Catholic (at times extra-biblical) stations of the cross while lugging a wooden one on his shoulders, and is often heard saying, “This is where they say [insert event that may or may not be recorded in the Bible] occurred.” Personally, I was looking for more proof of authentication, and more historical detail than Trones provided.
Providing all of the commentary himself without the aid of a narrator actually works to the film’s detriment. At times Trones' comments are somewhat rude, and downright inaccurate. For example, in his commentary on the Church at Cana he claims that Jesus turned water into a whole lot of "hooch," and makes comments about how many people would be able to get drunk on that. Jesus actually turned water to wine (which was commonly consumed), and since Christians are advised not to be drunk in the New Testament, I don’t believe that was His intent. Comments such as these left me wondering if Trones was a believer in the earlier portions of the film.
For what was obviously produced on a slender budget (a few plane tickets to Israel, some equipment, and travel expenses), the production values are very respectable. Blending Indiana Jones-style design with cartoon introductions and transitions reminiscent of Monty Python, the film has a lot of visual appeal. Standard scene selection is provided, along with 15 production stills and 12 “Lost Sites” that weren’t included in the main film (from the cutting room floor) as bonus features.
Overall, I was left with the impression that The Road Less Traveled is more about a young man’s personal travelogue than it is about any deep historical or spiritual exploration. Most of my mental visual images from the film involve Trones scrambling around tourist sites and caves exclaiming, “Wow, isn’t this neat?” which is fine in and of itself. I was just expecting more.