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Movie Review: Silhouette City

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Taking its name from a 1970’s and ‘80’s “mock-town used for paramilitary training,” Silhouette City spans the evolution, commercialization, and politicization of religious extremism.   Beginning with the survivalist sect called The Covenant, The Sword & The Arm of the Lord and ending with the advancement of the Christian Right, Silhouette City leaves no stone unturned.  The documentary dually functions as an informing essay and an eye-opening plummet into an unsettling realm of fundamentalist ideology and religious intolerance.   

With intent to provide a place of refuge during retribution, Jim Ellison led a group of 500-plus religious revolutionaries into Silhouette City and formed The Covenant, The Sword & The Arm of the Lord.  Its members gathered food and clothes, stationed themselves in their man-made city, and began to prepare for the impending apocalypse.  According to this cult’s line-of-thinking, the End of Days was near, because of a growing fear of being robbed and a heightened prevalence of blatant homosexuality, witchcraft, paganism, and communism.  In addition, the believers anticipated Judgment Day as a result of increases in murder, suicide, abortion, drug abuse, pornography, infidelity, incest, and the “humanistic junk” taught in schools. 

From there, Silhouette City depicts the progression of this biblical mindset in the presence of modern-day radio, television, and politics.  With D. James Kennedy’s “Reclaiming America for Christ” speech and Rod Parsley’s “Man your battle stations.  Ready your weapons.  Lock and Load!” quote, the secularization of America is established.  Further, the belief that this separation is corroding the very values that the United States was built upon is enhanced through the voices of George W. Bush, Mike Huckabee, Ron Luce, Rick Scarborough, and again John McCain’s dynamic “spiritual guide” Rod Parsley.  After all, “America is defined by its relationship to God.” 

Throughout the film, evangelism is highly touted through both the influence of church-associated speakers and the force of the military.  While churches spread the Word and literally rake in millions, soldiers are told to “Bring faith to the foxhole, hope to the home-front, and carry the message of Christ to the ends of the Earth.”  The ultimate goal of this joint venture is to establish a global Christian empire and broaden an apocalyptic obsession with not being “left behind” when Christ returns.   

If this outlook piques your interest, seek out The Rapture, read the Left Behind series (and add to the author of the novels and founder of The Council for National Policy Tim Lahaye’s – Left Behind Inc.’s – annual revenue of over $100 million dollars), and repent your days away.  In addition, both extremists and non-extremists should seek out Silhouette City—not necessarily for its organization and production value, but more so for its information and ability to inspire debate.

Much like Jesus Camp and others of the like, Silhouette City’s scenes are daunting to watch from outside of the box; observing force-fed, narrow-minded individuals who are quick to judge others before judging themselves is unsettling.  With Silhouette City’s subject-matter in mind, it is evident that if this country needs one thing, it’s compromise—the abilities to agree to disagree, act as one cohesive unit, and to assign the people as first priority above special interests. 

By no means is Silhouette City anti-American or anti-conservative; it’s simply enlightening.  Obviously, the target objective is to educate the populace on the active “unseen spiritual war,” yet, some may say that the underhanded aim of the feature is to make viewers conscious of a connection between the Christian Right and certain states, political figures, and conservative mindsets.  Nonetheless, the movement and its links in the chain are factual.

With its flood of ideas and facts, Silhouette City could have benefitted from the use of a voiceover/narrator; however, in a documentary style feature, typical voiceover use sometimes projects a slanted view.  Even so, Silhouette City seems to be missing a line of glue to hold the picture in place.  Perhaps additional guiding commentary from Robert J. Lifton’s objective viewpoint would have better cemented the perspectives.   

On the other hand, its coverage of the Battle Cry recruitment video, “pervasive evangelism,” the thin line between pastoral care and evangelism, a young teenager saying “mortyr” instead of martyr, and the organization of Colorado Springs region shines a light on the scriptural and psychological effects of the extremists’ thirst for dominion no matter the cost.  Silhouette’s City’s best moments are in the recollections and realization of former Covenant, Sword, & Arm of the Lord member Kerry Noble.  The unfitting CGI animations, overuse of “City Upon a Hill,” and theatrical aspect ratio unfit for home-viewing are generally overshadowed by positives. 

All-in-all, the highest praise goes to Ori Barel for his/her original score.  The unvarying notes in the lower register suggest impending doom and aid in intensifying the extremism.  The frequent sound of chimes/the tolling of a bell also adds to the apocalyptic aura.  Most worthy of note is the orchestrated segment that provides the background during one of the film’s most revealing scenes.  (This also plays without end on the film’s website.) 

Yes, placing Silhouette City in an “Age of Terror” Colloquium Film Series is appropriate.  While the film isn’t exactly horror, it is harrowing.  The “terror” is enough to sound an alarm.  Considering the military is being bred to fight for security and faith, as politicians push for power and evangelical explosions. And, when supporters continue to fuel the fire, you know “it’s getting bad.”  What’s more, people are told to populate the Earth, spread the Gospel, and be intolerant?

Keeping in this, and that “Apathy or indifference to civil matters is nothing less than sin,” in mind, get involved, find Silhouette City, arrive at your own opinion, and be educated and not forsaken from taking a stance.

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About Brandon Valentine