The Armor Of Light


Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

Reverend Rob Schenck in The Armor Of Light
"In the current climate, the film suggests, taking up a gun seems to be much easier than wielding words against them." | Photo: Jeff Hutchens

There have been dozens of films made about gun control and massacres in the US, from documentaries such as Bowling For Columbine, through to fictional films including Elephant and Beautiful Boy. Long-time producer Abigail Disney's directorial debut takes a fresh approach to the issue, looking at the increasingly close links between gun ownership and the evangelical faith in America.

The strength of her movie lies in the fact that she comes at the debate from inside, tracking prominent and long-time "pro-life" Evangelical minister, Reverend Rob Schenck as he undergoes what could be described as a crisis of faith about his denomination's affiliation to weaponry. He didn't so much have a Damascene conversion as a gradual dawning of realisation that if he believes fully in the "sanctity of life" then that extends, for him, from inception in the womb to death from natural causes. His concerns came to a head when Washington's Navy Yard shootings in 2013, which left 12 victims and the gunman dead, happened virtually in his own backyard.

Disney follows Schenck as he begins to research the ins and outs of the National Rifle Association and its ties to his faith - learning to shoot a gun, attending gun rallies, talking to church members - and as he becomes increasingly dismayed with what he discovers about the 'stand-your-ground' self-defence law in Florida. He contacts the mum of Jordan Davis, a 17-year-old who was killed for no greater sin than playing loud music and whose murderer Micahel Dunn cited the stand-your-ground law - which allows someone to protect themselves from a "perceived threat" - and the two of them begin to form an alliance.

Jordan's mum Lucy McBath is the emotional heart of Disney's film, eloquently talking about the impact of her son's death and the way in which she has now focused her energies on campaigning for better gun control. Her grief acts as a spur to Schenck, who begins to speak out about the "temptation of fear". Schenck's soul-searching about if and how to present his message to his church may seem somewhat strange to audiences from countries such as Britain, where guns are largely frowned upon, but it serves to underline just how deeply rooted the idea of the "right to bear arms" has become in the US.

Disney's film covers a lot of ground with Schenck, from an historical exploration of how evangelical congregations have moved from support of the Democrats to the Republicans since the Reagan era, to the more emotional encounters he has with members of his own church who talk about the importance of "good Americans with guns". The film also touches on a potential split within the church along racial lines, as those congregations with more African-American memberships are - as you might expect given the current spate of Black Lives Matter protests in the US - much more anti-gun than their caucasian counterparts.

Disney impressively balances the philosophical debate of Schenck with the real-life impact on McBath and others like her and gives a sense of the different type of bravery required by the reverend to speak out. Jeff Hutchens camerawork is unfussy but thoughtful, particularly in the scenes where Schenck learns to shoot, when it invites you to take a good look at the mechanics and impact of the weapon. The film's weakest element is Paul Brill's score, which is unecessarily on the nose, when the thoughtful observations of those involved are strong enough to stand on their own. Although it is clear whose 'side' Disney is on, she captures the complexity of the argument and shows how faith can be used as ammunition on both sides of the debate.

In the current climate, the film suggests, taking up a gun seems to be much easier than wielding words against them. Something that should surely give us all pause for thought.

Reviewed on: 06 May 2015
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Documentary tracks an evangelical minister as he tries to advocate better gun control.

Director: Abigail Disney

Writer: Abigail Disney

Starring: Andrew Fredericks, Lucy McBath

Year: 2015

Runtime: 88 minutes

Country: US


Tribeca 2015

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