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The atheist rage from Basje’s adolescence is now a thing of the past. She watched Free in Deed and realised the meaning religion can hold.

Published 29 Mar 2016 at 11:24 by Basje Boer

It’s an American phenomenon: the ‘storefront church’, a church that’s based in an old storefront. A DIY church, you could call it somewhat disrespectfully, that are often crammed and decorated with limited resources. In poorer neighbourhoods, these storefront churches are often hubs for Afro-American or Latin American communities. It’s a place of hope, love, solidarity; a place to, after a life of addiction or crime, be forgiven and start again.

In Free in Deed, the second feature film by American director Jake Mahaffy, Abe is one of those churchgoers hoping for a new beginning. In a storefront church somewhere in the American South, he believes himself to be a faith healer. His existence is empty; God holds meaning. When he meets a single mother with a problematic son, he feels it is his God-given duty to rescue her (and him). But the more he prays and the more believes he can perform this miracle, the more he loses control.

Free in Deed does two – contradictory – things. On the one hand, the film lets you empathise with the protagonists: their struggles are real, their choices are understandable. The film gives you insight into their lives. On the other hand, Free in Deed is extremely sceptical about the religion they preach. You might be able to comprehend why someone would cling to his or her belief, but from the very beginning it becomes clear that they plot their own demise by doing so. The director’s perspective, and thus the audience’s, is an all-knowing perspective (you could ironically refer to this as God’s perspective).

Mahaffy shows his affinity to European directors such as Lars von Trier and Ulrich Seidl, whom allow their audiences to watch while the characters muddle along. The difference is this: Mahaffy trades the irony Von Trier and Seidel use, for sincere empathy.

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The point that Jake Mahaffy is making in Free in Deed is a valid one, and his scepticism towards religion is just, but also somewhat problematic. Is religion per definition a pitfall? Free in Deed doesn’t make such a point explicitly, but will inspire the fanatic atheist to cry ‘I told you so!’. I did the same thing – cried ‘I told you so!’ – when I was about fifteen years old. I despised religion, Christianity in particular. I remember how enraged Christianity made me (I once threw a bible through my room) and the how that loathing drove me to patronise it (I once stuck a birthday card into that same bible, so it would sing ‘Happy Birthday’ when you opened its pages).

I continue to not believe in God as an adult, but I do understand why other’s might. Over-sentimental religion doesn’t interest me, but enraged atheist rhetoric doesn’t either (think about the eroded line: ‘There would be no war without religion’). And then there’s that kind of modern day spirituality that’s promoted in Happinez. It’s easy to dismiss this kind of vaguely eastern, quasi Buddhist faux religion: it is non-committal, egocentric, hypocritical and headstrong. But the fact that growing numbers of people are seeking out this form of consciousness is difficult to ignore. Dismissing them as bored westerners is too easy. The religion that was rejected in the sixties gave people something they are missing today: solidarity, a sense of responsibility, inspiration, a moral compass.

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The birthday card in my bible has almost run out of batteries. If I open it up, the song still plays but in slow, stretched out noises that vaguely remind me of its original melody. The atheist rage that thrived in my adolescence has made space for a new found interest in Christianity, even if it’s just because our society and its roots are undeniably intertwined with this religion. Not to mention Islam: the growing number of Muslims means our country is becoming more religious than you might think, if you base your perception of our society on your own all-white Facebook timeline. If Free in Deed does anything, it’s this: it allows its audience to feel what religion can mean. And just because it has no meaning to you, doesn’t mean it can’t have meaning for someone else.

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Attend a screening of Free in Deed in the FilmHallen between 31 March and 6 April with your membership card.

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