“A debate like this is more a collision of lives than it is an exchange of mere views.” Those were Doug Wilson’s words at the start of the film and the entire movie took shape accordingly. The literary term for this is ‘foiling’- pitting two characters together in a way that makes their contrast more vivid … and vivid may be putting it mildly. We see Wilson in his home, hands raised, singing the doxology before a Sabbath dinner with several children and dozens of grandchildren [as is his weekly habit], while Hitchens introduces the camera crew to those with whom he shares his home – books – every corner of his living space is crammed with them. With grandfatherly affection, he shows off every printed word by George Orwell and – his pride and joy – the complete 20-volume edition of the Oxford English Dictionary.
There are several implicitly polemic juxtapositions of phrase and frame – We hear Hitchens’ voice describing Wilson’s brand of religion as the purist form that fills men’s lives with guilt and misery while watching images of Wilson walk down dark hallways with a grin so wide his face is almost as broad as his shoulders; we see footage of a lonely Hitchens hunched over at his desk pecking away at a keyboard [no doubt typing an essay about how the Christian religion poisons the world] give way to images of Wilson’s home life [presumably demonstrating what such a poisoning looks like when it actually takes place] toasting wineglasses with family and then serenading the little ones as they dance in circles to “It ain’t gonna’ rain no more, no more”.
More than the collision of lives, this film seems to chronicle a budding friendship - something Hitchens must be craving despite the regularity of momentary ‘hello’s’ from the fleeting faces of his fans, headed the opposite direction down the street. We see Hitchens and Wilson enjoying good food, drink, and architecture; laughing through a Wodehouse quoting contest; and helicopter sight-seeing. Far from being shrill, reactionary, or defensive, Wilson is a gentleman: jovial, articulate, and warm-hearted. As the film’s producer Darren Doane put it, ‘what has been captured in the film is Doug Wilson loving anti-theist Christopher Hitchens and looking to win the man, not the argument.’ The harshness of Hitchens’ diatribe visibly softens as he asks Wilson to explain the noetic effects of the fall while they walk through the night after hours of debate. Then finally in a quiet limo ride Hitchens confides that – for whatever it’s worth – if it were in his power to do so, he would not eradicate Christianity from the earth, admitting that, after all, he is no Richard Dawkins.
After having watched the film numerous times, I have to confess that it really does seem slanted in favor of Wilson. Don’t get me wrong: Hitchens is given his time at the mic, but Wilson is always there with the last word. Don’t worry though - this is certainly not done is some heavy-handed way, as is proven by the many atheists who watch the movie perfectly satisfied that it portrays Hitchens coming out on top. I think I know better though. Wilson’s son, Nathan, was the co-director, and Doane has publically acknowledged to being both an ardent Christian and a long-time fan of Bahnsenesque presuppositionalism.
Bottom Line: This film starts and ends strong with no lulls in between. It is well worth watching more than once and with many friends, even if I do still squirm when Wilson cusses. Four stars out of four.
photo: American VIsion
photo: American VIsion