Atheist Film: Frailty

by Luke Muehlhauser on October 3, 2009 in Atheist Film & TV

frailtyBill Paxton’s Frailty (2001) is “a horror film without any jump-scares.”

It is also a sophisticated morality play about a special kind of religious child abuse. Paxton plays Mr. Meiks, a single father who loves his two young boys dearly but comes to believe God has told him to kill demons – demons who happen to look just like humans. Gradually, Meiks enlists the help of his sons in “doing God’s will.” When he captures his first ‘demon,’ Meiks touches her and believes he can see her sins. With that, he kills her in front of his two boys.

Fenton is traumatized, but Adam (3 years younger) believes he could see her sins, too. Fenton tries to convince Adam their father is insane, but Adam has been brainwashed and believes God has given his father a mission to kill demons.

Adam tells his father what Fenton said, and Meiks calls Fenton aside, saying:

I asked the angel to visit you. But instead he visited me. And he told me something I don’t want to believe.

“What?” asks Fenton. Meiks goes on:

It doesn’t matter, because together you and I are going to prove him wrong. You just don’t have any faith. That’s why you can’t see the truth. But we’re gonna change that.

Later, Fenton calls the sheriff, but Meiks kills him when he arrives. Meiks says this killing was really ‘murder,’ and he blames Fenton for forcing him into it. Meiks also confesses that what the angel told him was that Fenton was a demon, too. But he can’t bring himself to kill his own son, so he locks Fenton in the cellar instead.

At this point, some really great twists occur, so if you haven’t seen the movie, stop reading right here and go rent it.

After several days and near starvation, Fenton has a vision from God and is released, saying, “I’m sorry I ever doubted you, dad.”

Fenton helps his father capture the next ‘demon,’ and Meiks hands Fenton an axe to destroy it. At the last moment, Fenton turns the axe on his father, killing him. Adam screams “No!” and runs to his dying father. Fenton had faked the vision from God. As Fenton is untying the victim, Adam grabs the axe from his father’s chest and kills the ‘demon.’

Adam and Fenton bury their father in the rose garden. Fenton says: “Adam, if you ever destroy me, promise me you’ll bury me here.” Young Adam replies:

I promise to God I’ll bury you here.

They tell the cops their father never came home one night, and the detectives never figure it out.

The story is told in flashback, with the adult Fenton telling a detective, Doyle, that he knows who the recent “God’s hand” serial killer is: his brother Adam, who still believes he is on a mission from God to destroy demons. Eventually, Fenton leads Doyle to the rose garden where he reveals that he is not Fenton, but Adam.

“So you killed all those people?” Doyle asks. “No,” says Adam, “I told you before. I’ve never killed anyone in my life… You’ll understand soon. Just let me show you where I buried Fenton.”

Adam brings Doyle to where he buries demons, and there is one empty grave. Adam tells how he killed his brother, a ‘demon,’ and Doyle says:

You’re just crazy as hell… you’re a murdering son of a bitch, and I got you.

Adam replies, “Maybe. But that’s not gonna bring your mother back, is it? She’s dead, and her killer got away,” implicating Doyle. Doyle swings his gun at the handcuffed Adam, but Adam grabs his hands and has a supernatural vision of Doyle’s murder of his own mother. Adam says:

You didn’t think anybody knew about that, did you? God knew. That’s why he sent me.

Adam throws Doyle into the open grave and kills him.

Later, a detective who saw Adam with Doyle is explaining that, “I can’t understand it. I looked right at him, I shook his hand, [but it's just a blur.]” All the security tapes showing Adam are fuzzy or ruined. In the end, the police find evidence at Fenton’s home, and conclude he was the killer. The main detective on the case visits the sheriff, who is revealed to be Adam. Though they met before, the detective does not recognize him. They shake hands, and Adam holds it a little too long, only to say, “You’re a good man, agent Hull.”

This kind of thing really happens, and of course the moral of the story about Abraham sacrificing Isaac is “If you hear the voice of God telling you to kill, obey the voice.” The 9/11 hijackers sure took that moral seriously.

But religious child abuse is not usually that extreme. Usually, it merely entails brainwashing children with lies, fairy tales, religious bigotry, sexual guilt, and other psychological messes. As psychotherapist Nathaniel Branden put it:

Anyone who engages in the practice of pscyhotherapy confronts every day the devastation wrought by the teaching of religion.

But the real twist of Frailty is that however terrifying and crazy religious fundamentalists are, it’s even more terrifying if God is really telling them what they claim he is. As Film Atheist said,

If God is looking down on us, the one thing we should all pray for is that he never does anything, never speaks to us, and that no one ever knows it, because he is one sick son-of-a-bitch.

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{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

TinaFCD October 3, 2009 at 7:50 am

Hoo ha! Love the movie!

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10plusyears October 3, 2009 at 7:53 am

Saw that movie years ago- excellent flick!

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Ben October 3, 2009 at 8:12 am

Truly, one f*cked up movie. If anything illustrated the “what not to believe” motif better, it was this movie. Hello opposite day!

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Bob October 3, 2009 at 12:33 pm

But religious child abuse is not usually that extreme. Usually, it merely entails brainwashing children with lies, fairy tales, religious bigotry, sexual guilt, and other psychological messes.

This is one of those statements that makes me wonder if this is a satire site!

If you are serious then I’m afraid that I can only muster a laugh rather than a gasp. But at least your hyperbole is entertaining!

Of course, the irony is that some of the techniques that are used to brainwash resemble some of the things that you propose as effective persuasion techniques.

For instance, mockery, ridicule and harassment are, apparently, techniques commonly utilized by brainwashers and torturers. Funny isn’t it?

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MacGuy October 3, 2009 at 2:10 pm

I’ll check this out for the LULZ.

BTW, I think you’re worse than a child abuser. You are a first-class noob abuser that uses the art of atheistic bigotry, rhetoric, and other lies to brainwash the interweb masses with demonic-like influence. Most of which target the weak minded and theologically naive Christians into emo’s and then atheists. You sir, are a bastard.

Does that bother you? Of course not. The only emotion you feel is that of a pyscho-maniac. A quick look at the pic here demonstrates how much of a twisted freak of nature you really are. That’s just on of the horrible faces you make after having abused a weak Christian with tactics that you got from The Joker.

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steve October 3, 2009 at 3:49 pm

What is often over looked is that religion is not about the belief rather the use of such a belief. What does that mean? The use of a God belief to justify, explain and enforce a code of civil intolerences. The entire doctrine and dogma centers around judgments of lifes and lifestyles.
All of which is in direct conflict with its own concepts of a creator of all things. Personally if a person chooses to believe in God so be it. If not so be it. Yet to believe in a possible God that belief must include all of nature and not judge parts of it as being some kind of an abomination.
To not believe in a god this must also include the factual reality of all of nature. Either way its all nature. Either way what is in nature is what it is and its here to be a part of it all and to learn of.
This is the purpose of the mind and the mind is not a resting place for a hat.
Its sort of like asking what a “whatac” is.
Of course no ones knows what a whatac is because it does not exist. if there is a God it would not put something here to teach people what not to be, This being or whatever simply would not put it here.
If something can not evolve or come from something it to could not be here.
Religion is an anicent form of codes of civil conduct from a time of ignorance of available knowledge.
Its moralizations are a bigotry of the use of a belief to justify an intolerence.
The evidence of this lack of ethics and intolerence is overwelming both in its past and its present day use.
There are people whom seem to find a comfort in something they believe is greater then humanity.
That maybe from a lack of personal faith in ones self or a view of only seeing the bad in that humanity.
The end remains the same we are the cause of your own misery and your own joy.
There may never come a time when a belief in a possible God will end,yet its weakest link can come to and end.
That link has been responsible for more war,hate,crime,child abuse, torture and illness then anything else to of ever existed.
It has a name and that name is bigotry and its weapon of choice is religion.
Until this link is reckonized for what it is and how it is used it will remain the great threat to human existance.
The ignorance of the anicent past can be forgiven for it lack of knowledge
Ignorance in a world of instant chat,instant access to research and instant cultural exchange…. ignorance is no longer forgiveable.
Ignorance is now willfully intended ignorance for intolerent reasons.

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Lorkas October 4, 2009 at 6:50 am

Bob: This is one of those statements that makes me wonder if this is a satire site!

If you are serious then I’m afraid that I can only muster a laugh rather than a gasp. But at least your hyperbole is entertaining!

Would you mind elaborating on which part of the quote was overreaching? That quote actually seems a rather straightforward description of some of the major problems with religion, and you’ve done nothing to actually address the content of the quote.

Funny that you would call down the author for mockery, in a post where you do nothing but mock the author while avoiding saying anything about the content of his post.

Also, are you a a Poe, MacGuy? Cus LOLDAM.

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Bob October 4, 2009 at 12:23 pm

Lorkas: Would you mind elaborating on which part of the quote was overreaching? That quote actually seems a rather straightforward description of some of the major problems with religion, and you’ve done nothing to actually address the content of the quote.
Funny that you would call down the author for mockery, in a post where you do nothing but mock the author while avoiding saying anything about the content of his post.

I fail to see where I might have mocked the author. I’ve expressed incredulity, definitely, but it’s an unreasonable stretch to describe my comment as mockery.

But that aside why shouldn’t I “call down the author” for mockery? This blog is supposedly unique in it’s approach to its religious intolerance, yet all I see is more of the same passive-aggressive condescension as elsewhere on teh internetz. The smug, passive-aggressive mockery is self-defeating.

As for the post, it was a reasonably accurate synopsis of the movie. At the end of the movie, however, it’s made clear that the “Adam” character is actually seeing real demons. That’s why the movie is generally listed in the “supernatural horror” genre and not the “crime” or “murder” genre. So, I’m not sure why Luke uses the ‘quotation marks’ when writing the word “demon”. Either way, it was a good example of what can be achieved in a movie with a limited budget if the writing is decent.

Finally, using words like “brainwashing” are dramatic but are only convincing for preaching to the non-believing choir and the godless ignorant. That’s why it’s difficult not to think of this post as satire. Surely, Luke can recognize the irony in complaining about brainwashing whilst seeing nothing wrong with utilizing brainwashing techniques like mockery, ridicule, and harassment yourselves?

That’s why I laugh!

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