At times it seems strange that I missed so many formative movies when I was growing up, but then my wife pointed out that many of the films were released when we were minors. That, combined with the fact that most of them bore R ratings, acted as an effective deterrent at the time. So it was that we only saw Deliverance yesterday. References from friends, colleagues, and even The Simpsons made us feel like we’d missed a part of American culture that everyone else had seen. Of course we knew the basic story, but seeing it played out intact is a much more satisfying experience. Since I am scheduled to do a church talk on Christianity and the movies later this morning, I was interested in the way the church is portrayed in the movie.
After the three survivors make it back to civilization, the first building that meets them at the riverfront is a plain white “Church of Christ.” At the moment of their eponymous deliverance, the church is there. As Ed and Bobby are being driven to the hospital in a taxi, however, the church appears again. The valley is being flooded to bring hydroelectric power to Georgia, the reason the men set off to see the river in the first place. Since the town is shortly to be flooded, the church is being moved. The taxi driver tells the men, “We might have to wait a minute for the church to get out the way.” In the extras director John Boorman spoke about the highly symbolic nature of the film, including the way that the symbol of stability in the community, the religious establishment, could not hold its own ground.
I also sensed another element of irony here. The church had been, symbolically, in the way of the advancement of civilization. Paralleling this inhibition is the utter, and bewildering freedom from the law experienced by the men following the murder of the mountain man. The viewer is left to decide which is the worse fate. Now that I have seen the film, I think I can understand the depth of struggle it represents. As the continuing debate on the relative merits and demerits of religion in society rages on, there is always a very human aspect that stands beyond simple formulae. Perhaps we save religion in the hope that it will save us.