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Featured DVD Review: Hellbound?

May 27th, 2013

Hellbound? - Buy from Amazon

Hellbound? is a documentary that sets out to answer two simple questions. Why is there Hell? And who goes there? I am fully aware that while those questions can be stated simply, they are far from simple questions. Filmmaker Kevin Miller travels around the United States, and the world, talking to various individuals about their ideas of Hell and who goes there. Will it engage religious moviegoers? Will it have wider appeal?

Before I get to the review, I should make note of a couple of issues that might make the reader question my bias towards this film. Firstly, like Robert McKee, I am an atheist, so I'm definitely looking at this from an outsider's point of view. That said, while I don't believe in Zeus either, I could be drawn into a documentary about ancient Greek civilization and how their religion played a key role in their lives, if it is well made. Secondly, the filmmaker, Kevin Miller, is Canadian, and I have a well-known pro-Canada bias. However, not only is Kevin Miller Canadian, he and I live in the same town and he goes to the same church my dad goes to.

The Movie

After a brief interview with the people from Westboro Baptish Church, Kevin Miller heads to Robert McKee, a screenwriter and an atheist. Although he is not a Christian anymore, he grew up in that faith and believes eternal Hell is necessary for that faith. Kevin Miller then talks to Rob Bell, who wrote the book, Love Wins, which discusses the idea that Hell isn't eternal. He thinks that even those in Hell can find God's grace and that everyone is going to Heaven, eventually. Needless to say, this caused quite a stir in theological circles. Other people interviewed include Universalists, who follow a faith similar to Rob Bell's, to more "traditionalist" Christians. I put traditionalist in quotes, because we also hear from Biblical scholars, who try and shed light on the history of the Judeo-Christian faith. What is seen as traditional now wasn't always the dominant view on Hell. There are also interviews from Archbishop Lazar Puhalo, an Orthodox priest; some youth ministers who run a Hell House in an attempt to scare people away from Hell; as well as Copenhell, a heavy metal festival in Copenhagen, Denmark. It's an eclectic mix of interviewees.

Kevin Miller is an incredibly lucky person. He releases a movie about Hell on DVD the same week the new Pope says even Atheists go to Heaven. The topic of the movie is suddenly incredibly relevant in the Christian faith. There are quite a wide variety of interviewees in the film, although I don't think it is unfair to say some of them are given more weight than others. Granted, it is also not unfair that this happened. Let's face facts: the Westboro Baptist Church are a bunch of crackpots and should be treated as such. In fact, some people complained that merely including them in the movie gives them too much credit. However, I think they are a great example of how there is sometimes an inverse relationship between how sure you are in an answer and how much weight you should be given in a debate, and this is a point Kevin Miller wanted to make. I especially enjoyed the more academic areas that were discussed in the movie. I learned a lot about Gehenna, for instance.

If you are a Christian and are interested in this subject, it is presented here in an in-depth enough fashion that you should certainly check out the film. Even if you are not a Christian, but are merely interested in their beliefs from as an outsider, it is still worth checking out.

The Extras

Extras include an audio commentary track with Kevin Miller, who has a lot of information to give about the filmmaking process and the number of interviewees involved in the movie. It's a great listen. There are also ten deleted / extended interviews.

The Verdict

Hellbound? is a film about religion, which is a very controversial subject. Not only that, it takes a controversial subject within that controversial subject, the nature of Hell, and deals with it in a very evenhanded way. There are better than expected extras on the DVD and those interested in religious documentaries in general should pick it up.

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Filed under: Video Review, Hellbound?, Robert McKee, Kevin Miller