Hellbound? is a thoughtful, wide-ranging documentary
A documentary by Kevin Miller. Rating not available.
The title might lead you to expect a low-budget horror film, and Hellbound? is just that—if you are easily frightened by dispassionately provocative discussions of theological doctrine.
B.C. writer-director Kevin Miller’s thoughtful, wide-ranging documentary begins and ends with Manhattan-shot footage of last year’s sombre anniversary of the 9-11 attacks. Ground Zero is a fitting locus for meditations on the role of evil in the world, and the filmmaker sets out to delineate three central Christian views of hell, each revealing more about the believers than about any particular underworld. Essentialists, including most Evangelicals, are sure it’s a Hieronymus Bosch theme park of everlasting torment. Annihilationists have decided that God is nice enough to merely vaporize people on the way down. And universalists actually buy the idea of a merciful, all-loving creator. Schmucks.
Apart from those Westboro Baptist Church cretins, the interview subjects largely come across as articulate and warmly spontaneous. These include Rob Bell, whose book Love Wins proved unexpectedly controversial for espousing a mildly Universalist view. Screenwriting guru and avowed atheist Robert McKee is also aboard, postulating the notion that Christianity becomes meaningless without belief in hell because, basically, that lowers the stakes too much for a good story. A black-metal musician puts the same idea more succinctly: “Religion is just a business, like any other.” (But he says it in a much lower register, of course.)
Particularly intriguing are scholars who suggest that the New Testament depiction of hell as an endless lake of fire may come from Roman massacres and the total destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70. That had to leave a mark. In fact, such traumas, given a rewrite by Dante, probably reinforced Christian views of God as a force of unlimited punishment and permission to rank millions as unworthy of salvation. The horror part comes in because simply believing in hell makes it easier for some humans to bring damnation to others.
Watch the trailer for Hellbound?.