Thursday, June 3, 2021

Missionary Month Begins on The Mosquito Coast

The Mosquito Coast

Harrison Ford is synonymous with blockbusters. Star Wars and Indiana Jones are two of the biggest franchises of all time, and there were had plenty of one-offs, too. Witness, The Fugitive, and Air Force One were big action films that brought in big bucks. Through the years, though, he occasionally did things a little outside the mainstream, and The Mosquito Coast is one such film.

Based on a novel by travel writer Paul Theroux and directed by Peter Weir, The Mosquito Coast tells the story of Allie Fox (Ford), a man who believes America has lost its way and become consumed with and corrupted by commercialism. He takes his family to begin a new, simpler life in Central America, on the coast of Nicaragua and Honduras. Allie’s wife (Helen Mirren) and children love and respect Allie, but over time, they begin to suspect he is going mad.

Fortunately for Movie Churches, on the boat ride from North to Central America the Fox family encounters a family of missionaries. The Reverend Spellgood (played by Andre Gregory, the title character of My Dinner with Andre) is making a return trip to the Mosquito Coast. Spellgood makes a point of shaking hands and introducing himself to everyone on the ship.

When the Foxes and Spellgoods share a meal, the Reverend prays a blessing over the food, much to the disdain of the religiously hostile Fox. But Fox isn’t ignorant of Scripture and in their discussion (argument), the inventor corrects the pastor when he misquotes the Gospels.

Spellgood tries to win over Fox with a present, “Ah, Mr. Fox, I’ve got a gift for you. It’s the latest. The Blue Jeans Bible. It was designed by a psychologist.” 

Fox considers this version of the Bible another example of sick American corporate culture, saying, “Take a look, kids. It’s just what I’ve been warning you about. ‘Of making many books there is no end. Much study is a weariness of the flesh'. Ecclesiastes.”

Spellgood responds with a Scripture mash-up, “In my Father’s house there are many rooms, but I am the door.”

Fox: “Well, don’t slam it on the way out.”

Spellgood: “May God forgive you for your sin.”

Fox (Sarcastically): “Have a nice day.”

Spellgood (Genuinely): “Well, thank you, brother.”

Fox’s teen son, Charlie (River Phoenix), and Spellgood’s teen daughter, Emily (Martha Plimpton) get along much better. She tells Charlie that she prefers America, “It’s a whole lot hotter than this in the jungle.” She explains to Charlie, “My father has two churches: one’s in Guampu and the other’s in Baltimore. It’s a drive-in.” 

“What kind of drive-in?” Charlie asks. 

“There’s only one kind of drive-in,” Emily answers, “You know, cars? Gosh, you’re stupid.” (Okay, maybe they don’t get along a lot better.)

When the boat arrives at their port, Spellgood and his family are greeted by his congregants singing, “He’s Alright! (What do you think about Jesus).” They seem genuinely happy to greet the family. Fox wishes him well, “Happy hunting, Reverend!”

When Fox’s family asks where they’re going, he tells them that he’s bought a town by the name of Jeronimo. And when he gets there, he plans to build an ice factory, which, in his opinion, is a cornerstone of civilization.

Soon, Fox has his family and the residents of his town building a house for the family and the ice house. The Reverend comes to visit the town and spots many who have been a part of the church. He spots an elderly woman working and praises the completed construction, “Well done, well done. Mrs. Kennewick, is that you? We haven’t seen you in God’s house for quite a while.” (Mrs. Kennewick is played by Butterfly McQueen, best known for playing Prissy in Gone With the Wind.)

Fox is not happy to see the missionary. “State your business, Reverend,” he says -- while holding a hammer as if it were a gun.

Spellgood: “It’s the Lord’s business that I’m about, Mr. Fox.”.

Fox: “Oh, is that so? I didn’t know the Lord was franchising in the neighborhood.”.

Spellgood: “The Lord sent me here, Mr. Fox.”

Fox: “That’s what I love about you people, your complete lack of presumption. The Lord hasn’t any idea this place exists. If he did, he’d have done something for these people a long time ago. But I did.”

Spellgood: “This river doesn’t belong to you, brother.”

Fox: “No, but this land does, and I didn’t give you permission to come ashore.” 

Fox says to his workers, “If any of you wanna go listen to this man across the Jeronimo state line I won’t stop you. Any takers?” The locals laugh.

Spellgood replies, “And Pharoah said, ‘Who is the Lord that I should obey his voice, let my people go!’”

Fox: “Exodus 5, now get off my land!”

And off Spellgood goes.

Things don’t go well for Fox and his family after that. He does build an ice factory to the delight of the villagers and surrounding tribes, but an attack by a Communist guerrilla group destroys his village and he and his family end up escaping on a boat down the river.

As the Fox family, hungry and exhausted, floats down the river, they hear singing. It's the hymn, “Savior, Like a Shepherd Lead Us.” One of the Fox daughters asks, “Are those angels, Mommy?”

Mother Fox realizes it must be the Spellgoods' camp and says, “The missionaries, they could help us.” 

Her husband replies, “We don’t need help.”

As the family gets out of the boat, they hear the voice of the missionary, “Well done, choir, well done!”

The children are happy to be back in civilization of sorts. “Look, they have real houses!” 

“They have basketball!” 

“They have toys! Can we play with them?”

The family follows the sound of Spellgood’s voice to the chapel, but when they look inside, Spellgood isn’t there. The pews are full, but instead of Spellgood at the pulpit, there is a television set. On the TV, Spellgood is saying, “Prayer is as simple as making a phone call.” He is using a telephone prop for his conversation with God. His congregation is transfixed.

Though the Rev. Spellgood isn't there, his family is in the village. They’re eating dinner in their own house, watching their own TV. Charlie finds Emily, and she tells them their drive-in church in the States was closed, so they’re living full-time in the village. She offers the family Jeep so the Foxes can make their way back to help and the United States, but Fox doesn’t want to leave. He is also upset about how he feels the missionaries have corrupted the natives.

So Fox sets the chapel on fire. The natives come to the missionary, “Father, Father, the TV’s on fire!”

Spellgood goes out to assess the situation, holding a rifle. He sees that Fox started the fire, and he shoots and kills Fox. The rest of the Fox family escapes in the Jeep at the film’s conclusion.

Fox’s family will return to the States. The Spellgoods will remain on the Mosquito Coast.

Here at Movie Churches, we have a hard and fast rule that murderous clergy get our lowest Steeple Rating of one Steeple, but even without the killing, the Reverend Spellgood probably wouldn’t have rated too high. His seems to be the worst kind of paternalistic view of the people he works with, viewing the people as children rather than as grown men and women made in the Image of God.

(I suppose I should also note there is now a The Mosquito Coast series on Apple TV. And I have now reported the sum total of my knowledge about the show.)

1 comment:

  1. The book was better than the movie, but of course the lead character is even a worse human being in the book. I had forgotten how distraught the natives were over "The TV's on fire."