What I saw in “End of the Spear”

My wife and I went to see “End of the Spear” tonight. We were disappointed. I tried to ask if my disappointment stemmed from the sad circumstances surrounding the lead actor or from other reasons. By the time the movie ended, I was convinced that it simply is not a good movie. I expected it to be good, thus my disappointment.

The story behind the movie is amazingly inspiring. It has been told in various books through the years (most notably Shadow of the Almighty and Through Gates of Splendor by Elisabeth Elliot). Unfortunately, that story gets lost in the movie.

I appreciate those who can take a good story and, with artistic license, make a good movie. This has often been done with sports stories, as in “Chariots of Fire,” “Hoosiers,” “Remember the Titans” and most recently, “Glory Road.” In order to translate historical narrative to film certain liberties are inevitable. But those liberties should serve to strengthen the telling of the story and not detract from it. Unfortunately, “End of the Spear” fails at this point.

They have taken a great story and, with artistic liberties, have produced a not-very-good movie. I am still wondering just what the point of the movie is. Had I not been familiar with the events surrounding the deaths of Nate Saint, Jim Elliot, Roger Youderian, Ed McCully and Peter Fleming, I might have enjoyed the movie more, but I still would be left wondering, “what is the point?”

I get the impression that Steve Saint is wanting to tell his story in this movie. Thus, he is portrayed as an older boy than he actually was when his father was murdered. The other missionaries who served with his dad are almost an afterthought in the film. Even as a portrayal of his own story the real reason that he has a story worth telling was completely sublimated. The serious–as it turns out, deadly serious–faith of his father and his father’s friends is almost completely skirted. It is as if there was a concerted effort not to portray the character and content of their faith so as to cloud some other, elusive point. But what that point is escapes me.

Greater accuracy would have provided greater poignancy. Yet, the movie goes out of its way to downplay the very real Christianity that motivated these men–and their widows and Nate’s sister after them–to take the Gospel to the Waodani people. This was a strategic mistake, in my opinion. I am not criticizing the movie because it was not more evangelistic, but because it was not more accurate. Had it been, the Gospel could not have been omitted.

The acting was too noticeable throughout and the music score was too unrelenting in its intensity. I hate to be so negative in my comments, but I found the movie to be lacking in many of the qualities that makes a film worth seeing. The contrast between the movie and the documentary about it (“Beyond the Gates of Splendor”) that was released last year is striking. This was made more evident as the final credits rolled and clips from the latter were shown. I highly recommend the documentary. It is available on DVD.

Tom Ascol has served as a Pastor of Grace Baptist Church in Cape Coral, FL since 1986. Prior to moving to Florida he served as pastor and associate pastor of churches in Texas. He has a BS degree in sociology from Texas A&M University (1979) and has also earned the MDiv and PhD degrees from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Ft. Worth, Texas. He has served as an adjunct professor of theology for various colleges and seminaries, including Reformed Theological Seminary, the Covenant Baptist Theological Seminary, African Christian University, Copperbelt Ministerial College, and Reformed Baptist Seminary. He has also served as Visiting Professor at the Nicole Institute for Baptist Studies at Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando, Florida. Tom serves as the President of Founders Ministries and The Institute of Public Theology. He has edited the Founders Journal, a quarterly theological publication of Founders Ministries, and has written hundreds of articles for various journals and magazines. He has been a regular contributor to TableTalk, the monthly magazine of Ligonier Ministries. He has also edited and contributed to several books, including Dear Timothy: Letters on Pastoral Ministry, The Truth and Grace Memory Books for children and  Recovering the Gospel and Reformation of Churches. He is also the author of From the Protestant Reformation to the Southern Baptist ConventionTraditional Theology and the SBC and Strong and Courageous. Tom regularly preaches and lectures at various conferences throughout the United States and other countries. In addition he regularly contributes articles to the Founders website and hosts a weekly podcast called The Sword & The Trowel. He and his wife Donna have six children along with four sons-in-law and a daughter-in-law. They have sixteen grandchildren.
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