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“Robert Duvall’s film The Apostle (1997) mines the idea of revivalist shouting to the full. Right at the beginning it shows Sonny Dewey as a young white boy listening to a black revivalist preacher. The child is father of the man: Sonny devotes his life to ministry in the proper style, which accepts no authority but that of God as it is expressed in scripture. Made at the end of the twentieth century, The Apostle is a valuable depiction of contemporary religion in a corner of America. Yet it is also a critique of that religion: Sonny’s religious convictions come from a character in which inner human complexity and outward certainty struggle in tension with each other. He seems to be in total control but the narrative hinges on a moment when he loses self-control.

The Apostle

“Sonny strides through the film like a colossal monster. The whole focus is on him so that while the rest of the cast is well drawn, they are slightly pale by comparison. Jesse is frightened of him; Horace is just a ‘puny-arsed Youth Minister’; Brother Blackwell’s ministry has been defeated by two heart attacks; Sonny’s loyal friend Joe is in awe of him; Toosie, the woman whom Sonny courts in Bayou Boutté, is coy and uncommitted. The only comparable figures are the black preachers from whom Sonny has learnt how to shout. When Blackwell offers him his old church, now a shack in a field, Sonny comments ‘I could do some shouting in here’. His approach to radio preaching is to tell people that the eleventh commandment ‘Thou shalt not shout’ does not exist.”

For details of the book, go to: http://bit.ly/TroubadorPress

For my website, go to: www.timcawkwell.co.uk