H.E. Double hockey sticks. HELL, a word that usually conjures up images of a fiery underworld and a devil with a pitchfork. But does hell exist? Hellbound?, the debut feature-length documentary from Canadian director Kevin Miller, is a thought-provoking and intellectual film that asks “Does hell exist? If so, who ends up there, and why?.” The film features interviews primarily with a group of well-versed authors, theologians, and pastors in a provocative exploration of the traditional Christian view and teachings that hell is a literal place of eternal torment reserved only for bad people who commit sins. Hellbound? is no doubt a controversial Christian film aimed at a religious audience and those interested in theology.

It may seem like an odd choice to start an exploration into the Christian doctrine of hell with, instead of a theologian, but rather an interview with a screenwriter, self-proclaimed atheist Robert Mckee. Yet Miller wants to make a point from the get-go that there is a relationship between religion and the narrative story in life, which is about choices, because as McKee remarks if choices have no real-world consequences, then life has no meaning. Furthermore, if there was no threat of damnation then no need for salvation, which eventually means no need for Christianity. Consequently, Miller carefully starts the discussion about the existence of hell with how one’s view of hell and God has a real-world effect on the way one acts, lives, and relates to other people, as ultimately this supposedly decides one’s fate in the afterlife.

Hellbound? offers a wide-range of differing Christian views and scholarly input on the contentious debate, although the controversial book, “Love Wins”, by Pastor Rob Bell provides the frame for this debate. In his book, Bell questioned the teachings of the Bible on the doctrine of hell as a conscious, eternal torment and felt it was misguided and toxic since it was conflicting with the teachings of Jesus’ message of love, peace, and forgiveness. Moreso, Bell outlines a number of views of hell including universalism which seems to have the strongest voice in the documentary. On the opposite spectrum are the pro-hell supporters, including the conservative evangelical Pastor Mark Driscoll (who uses national and state borders as analogies to describe the divide in church beliefs) and Exorcist Bob Larson (providing a daunting scene of an actual exorcism). Then there are the interviews with Brad Jersak and Jaime Clark-Soles, who provide intellectual insight and historical references into the Bible and the Scriptures, along with a number of convincing authors including Brian McLaren, Frank Schaeffer, and Robin Parry. Hellbound? isn’t preachy but is a very talkative documentary that can be overwhelming as it tries to delineate the three views of hell, external torment, annihilationism, universalism.

The film also includes interviews at Ground Zero in Lower Manhattan with two fanatical Christians from the Westboro Baptist Church, Jonathan and Margie Phelps, whom believe that “99.9999999…%” of the people on earth are going to hell. The two are among a group of spiteful hecklers who hold unthinkable appalling signs of ‘Thank God For 9/11′ and ‘God Hates Fags’. Miller makes sharp comments and asks intelligent questions to the Phelps, including one about God’s love that elicits a response that ‘I’m doing the math in my head’ but even so the two are unwavering in their religious beliefs, which is quite scary to fathom that they are not alone in their beliefs. The 9/11 tragedy provides a secondary context to illustrate the point that people believe in hell as it is a necessary place of punishment for evil people like Osama Bin Laden, Adolph Hitler, and Saddam Hussein which then brings to question the notion of justice.

Hellbound? is a weighty film that asks a lot of big questions but it doesn’t try to provide an answer to the existence of hell, yet rather presents an elevated 85-minute discussion that would appeal more to theologians than the average movie-goer. But nevertheless, the film has some intriguing points that an open-minded person would be cognizant of and the film reveals more about the character of individual believers than about the belief itself.


- Aline Le

(Originally published at Press+1)

About the Author

Aline Le

Aline has probably spent more than half her life at the theatres devouring movies, white cheddar-flavoured popcorn, and strawberry-peach Yogen Früz. Some of her favourite movies include C.R.A.Z.Y., The Believer, and Grave of the Fireflies.

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