PopMatters is moving to WordPress. We will publish a few essays daily while we develop the new site. We hope the beta will be up sometime late next week.

End of the Spear (2006)

Cynthia Fuchs

It's a well-meaning, peculiarly wrongheaded movie in which Ecuadorian 'savages' are converted to Christianity.

End of the Spear

Director: Jim Hanon
Cast: Louie Leonardo, Chad Allen, Jack Guzman, Christina Souza, Chase Ellison, Sara Kathryn Bakker, Cara Stoner
MPAA rating: PG-13
Studio: Every Tribe Entertainment
First date: 2006
US Release Date: 2006-01-20
I wouldn't go so far to say that [my involvement in gay causes is] a Catholic thing, but I did receive a very good sense of community and of service, the idea of being of service.
-- Chad Allen, The Advocate (25 November 2003)

"From a true story," begins End of the Spear, a well-meaning, peculiarly wrongheaded movie in which Ecuadorian "savages" are converted to Christianity. While this "story" is hardly new, it is told here with a particular forcefulness. This means two things: the film is, in its way, upfront in its politics (dark, loin-clothed locals = bad; white, plaid-shirted outsiders = good), but it is also clumsy in its execution.

"Some people say we live in a world of irreconcilable differences," narrates Steve (Chad Allen), sounding as if he's talking about divorces. "Others say true peace, everlasting peace, can't be achieved because we haven't found s way to change the human heart." (It's a detail, but aren't these "others" saying pretty much what the first people say?) The as yet unidentified son of the fatefully named missionary Nate Saint (also played by Allen), Steve proceeds to describe his long "journey," undertaken, he says, with the Waodani warrior Mincayani (Louie Leonardo). "The events of that journey," he asserts, "will change what a lot of people say."

This might be the case if these "events" were rendered in a more convincing way. But Jim Hanon's film is so awkward and anachronistic that it raises more questions than answers. Then again, and importantly, it is surely commendable that this Christian saga promotes nonviolence, given the preponderance of mainstream media violence committed in the religion's name. Further, the casting of the irrepressibly out Chad Allen as the saintly father and lesson-learning son suggests that the filmmakers are assuming some openness and good will on the part of its Christian audience. And more power to it for making such assumptions, so quietly and so confidently.

At the same time, though, End of the Spear falls back on unpleasant stereotypes in narrative and representation. Steve first appears as a cherubic boy (Chase Ellison), in 1956 and wearing an era-appropriate kid's cowboy hat, worried that his father might be in danger in the jungle (which you've seen briefly, looking scary). When he asks whether his dad would fight back if attacked, Nate soothes him by saying, "We can't shoot the Waodoni. They're not ready for heaven. We are." And so the boy watches his dad fly off with the idea of rescuing the Waodanis, currently engaged in a fatal vengeance competition with a neighboring tribe. Though Nate and his fellows speak no Waodani, they imagine they will land their plane (on a nearly impossible-to-land-on riverbank) and be greeted as saviors.

Though Nate (and by extension, Steve) imagines he's doing only good ("We have one chance to reach these people!"), the natives can't possibly know what to make of these strangers. Helpful subtitles let you know that the Waodanis call the plane a "wood bee" and fear the foreigners ("We must spear them!") and a helpful early scene shows that one of their number, a girl named Dayumae (Christina Souza), has been brutally kidnapped by white men. When Steve says later, "I had heard the violent stories of the Waodanis," you might be inclined to think he's missed this other side of "events." Still, he and his dad believe that the tribe needs help to "escape a prison they couldn't escape from on their own."

Such evangelical earnestness leads Nate and his friends to be thrilled when the natives show up, all high-fiving and cheering each other while Mincayani and his fellow Waodanis approach with spears raised. That is, the white guys are paying precious little attention to the very people they want so much to "save." When things go wrong and the spears end up in the missionaries' chests, the music swells and beatific light bathes the fallen, especially Nate, whose dying words comprise the only Waodani phrase he's learned -- from Steve -- meaning "I'm your friend."

Astounded to hear his language spoken (gasped) at him by this scary stranger, Mincayani is haunted by the memory for years (though not haunted enough to age much: he looks pretty much the same throughout the film, though little Stevie Boy spends the decades becoming the spitting image of his father). Though the wives of the slain missionaries are horrified to learn of their husbands' deaths, they vow to continue their work, several deciding to go into the jungle (one with wide-eyed daughter on her hip), along with Dayumae, who, as it turns out, has been raised by and now works for Nate's sister, Rachel Saint (Sara Kathryn Bakker). Though Mincanyani is suspicious of these white ladies, his charismatic tribesmate Kimo (Jack Guzman) accepts Jesus Christ as his personal savior, or something like that -- he has his own language and martyr myth to structure the conversion -- and helps the strangers settle in.

Settling is something of a theme here -- not in the sense of settling for less, but settling within, accepting and finding a kind of "peace" in a community. And if the "events" represented here tend to preach to the converted, they do offer an alternative to the depressingly low-aiming pictures that usually fill the multiplexes in January and February.

Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology and hosting provider that we have less than a month, until November 6, to move PopMatters off their service or we will be shut down. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to save the site.





The 13 Greatest Horror Directors of All Time

In honor of Halloween, here are 13 fascinating fright mavens who've made scary movies that much more meaningful.


British Jazz and Soul Artists Interpret the Classics on '​Blue Note Re:imagined'

Blue Note Re:imagined provides an entrance for new audiences to hear what's going on in British jazz today as well as to go back to the past and enjoy old glories.


Bill Murray and Rashida Jones Add Another Shot to 'On the Rocks'

Sofia Coppola's domestic malaise comedy On the Rocks doesn't drown in its sorrows -- it simply pours another round, to which we raise our glass.


​Patrick Cowley Remade Funk and Disco on 'Some Funkettes'

Patrick Cowley's Some Funkettes sports instrumental renditions from between 1975-1977 of songs previously made popular by Donna Summer, Herbie Hancock, the Temptations, and others.


The Top 10 Definitive Breakup Albums

When you feel bombarded with overpriced consumerism disguised as love, here are ten albums that look at love's hangover.


Dustin Laurenzi's Natural Language Digs Deep Into the Jazz Quartet Format with 'A Time and a Place'

Restless tenor saxophonist Dustin Laurenzi runs his four-piece combo through some thrilling jazz excursions on a fascinating new album, A Time and a Place.


How 'Watchmen' and 'The Boys' Deconstruct American Fascism

Superhero media has a history of critiquing the dark side of power, hero worship, and vigilantism, but none have done so as radically as Watchmen and The Boys.


Floodlights' 'From a View' Is Classicist Antipodal Indie Guitar Pop

Aussie indie rockers, Floodlights' debut From a View is a very cleanly, crisply-produced and mixed collection of shambolic, do-it-yourself indie guitar music.


CF Watkins Embraces a Cool, Sophisticated Twang on 'Babygirl'

CF Watkins has pulled off the unique trick of creating an album that is imbued with the warmth of the American South as well as the urban sophistication of New York.


Helena Deland Suggests Imagination Is More Rewarding Than Reality on 'Something New'

Canadian singer-songwriter Helena Deland's first full-length release Someone New reveals her considerable creative talents.


While the Sun Shines: An Interview with Composer Joe Wong

Joe Wong, the composer behind Netflix's Russian Doll and Master of None, articulates personal grief and grappling with artistic fulfillment into a sweeping debut album.


Peter Frampton Asks "Do You Feel Like I Do?" in Rock-Solid Book on Storied Career

British rocker Peter Frampton grew up fast before reaching meteoric heights with Frampton Comes Alive! Now the 70-year-old Grammy-winning artist facing a degenerative muscle condition looks back on his life in his new memoir and this revealing interview.


Bishakh Som's 'Spellbound' Is an Innovative Take on the Graphic Memoir

Bishakh's Som's graphic memoir, Spellbound, serves as a reminder that trans memoirs need not hinge on transition narratives, or at least not on the ones we are used to seeing.


Gamblers' Michael McManus Discusses Religion, Addiction, and the Importance of Writing Open-Ended Songs

Seductively approachable, Gamblers' sunny sound masks the tragedy and despair that populate the band's debut album.


Peter Guralnick's 'Looking to Get Lost' Is an Ode to the Pleasures of Writing About Music

Peter Guralnick's homage to writing about music, 'Looking to Get Lost', shows how good music writing gets the music into the readers' head.


In Praise of the Artifice in George Cukor's 'Sylvia Scarlett'

George Cukor's gender-bending Sylvia Scarlett proposes a heroine who learns nothing from her cross-gendered ordeal.


The Cure: Ranking the Albums From 13 to 1

Just about every Cure album is worth picking up, and even those ranked lowest boast worthwhile moments. Here are their albums, spanning 29 years, presented from worst to best.


The 20 Best Episodes of 'Star Trek: The Original Series'

This is a timeless list of 20 thrilling Star Trek episodes that delight, excite, and entertain, all the while exploring the deepest aspects of the human condition and questioning our place in the universe.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.