By Vic Holtreman
Short version: A low budget, yet beautifully shot and extremely moving film with an underlying core that may be too subtle for Christians' tastes yet too strong for others.
Initially I wasn't going to watch End of the Spear.
However, my wife tends to have a good eye when it comes to determining what films I'll like outside of my typical genres of action, sci fi, and occaisonally, horror. It's usually something that she's seen without me and on which she then gives me her micro-review: "You'll like it". So far I think she's never missed. :-)
End of the Spear is basically a story about Christian missionaries in the Amazon jungle who are trying to end the cycle of violence among factions of the Waodani tribe. For centuries they have been murdering each other using their weapon of choice (spears, of course) and the byproduct of this fact is that they are on the edge of extinction. If they do not kill each other off, the government will soon be stepping in to hunt them down due to their attacks on the regular folks who live nearby. The tribe members believe that the "outsiders" are cannibals.
As it opens, the story is told, well, as a story. It begins in the past and is narrated by the now grown son (about 8-10 years old at the time) of a couple who live at the border of the Amazon jungle and want desperately to save the Waodani in both the physical and spiritual sense.
The story actually begins before our narrator (character name Steve Saint) is born, showing us a typical raid between villages (I use the term "village" very loosely) where the warriors attack and try to kill everyone, including children. It is here that we meet the antagonist of the story, Mincayani as a young boy, along with his sister (named Dayumae) who he strives to protect. As they run from their village they find some "outsiders", and in her desperation to be safe, Dayumae runs towards them and Mincayani thinks she has been taken to be killed and eaten.
Cut to about ten years later. The are some other couples living near Steve and his family with the same mission, and we get to meet them briefly. Everyone there, including the young son is acutely aware of the danger of making contact with these people due to their violent history towards each other and especially towards outsiders.
As the viewer will know going into the film, Steve's father and his friends are going to be killed in their attempt at personal contact with the Waodani. It's one of those things that's difficult to watch because although things are going seemingly very well, you know it's coming... and the catalyst for it in the film left me feeling angry and with the thought that no matter where you go, people are at their core, all the same.
Once it is discovered that these men have died, the locals want to take revenge on the tribe, especially since that's the way things were headed anyway. What happens instead is that the wives of the men who died decide to go out and finish what their husbands started when two of the Waodani women brave civilization in their quest for the long lost Dayumae.
What follows is either quite powerful and moving, or prosletyzing, depending on your point of view as these people are slowly turned away from their murdering, centuries-old lifestyle. Personally, I found most of the film very subtle in delivering any "message". So subtle that I found myself questioning for most of it whether the missionaries were Christian or Mormon.
Those who are of a religious bent may be of the opinion that the film almost portrayed more of a humanistic approach to those who were trying to save the tribespeople, but those who are hyper-sensitive to this sort of thing may watch the same film and find themselves annoyed at a message that was not explicit in the publicity for the film.
This was in fact one of those "based on a true story" movies, and there is actually a documentary that was made by producers of this film as a companion piece, called Beyond the Gates. For an independent, low budget film it was beautifully shot and the scenery is breathtaking. Louie Leonardo as Mincayani did an outstanding job in the role of the warrior who would not change his ways without a fight.
I watched it on DVD, and unfortunately there wasn't much in the way of special features. Basically there was just a trailer for the aforementioned documentary. I suppose that they are trying to generate more revenue so that they can make more films, but having perhaps a 30 minute documentary on the story that inspired the film would have been a nice addition.
I wouldn't recommend it for kids under 10 or so as it was quite violent with many deaths via spear, but whatever your beliefs, End of the Spear is a compelling story about family and forgiveness and is well worth seeing.