Certain things are intrinsically funny. Marching bands. Things getting trapped in wells. The Amish. By that metric, the funniest thing in the world would be an Amish marching band trapped down a well. I’ll stand by that. So when Mrs. Supermarket recorded this week’s Lifetime Theater for me, I’m pretty sure she only saw the “Amish” part of the title and figured it was in for a barn-raisin’, butter-churnin’, English-distrustin’ good time. She was so, so wrong.
Amish Grace is rough. The roughest Lifetime movie yet, and that’s saying something considering I’ve covered a Stephen King adaptation, two teens murdering a third, a rape investigation, and Daphne Zuniga at the holidays. I thought I’d seen some shit. I thought Lifetime became hardcore when they quietly turned themselves into a horror network. What I didn’t know was that this was them softening the blow. They can be so, so much worse when they decide to do Christian entertainment. Seriously, those guys are messed up. All those pictures of Iron Age torture just hung up on their walls like it’s nothing.
This story is based on a school shooting, or as we call them now, a well-regulated militia. Charles Roberts rolled up to a one-room Amish schoolhouse with a rifle, shotgun, and a pistol because apparently he was such a pussy he needed three guns to murder a room full of Amish children. He let the boys go and shot all the girls, killing five, severely injuring the other five, before shooting himself.
In the wake of this senseless tragedy, the Amish decide that instead of being angry, they’re just going to forgive everyone because barns don’t raise themselves. After all, God has to deal with Charles Roberts now, and probably wonder why the hell He planned to have five little girls shot to death. Mysterious ways, I guess. The shooting occurs in the first twenty minutes of the movie, and the rest of it is grieving parents trying their best to make sense of a world that aggressively cannot make sense anymore.
The lead is Ida (Kimberly Williams-Paisley, who you remember from Father of the Bride) a woman who lost her elder daughter in the tragedy. She’s having trouble forgiving Amy, the widow of the killer. The other Amish are almost pathologically nice to Amy, and to be fair, Amy didn’t do anything wrong. The leader of the community, Levi, points out (when he offers his condolences along with Ida’s husband Gideon), that Amy lost a husband as well, and her children are now without a father. It’s a two hour struggle to forgive, or at least understand, the unforgivable and insensible.
I can’t. That should be pretty obvious by now. I did find the explanation of forgiveness, couched in the Amish religious tradition, compelling. The characters explain that people are up to God to judge, which was actually pretty nice of Him. By taking the burden of judgment, he can clear human hearts of hatred. It’s really poetic, until you run into that whole problem of why He caused a bunch of little girls to be murdered in the first place. (That, incidentally, is called the problem of evil, and is not why I don’t believe in God, although it’s why I find certain beliefs maddening at best.)
It might sound like I’m running the Amish down a little here, and I’m not. Well, not entirely. I do think that living without technology and oppressing women is stupid, and the Amish are all about that. However, I have more respect for the Amish than I do for wealthy white evangelicals who preach that deeds are unimportant and only faith matters to get into heaven. In my eyes, the more your religion makes you sacrifice, the more I regard it as sincere and worthy of my respect. The more it makes someone else sacrifice, the more I see it as just some bullshit method of control. For all their flaws, Amish walk the walk. Well, until they need modern emergency services, medicine, or even a ride somewhere.
The forgiveness element is also extremely attractive. However, you run into the other weird side effect of this brand of religion: there is no altruism. While the Amish response was incredible, a few lines point out that they are in fact expecting something in return. If they forgive, then God forgives them. Tit for tat. Granted, this is a situation where that is really put to the test, so it’s clear they mean it. Still, its always disturbing to me how religious people only seem to be moral as long as they can expect punishment or reward. What ever happened to love of the game, people?
While in reality, Roberts wrote four separate suicide notes and claimed different motives for the crime, the movie latches on to the most Christian of all of them. He was mad about losing his daughter, so he wanted to offend God by committing an evil act. I could have saved him some time and pointed out that there were plenty of options that didn’t involve killing a bunch of kids. Check the Old Testament. Maybe wear a cotton/poly blend. Call his mother a name. Have you read that thing? Technically we aren’t even allowed to go to the bathroom.
In the real case, there are hints Roberts was a pedophile. In his notes, he confessed to molesting several relatives, though all of them deny it. There were claims he was going to molest, or did molest several of the girls prior to murdering them, but the cops got there quick enough that not much happened. The movie alludes to that last with a quick line, but they never dwell. This isn’t one of Lifetime’s horror movies about gun-toting pedophiles. This is 84 minutes that will wring every last drop of moisture from you through the eyesockets. It’s like some weird Arakeen vampire.
Eventually Ida comes around when another little girl (who lost her leg in the shooting), comes out of her coma and can tell the complete story. Mary Beth, before being murdered, already forgave Charles Roberts. Ida crumbles, and after that is able to forgive Amy. If Mary Beth can forgive a monster, Ida should be able to do the same for a woman who, let’s remember, didn’t actually do anything. Not that I’m saying it should be easy to forgive Amy. The human heart is a dank and sweaty place, clogged with chicken fat. It’s a wonder it can do anything at all, let alone something so difficult.
What never gets mentioned in the film is gun control. I realize that this isn’t a political blog, and I should keep things as apolitical as I can. Be funny, funnyman and all that. The problem is that it’s nigh impossible to say anything without being political. When scientific fact like vaccines, human-caused climate change, or evolution are considered political issues, it’s time to just throw oneself into the mine field and see what happens.
Lifetime clearly didn’t want to do that, and to be fair, the movie itself wasn’t about stopping another tragedy from happening. It was about the community recovering from one in an extremely unorthodox and uplifting way. That’s a good story to tell. It’s even a worthy story to tell. I just tend to be a solutions-oriented person who thinks maybe we should stop letting children be shot in schools.
It gets even more difficult to decide what to do in this case. Roberts used three guns that even most anti-gun folks think it’s probably okay to own. He probably wasn’t mentally ill from a clinical standpoint. Hard to believe, but true — mentally ill people are usually not behind mass shootings, and are in fact more likely to be victims of violence than perpetrators. So what do we do? What’s the solution to the problem? Maybe the Amish had it right and all we can do is throw our hands up and assume God’s a douchebag.
What did we learn? Amish does not automatically equal funny. I may have to consult with the boys at the lab on this one.