Hellbound? is a documentary that explores an interesting question: Would a truly loving God allow His children (or Her children, if you’re so inclined) to actually spend an eternity suffering fire and brimstone damnation?
Why do those who believe in Hell (some faiths have no concept of such a place) believe in it so firmly? Because of scripture? Because that’s how they were inculcated into their particular faith? Writer/director Kevin Miller explores these and related questions in this engaging documentary. It makes use of copious interviews with theologians, noted and unknown. Among the unknown are members of the notorious Westboro Baptist Church, who regularly picket and protest funerals of random people, from soldiers to high school teenagers. At the beginning of Hellbound?, they are picketing at the 10th anniversary of 9/11, next to the 9/11 memorial. Carrying provocative signs such as “God H8Ts Fags” and the like, members of this protest expound on their views of God, His Word, and how they interpret it to mean that 99.9999999 (their stat and I may have shorted them a decimal point or two) percent of the population are going straight to hell.
The conviction they held in saying this brought back memories of one of Eddie Murphy’s earliest comedy routines, which involved the man who shot Pope John Paul II. “He shot the Pope. I guess he figured he wanted to go straight to hell and he didn’t want to stand in line. ‘Oh, you shot the Pope. You can go right on through.’” They were convinced and convincing in their fervent belief that if anyone doesn’t worship exactly as they do, Hell is inevitable.
Then against this opening backdrop, Miller presents a veritable parade of theologians expounding on their views on philosophies like annihilism, universalism and more. There are slow moments when these experts are discussing their positions and beliefs, particularly when the speakers aren’t charismatic ‘preacher’ types who usually speak on such matters from the pulpit rather than the interview chair. Indeed, some of the presentations are done from the pulpit and they are much more attention-holding than other portions of the material presented.
Aside from the sequences (there are more than just that one at the beginning) involving the Westboro Baptist folks, there is also an interesting shot at the Huntington Beach Pier, where an evangelical man proselytizes and his target is some random bystander who agreed to stand on a box and become the target of the evangelical’s scorn. His reaction in the aftermath when the evangelical tries to shake hands with him is quite telling.
Miller uses his interviews with these theologians and others well, and also makes very effective use of imagery and music. There are those slow moments, but unless you are one of those who hates talking religion or politics, this documentary will be informative and hold your attention throughout. It must be noted that the overall presentation is a bit disjointed and unorganized. It also may seem that only one side of the argument is being fully presented and advocated, depending on your own personal perspective. Personally, I found it balanced but meandering.
If you’re a particularly religious person, it is definitely for you. If you are worried you may be en route to Hell personally, it might make you worry less. Or you could just check it out, because you like documentaries.