“At The End Of The Day”
The Homophobic Intolerance of Conservative Christians
Kevin O’Brien’s directorial debut deals with a subject close to him – the homophobic intolerance of conservative Christians, those who ignore the Bible’s teachings of love and acceptance in favor of a few sentences that they think label same-sex love a sin. O’Brien was raised in a Conservative Christian home, and worked at a church for ten years, so he understands the prejudices of this community and he brings a story to the screen about confronting and overcoming them.
Dave Hopper (Stephen Shane Martin) has just been hired as a professor at a Conservative Christian college after being removed from his local church after his wife left him for another woman. His mild mannered nature hides a bitter homophobia, with his new boss decides to exploit by using him to infiltrate a local LGBT group who are planning on opening a homeless youth shelter that the college wishes to shut down. Upon meeting the group, Hopper tries to sabotage their efforts to raise funds to open a shelter but this plan goes awry when he begins to question whether he’s doing the Christian thing of ruining the good deeds of people helping those in need.
“At the End of the Day” wears its religious themes very lightly on its sleeve and it obviously aimed at an audience with religious leanings in the hope of challenging their pre-conceptions of the LGBT community (but not to the extent that it becomes alienating for viewers outside of this mindset). O’Brien’s screenplay manages to balance its philosophical musings with humor and as a result, it feels down to earth and believable, despite the very heightened nature of the subject matter. You never feel that you’re watching anything as exaggerated as a dramatization of the ongoing societal clash between religious conservatism and LGBT acceptance. O’Brien’s characters are not the narrow minded caricatures they paint each other as.
Martin has quite a job trying to make a character with such closed-minded views somewhat redeemable. He plays his role with a shyness that suggests confusion over the conflicts between the nature of “sin” and the preaching of acceptance in the bible. He n manages to make a seemingly unlikeable character feel merely flawed – somebody who hasn’t take the time to truly examine the effects of his prejudices, and whether or not they are backed up by his Christian beliefs. O’Brien pokes fun at his many contradictions with every chance he gets, yet he never dilutes the serious impact of the anti-gay preaching.
.Dave’s resentment of gay people becomes personal when his wife leaves him for a woman. All the same, he’s aware that he doesn’t really know any gay people, and this inspires a degree of curiosity which blends with his ideological motives in inspiring him to infiltrate a local LGBT support group. There, he’s surprised by how nice everybody seems, and his convictions begin to falter. As his boss pressures him to stick to his guns, he finds himself falling for a straight woman (Danielle Sagona) who works with the group, but it’s his encounters with a troubled teenager from his class that really cause him to know that eventually the truth will win.
It’s clear from the start that Dave is aware of the hypocrisy inherent in his actions, but his genuine openness to loving the sinner allows us to cut him some slack. There’s an emotional honesty about him as he struggles to take responsibility for his actions, and it’s on this that the core of the narrative rests.
Dave’s journey is further complicated by the fact that he’s living with his elderly aunt, a flamboyant woman who makes no secret of her active sex life yet humors him with such gentleness that he struggles to work out what she actually believes. Her presence complicates myths about American tradition and reminds us that this is a country that has always been built upon a diversity of cultural narratives. She’s also one of several characters who complicate the notion that its current ‘Culture War’ has two neatly divided sides with everybody on one or the other.
Everything here is beautifully photographed and great costume design helps the cast bring depth and complexity to their characters. A visit to a shelter for young people rejected by their families provides a glimpse of just how many different kinds of people struggle to find a place within a rigidly heterosexual, binary gendered society, and there’s even an intersex character, rare as hen’s teeth. Yet although the film is passionate about showing us what people like this go through, it doesn’t feel preachy – its power comes from what it shows rather than what it tells. Dave’s internal struggle (which also neatly upends the myth that homophobia is all about internalised repression of sexuality) parallels wider currents of social change. There is no suggestion that atonement is easy or forgiveness always deserved – simply that they are worthwhile for their own sake.