Hatfields & McCoys (2012)

Boy, was I angry that I was skipped over for the new release of this dvd at Netflix, and then it took THREE MONTHS waiting at the top of my queue to get the dang thing. Sometimes I love Netflix and sometimes I hate it.

Well, this is an engrossing and fascinating exploration of the self-destruction of revenge much in the way that Othello is of jealousy or Macbeth is of pride. It is Shakespearean, and rich with human understanding. Kevin Costner is at his best as a broody quiet patriarch of the Hatfields, Devil Anse Hatfield (of all the names he could have had, how perfect is that?), and Bill Paxton as the emotionally explosive patriarch Randall McCoy. This is a classic unity of opposites that seeks to capture the tenor of our very modern day “uncivil” discourse. Hatfield is an atheist who has a strong moral sense, but also rejects higher causes such as the Civil War that he deserted. McCoy is a classic Southern Christian man, who also has a strong moral sense mixed in with an addition of bigotry against unbelievers such as, you guessed it, Hatfield. So both sides are strong in their moral convictions from different viewpoints, even unyielding at times, and thus the conflict brews.

As I watched the miniseries, I must say that I began to see the obvious moral message being incarnated in the story: Extremes of both sides are the same self-destructive spirit. Okay, not too bad. So, a religious McCoy praying for the soul of a man he is about to murder is shown to be no different from the godless who kill as well. But the context was that Hatfield started out as the more moral man because he was the one who held back from revenge and experienced the injustice of false accusations from the McCoys. So the atheist was the more moral man than the hypocrite Christian. Okay, typical stereotype bigotry against Christians in the movies. And Hatfield only jumped in after his brother was killed in cold blood in front of a crowd by three McCoys without provocation. Since the law would not bring justice, he started retaliating and thus the rest of the movie. And he always sought to try to bring resolution. He was depicted as without any other option than “cutting off the head of the snake” that would not stop striking. SO Hatfield is the obvious favored protagonist.

But McCoy is shown to be a religious man who descends into madness and atheism when he concludes that no God would let his children be slaughtered. His is a story of how one loses his faith. He starts rejecting God as being a meaningless concept in a cruel world.

So, I started to get annoyed that even though it was making a point that ALL extremes are bad, the faith of Christianity appeared to me to be without any power in bringing reconciliation. And this is the biggest lie of all. Yes, FALSE religion leads to self destruction, but true Christianity does not.

So I was blown away when the ending of the story has the little “innocent lamb” Hatfield, a mentally handicapped kid get hanged, which stops the feud because the insanity of it all is finally exposed in this blood sacrifice of innocence. Yes, you got it. The innocent Son sacrificed that stopped the war. Hatfield gives a speech to his family of repentance from the hate. Quite soul stirring.

Then the last shot of the movie was Anse Hatfield GETTING BAPTIZED! After all the bloodshed, it was HE who becomes a Christian and embraces the Faith because he understood it through his own journey of justice and peace and repentance. WHOAH. Now THIS was superb storytelling. One man’s loss of faith countered by another man’s discovery of faith. I have no problem showing religious hypocrisy and religion that is evil, AS LONG AS you contrast it with TRUE faith and religion. Otherwise, you are just saying ALL religion is false, which is itself, bad faith. Hatfields and McCoys is a story that captured powerfully the essence of true reconciliation through the cross that and I was moved to my soul with repentance.

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