OzLand and Faith

OzLand and Faith

When you get most of your television viewing through services like Netflix and Amazon Video, you watch things that you would not normally think about watching. The independent film OzLand is one of those things. I have actually enjoyed many of the independent science fiction films I have watched on Amazon, such as the curious but engaging films of Jamin Winans, of which Ink is the best.

Released in 2015, OzLand is a very small film with a cast of two: Glenn Payne as an intelligent, resourceful older character named Emri and Zack Ratkovich as his young, less intelligent companion Leif. The two men are found wandering a deserted wasteland that is supposed to be Kansas. An unexplained apocalyptic event has wiped out every other human being and most of the animal life, and the two are apparently the only people left. Before Emri’s father died, he taught Emri hunting and survival skills. Leif’s mother taught her young son how  to read. When she died, Leif went for help and wandered aimlessly until he encountered Emri.

Leif finds a copy of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz in a schoolhouse and over the course of the film, he sees a number of things (the crucified and now mummified body of a terrorist he mistakes for a scarecrow, a carnival poster which depicts a lion and midgets, and a robot which is left wandering the wilderness trying to help its long since dead family) that confirm that Oz depicts reality. Meanwhile Emri is disappointed time and time again, resolving to “just survive” and getting increasingly frustrated with Leif’s beliefs in Oz.

The film’s climax struggles with the attitudes of those who do not believe (Emri) and those who have embraced a faith which they hold to be true based on experience (Leif). It is a curious exploration of the dialogue, even if it is clear in the narrative that Leif’s faith is misplaced.

What I found interesting about the engagement of the two character was that each wanted the other to believe as he did. This brought about a tension because Leif cannot understand why Emri will not embrace his belief in OzLand while Emri cannot see why Leif is incapable of letting go of his “fantasy.” Although not articulated as such, Emri sees Leif’s beliefs as being confirmed because Leif wants to believe them, crediting coincidence with ontological significance.

The ending of the movie appears to side with Emri, almost shaking its head at Leif and his beliefs even as Emri embraces that Leif’s beliefs are part of who he is. The difficulty of the discourse is left somewhat unresolved.

As a pastor, I watched this movie asking whether the average person could perceive the underlying struggle in the narrative. Although clearly framed from an agnostic/atheistic view that borders on nihilism, it offers a perspective on faith that many believers do not really understand. They’ve never really thought about how peculiar their faith might look to someone who sees much more important matters pressing in on them. If nothing else, this movie should prompt some intellectual questions and discussions.

EDIT (8/13/2016): Michael Williams, the writer and director of OzLand contacted me via Twitter (so cool!) to let me know that he is a Christian, writing from a Christian perspective. That makes Emri’s character that much more interesting, because Williams wrote him so well and Payne portrayed the character’s beliefs so strongly. I am very curious to sit down and watch the film with some of my non-Christian friends to see what they think of it.

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