The End of the Spear (2005)

Rated PG-13. Our ratings: V-4 ; L1 S/N-1. Running Time: 1 hour: 51 min.

When they came to the place that is called The Skull, they crucified Jesus there with the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. Then Jesus said, ‘Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.’ And they cast lots to divide his clothing.
Luke 23:33-34

When they heard these things, they became enraged and ground their teeth at Stephen. But filled with the Holy Spirit, he gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. ‘Look,’ he said, ‘I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!’ But they covered their ears, and with a loud shout all rushed together against him. Then they dragged him out of the city and began to stone him; and the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul. While they were stoning Stephen, he prayed, ‘Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.’ Then he knelt down and cried out in a loud voice, ‘Lord, do not hold this sin against them.’ When he had said this, he died
Acts 7:54-60

The End of the Spear

The story of the five missionary martyrs and their families’ response to the tragedy would be brushed aside as an impossible figment of the filmmakers’ minds, were it not for the fact that the events dramatized in the film actually happened. Indeed, we have no less an authority than LIFE Magazine, which ran a well illustrated story on the five murdered men and the response of their wives when the story was unfolding in the 1950’s. Now, in addition to the book by widow Betty Elliott; a short documentary with the same title—Beyond Gates of Splendor—a recent, longer documentary, Through Gates of Splendor; and an animated film The Jim Elliott Story (all reviewed in the last issue of VP), we have the dramatized version of the story, as told by the now grown up Steve Saint (Chad Allen).

Steve. The son of Nate Saint (also played by Chad Allen), was just eight years old when his father, who flew the yellow Piper Cub that kept the five far-flung mission stations supplied, flew off for his rendez vous with the Waodanis living in the village he had spotted from the air. Steve goes back to 1943 to begin his narrative in order to acquaint us with the murderous ways of the Waodanis. Skilled with the deadly spear, they seldom kept their emotions in check, killing one another to settle an argument or grudge, or to steal food and women from another village. They also speared members of oil and road crews that dared to come into their territory, so that no road had been built through their land.

One warrior in particular becomes the focus of the narrative, Mincayani (Louie Leonardo). While escaping with his sister Dayumae (Christina Souza) the slaughter of his family, the two come upon a settlement of outsiders. Against his wishes, she decides to join the strangers, while he hangs back watching from the cover of the jungle. He leaves, convinced that they will kill and eat her, but unknown to him, Dayumae is taken in and treated kindly. Later she will be the key to the American women being able to make contact with him and his tribe.

Young Steve Saint (Chase Ellison) adores his father, his best memory being of their building a model of the Piper Cub that Nate flies on mission business each day. When Nate becomes excited about discovering the Waodani village, he experiments with a method of lowering a basket from the plane to the villagers so that gifts can be given. The boy, along with his mother, becomes worried about the safety of the venture. He radios his father’s sister Rachel, who is a missionary at another station, but does not tell her of the men’s plan to go meet the Waodani because they had said that she would be too worried about them. Instead, the boy asks her how to say, “I am your friend” in Wao. Rachel can speak some Wao because it was at her station that Dayumae had found a safe refuge years before and had taught her a few phrases in Wao.

On the day that his father leaves to pick up the other four missionaries in his plane, Steve teaches his father the Wao words for friendship. There follows the landing of the men on a sandbar and the approach of three of the Waodani, two women and a man, who try to communicate with the strangers. One of the women is Dayumae’s sister, eager to learn if she is still alive. The missionaries, of course, cannot understand, so the sister thinks they must be stupid. The man, dubbed “George” by the missionaries, is thrilled at the plane ride he is given, eagerly shouting down to his fellow warriors in the jungle. One of the missionaries takes home movies of the Indians and his companions. The Indians leave, and then one of them lies to the warriors back in the bush, telling them that the white men had attacked them. The warriors angrily rush to the river, soon spearing all five. Nate has a gun, but he merely shoots into the air, not at his attackers. This leaves Mincayani very troubled, especially when the dying Nate looks up at him and says in his halting Wao that he is his friend.

Back at the Saint’s home Marj Saint (Cara Stoner) tries to raise her husband on the radio, but only Mincayani hears her voice. Looking into the cockpit, he sees the small snapshots that Nate has taped onto the lower part of the windshield. The Indian, snatching the one of young Steve, retreats into the jungle after stabbing and slashing at the plane. A few days later, when the heavily armed search part arrives in two boats and a helicopter, Mincayani and his warriors watch while hidden in the jungle. They hurry back to burn their village and flee even deeper into the rain forest, lest the strangers extract vengeance upon them.

The wives mourn the deaths of their husbands but agree to forgive the killers. This is surprising enough, but their really counter-culture act is the decision of Elisabeth Elliott (Beth Bailey) and Rachel Saint (Sara Kathryn Bakker) to go into the jungle and meet with the tribe. Rachel is the sister of the slain Nathan Saint, and Elisabeth is the widow of Jim Elliott. Their daring mission is made possible by the discovery that Dayumae, who has been living with Rachel Saint, is a member of the tribe, and thus can speak the language. Deciding that the Waodani will not kill them because they are women, the party sets off and reaches the Waodani village. They dismiss their male guides and walk toward the spear-carrying tribesman, chief of whom is a scowling Mincayani. Elizabeth is carrying her young daughter in her arms.

The women are accepted by the tribe, Kimo (Jack Guzman) being the first of the warriors to help build them a house (which at first consisted of just a thatched roof—no floor or walls). Elizabeth’s blond little girl quickly joins in with the other children, picking up the language far more easily than her mother and aunt. The women, with Dayumae speaking, both for them, and as she becomes the village storyteller, for herself, declaring that God does not want the warriors to kill. She tells the story of Jesus’ love and death on the cross in terms that they understand—Jesus was speared by his enemies, and through his spearing shows the love of God. A year or so later the spearings have stopped, thanks to the new faith that slowly transforms their lives.

Mincayani grudgingly accepts the changes in the life of the village, though he himself hangs back from fully accepting their faith. According to Waodani tradition, the oldest son of a speared father is expected to avenge the death by spearing the killer. By now little Steve Saint is living in the village, and he wonders why Mincayani stares at him at times. The warrior is clearly a troubled man: neither Nate Saint’s dying words of friendship nor the strange behavior of their family members coming to live with and help them (mainly by bringing food and medicines parachuted in) adds up, at least according to his vengeance dominated tradition. What happens years later, when Steve goes away and then returns and the two confront each other at the sandbar in the river where the killings had taken place is drama of a high order.

Director Jim Hanon, and his co-writers Bart Gavigan and Bill Ewing, have condensed the story a great deal, so those who want “all the facts” should see his documentary Beyond Gates of Splendor, available on DVD (as are the other two shorter films mentioned). Jim Hanon made the documentary first as background material to prepare for his theatrical film. This was difficult, because at first the Waodani refused him permission to film them. However, when through Steve (now living with his wife and children in their midst) and others, the Waodani heard about the shootings at Columbine High School, they became convinced that the story of how they had been transformed from killers into a people of peace might help turn others away from violence. When, because of the impossibility of sustaining in the jungle a full film crew and its equipment, the larger crew and actors traveled to Panama to work on the theatrical version, a number of the tribesmen joined the project to coach the Panamanian tribes people in the ways of the Waodani.

A lot of the details of the story had to be left out of the theatrical version: such as the fact that the five missionaries made 15 flights over the village before deciding that it was safe to land; or that it took Nate five round trips to fly in all four of his companions and their gear, and that they sent back for safe keeping the home movies of their contact with the three villagers. Thus, my advice is to buy the documentary, not just for the left out details, but also for reports of later developments that are both dramatic and humorous. Stay for the credits of End of the Spear, and you will be treated to some of the latter showing video footage of Mincayani’s first visit to a North American supermarket and his conclusions about how we obtain our food. This is a film that churches ought to be taking their groups, of youth and adults, to see, much in the same way that they supported Mel Gibson’s The Passion.

For Reflection/Discussion

(This contains some spoilers, so beware if you have not seen the film.)

1) What two meanings do you see in the title of the film? Anthropologists have often criticized missionaries for interfering with indigenous cultures: in the case of the Waodani do you think this would be justified?

2) Although the story is told by a white man, much of the film focuses upon Mincayani. Do you think this is good, and if so, why?

3) What do you think of the decision of Nate Saint and his friends to visit the Waodani village despite the murderous past of the tribe? What precautions and preparations do we see? (Much more of this is shown in the documentary.)

4) What do you think of he decision of the women to go with Dayumae to the village? How is this an embodiment of what Christ taught and lived? How is their forgiveness a “counter cultural act”? What is the accepted way in which a person is expected to act when suffering a great wrong? How is such depicted in most thrillers, and especially in most Westerns? (For a meditation upon this theme, see the one based on In the Bedroom, No. 20 “When Grief Blocks Forgiveness,” in the author’s Praying the Movies II: More Daily Meditations on Classic Films.)

5) What was it about Nate’s dying that so bothers Mincayani until the end of the story? Why can he not just shrug off his killing of the missionary? How is this a good example of the inner process described by the apostle Paul in Romans 12:20-21 (and which is a quotation from Proverbs)? What instances of Mincayani’s inner turmoil do you see throughout the film?

6) What do you think of the climax of the film? What does Mincayani want Steve to do, and why do you think he wishes this? Why is Steve Saint so troubled and hesitant now that he sees the face of the very man who killed his father? What spiritual struggle must he, as well as Mincayani, be going through? The End of the Spear Rated PG-13. Our ratings: V-4 ; L1 S/N-1. Running Time: 1 hour: 51 min.

When they came to the place that is called The Skull, they crucified Jesus there with the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. Then Jesus said, ‘Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.’ And they cast lots to divide his clothing.

Luke 23:33-34

When they heard these things, they became enraged and ground their teeth at Stephen. But filled with the Holy Spirit, he gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. ‘Look,’ he said, ‘I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!’ But they covered their ears, and with a loud shout all rushed together against him. Then they dragged him out of the city and began to stone him; and the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul. While they were stoning Stephen, he prayed, ‘Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.’ Then he knelt down and cried out in a loud voice, ‘Lord, do not hold this sin against them.’ When he had said this, he died Acts 7:54-60

The story of the five missionary martyrs and their families’ response to the tragedy would be brushed aside as an impossible figment of the filmmakers’ minds, were it not for the fact that the events dramatized in the film actually happened. Indeed, we have no less an authority than LIFE Magazine, which ran a well illustrated story on the five murdered men and the response of their wives when the story was unfolding in the 1950’s. Now, in addition to the book by widow Betty Elliott; a short documentary with the same title—Beyond Gates of Splendor—a recent, longer documentary, Through Gates of Splendor; and an animated film The Jim Elliott Story (all reviewed in the last issue of VP), we have the dramatized version of the story, as told by the now grown up Steve Saint (Chad Allen).

Steve. The son of Nate Saint (also played by Chad Allen), was just eight years old when his father, who flew the yellow Piper Cub that kept the five far-flung mission stations supplied, flew off for his rendez vous with the Waodanis living in the village he had spotted from the air. Steve goes back to 1943 to begin his narrative in order to acquaint us with the murderous ways of the Waodanis. Skilled with the deadly spear, they seldom kept their emotions in check, killing one another to settle an argument or grudge, or to steal food and women from another village. They also speared members of oil and road crews that dared to come into their territory, so that no road had been built through their land.

One warrior in particular becomes the focus of the narrative, Mincayani (Louie Leonardo). While escaping with his sister Dayumae (Christina Souza) the slaughter of his family, the two come upon a settlement of outsiders. Against his wishes, she decides to join the strangers, while he hangs back watching from the cover of the jungle. He leaves, convinced that they will kill and eat her, but unknown to him, Dayumae is taken in and treated kindly. Later she will be the key to the American women being able to make contact with him and his tribe.

Young Steve Saint (Chase Ellison) adores his father, his best memory being of their building a model of the Piper Cub that Nate flies on mission business each day. When Nate becomes excited about discovering the Waodani village, he experiments with a method of lowering a basket from the plane to the villagers so that gifts can be given. The boy, along with his mother, becomes worried about the safety of the venture. He radios his father’s sister Rachel, who is a missionary at another station, but does not tell her of the men’s plan to go meet the Waodani because they had said that she would be too worried about them. Instead, the boy asks her how to say, “I am your friend” in Wao. Rachel can speak some Wao because it was at her station that Dayumae had found a safe refuge years before and had taught her a few phrases in Wao.

On the day that his father leaves to pick up the other four missionaries in his plane, Steve teaches his father the Wao words for friendship. There follows the landing of the men on a sandbar and the approach of three of the Waodani, two women and a man, who try to communicate with the strangers. One of the women is Dayumae’s sister, eager to learn if she is still alive. The missionaries, of course, cannot understand, so the sister thinks they must be stupid. The man, dubbed “George” by the missionaries, is thrilled at the plane ride he is given, eagerly shouting down to his fellow warriors in the jungle. One of the missionaries takes home movies of the Indians and his companions. The Indians leave, and then one of them lies to the warriors back in the bush, telling them that the white men had attacked them. The warriors angrily rush to the river, soon spearing all five. Nate has a gun, but he merely shoots into the air, not at his attackers. This leaves Mincayani very troubled, especially when the dying Nate looks up at him and says in his halting Wao that he is his friend.

Back at the Saint’s home Marj Saint (Cara Stoner) tries to raise her husband on the radio, but only Mincayani hears her voice. Looking into the cockpit, he sees the small snapshots that Nate has taped onto the lower part of the windshield. The Indian, snatching the one of young Steve, retreats into the jungle after stabbing and slashing at the plane. A few days later, when the heavily armed search part arrives in two boats and a helicopter, Mincayani and his warriors watch while hidden in the jungle. They hurry back to burn their village and flee even deeper into the rain forest, lest the strangers extract vengeance upon them.

The wives mourn the deaths of their husbands but agree to forgive the killers. This is surprising enough, but their really counter-culture act is the decision of Elisabeth Elliott (Beth Bailey) and Rachel Saint (Sara Kathryn Bakker) to go into the jungle and meet with the tribe. Rachel is the sister of the slain Nathan Saint, and Elisabeth is the widow of Jim Elliott. Their daring mission is made possible by the discovery that Dayumae, who has been living with Rachel Saint, is a member of the tribe, and thus can speak the language. Deciding that the Waodani will not kill them because they are women, the party sets off and reaches the Waodani village. They dismiss their male guides and walk toward the spear-carrying tribesman, chief of whom is a scowling Mincayani. Elizabeth is carrying her young daughter in her arms.

The women are accepted by the tribe, Kimo (Jack Guzman) being the first of the warriors to help build them a house (which at first consisted of just a thatched roof—no floor or walls). Elizabeth’s blond little girl quickly joins in with the other children, picking up the language far more easily than her mother and aunt. The women, with Dayumae speaking, both for them, and as she becomes the village storyteller, for herself, declaring that God does not want the warriors to kill. She tells the story of Jesus’ love and death on the cross in terms that they understand—Jesus was speared by his enemies, and through his spearing shows the love of God. A year or so later the spearings have stopped, thanks to the new faith that slowly transforms their lives.

Mincayani grudgingly accepts the changes in the life of the village, though he himself hangs back from fully accepting their faith. According to Waodani tradition, the oldest son of a speared father is expected to avenge the death by spearing the killer. By now little Steve Saint is living in the village, and he wonders why Mincayani stares at him at times. The warrior is clearly a troubled man: neither Nate Saint’s dying words of friendship nor the strange behavior of their family members coming to live with and help them (mainly by bringing food and medicines parachuted in) adds up, at least according to his vengeance dominated tradition. What happens years later, when Steve goes away and then returns and the two confront each other at the sandbar in the river where the killings had taken place is drama of a high order.

Director Jim Hanon, and his co-writers Bart Gavigan and Bill Ewing, have condensed the story a great deal, so those who want “all the facts” should see his documentary Beyond Gates of Splendor, available on DVD (as are the other two shorter films mentioned). Jim Hanon made the documentary first as background material to prepare for his theatrical film. This was difficult, because at first the Waodani refused him permission to film them. However, when through Steve (now living with his wife and children in their midst) and others, the Waodani heard about the shootings at Columbine High School, they became convinced that the story of how they had been transformed from killers into a people of peace might help turn others away from violence. When, because of the impossibility of sustaining in the jungle a full film crew and its equipment, the larger crew and actors traveled to Panama to work on the theatrical version, a number of the tribesmen joined the project to coach the Panamanian tribes people in the ways of the Waodani.

A lot of the details of the story had to be left out of the theatrical version: such as the fact that the five missionaries made 15 flights over the village before deciding that it was safe to land; or that it took Nate five round trips to fly in all four of his companions and their gear, and that they sent back for safe keeping the home movies of their contact with the three villagers. Thus, my advice is to buy the documentary, not just for the left out details, but also for reports of later developments that are both dramatic and humorous. Stay for the credits of End of the Spear, and you will be treated to some of the latter showing video footage of Mincayani’s first visit to a North American supermarket and his conclusions about how we obtain our food. This is a film that churches ought to be taking their groups, of youth and adults, to see, much in the same way that they supported Mel Gibson’s The Passion.

For Reflection/Discussion

(This contains some spoilers, so beware if you have not seen the film.)

1) What two meanings do you see in the title of the film? Anthropologists have often criticized missionaries for interfering with indigenous cultures: in the case of the Waodani do you think this would be justified?

2) Although the story is told by a white man, much of the film focuses upon Mincayani. Do you think this is good, and if so, why?

3) What do you think of the decision of Nate Saint and his friends to visit the Waodani village despite the murderous past of the tribe? What precautions and preparations do we see? (Much more of this is shown in the documentary.)

4) What do you think of he decision of the women to go with Dayumae to the village? How is this an embodiment of what Christ taught and lived? How is their forgiveness a “counter cultural act”? What is the accepted way in which a person is expected to act when suffering a great wrong? How is such depicted in most thrillers, and especially in most Westerns? (For a meditation upon this theme, see the one based on In the Bedroom, No. 20 “When Grief Blocks Forgiveness,” in the author’s Praying the Movies II: More Daily Meditations on Classic Films.)

5) What was it about Nate’s dying that so bothers Mincayani until the end of the story? Why can he not just shrug off his killing of the missionary? How is this a good example of the inner process described by the apostle Paul in Romans 12:20-21 (and which is a quotation from Proverbs)? What instances of Mincayani’s inner turmoil do you see throughout the film?

6) What do you think of the climax of the film? What does Mincayani want Steve to do, and why do you think he wishes this? Why is Steve Saint so troubled and hesitant now that he sees the face of the very man who killed his father? What spiritual struggle must he, as well as Mincayani, be going through?