John Seven | Viewer's Discretion: 'Hail Satan?' surprisingly full of hope
"Hail Satan?" (Amazon, Apple, Vudu, YouTube, Google Play)
Regardless of where you fall on the spiritual or political spectrum, it's probable that you will be surprised by the revelation that a documentary following the creation of The Satanic Temple and its short history is easily one of the most feel-good, life-affirming movies to be released in years, but there you have it. To walk away from this film and not find yourself with a smile on your face and hope in your heart is to be some kind of supreme grouch. And the thing about supreme grouches is that they are not happy unless everyone else is grouchy too, and so inevitably align themselves with movements that try to control the lives of others in order to make them more grouchy. At its core, this is what The Satanic Temple fights against.
Director Penny Lane has embarked on a diverse body of documentary films that differentiates her from so many voices out there, and "Hail Satan?" stands as both a summation of her work up till this point and a strategic plan for where to go from here. Centering largely on the Temple's sly, witty and touchingly sincere co-founder Lucien Greaves and the small band of early shapers of the Temple, Lane takes an expansive approach that is appreciative of Greaves as the face of the Temple, but doesn't leave out others who become involved. She makes sure to include them as they sign on, especially during campaigns in Oklahoma and Arkansas to place monuments on state capitol grounds next to Ten Commandment statues. The idea, central to the Temple's mandate, is to make a point about what freedom of religion really means and endorse the separation of church and state. Other early efforts included a Black Mass at Harvard and an art action against the Westboro Baptist Church.
Such activism is the initial allure for people, but the Temple's human core is what really sticks, especially as depicted in Lane's film with a mix of passion and humor. Presenting itself as a non-theistic religion, it appeals to people from across the country who have always been made to feel different and removed from the mainstream. When these people encounter The Satanic Temple, the feeling is one of discovering community, and that's really what Lane is committing to film, the moment of finding a long lost home.
Lane weaves these personal stories around some solid history of the modern Satanic religions, of the infiltration of the word "God" in American symbolism and of the Satanic Panic of the 1980s that became a direct factor for the rise in people choosing to take a proactive stance against religious fear-mongering.
"Hail Satan?" is heart-warming and smart, but it's also hilarious, and that's at a huge part of why the film received accolades and why the Temple's existence has won so many hearts as well. As a recruiting tool, the Temple couldn't ask for anything better than Lane's film. But even if you don't want to join, for those seeking proof that the future may not be so relentlessly bleak and oppressive and defined by strong arms and closed minds, Hail Satan will fulfill your desires, and you don't even have to sell your soul in that transaction.
John Seven is a writer in North Adams who has never been satisfied by movies and television that are easy to come by. He likes to do some digging. Find him online at johnseven.me
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