January 21, 2021

Recommendation: Beyond the Gates

beyondthegates.jpgBeyond The Gates (also known as Shooting Dogs) doesn’t have the star power, script, skill or reviewer good will of Hotel Rwanda, but I found it to be far more affecting. If you can appreciate a movie about genocide, filmed on location at the site of mass murder and using many actual survivors in the cast/crew, then you may, like me, find this to be an outstanding movie. If you want to involve Christians in a consideration of the issues of evil, Africa and the western response, this may be the best movie I could recommend.

You can find all the information about the movie you need at the usual web sites. What captivated me was the portrayal of Father Christopher, the Roman Catholic priest and missionary who runs the school that becomes a sanctuary for 2500 doomed Tutsis. John Hurt’s performance won’t surprise any of his fans or detractors, but you may be surprised that a BBC film allowed so much of Christian faith and the heart of a missionary in a suffering culture to show up on the screen. Hurt is convincing as a priest with every reason to abandon his post and give up, but who serves and rediscovers Jesus in the hell of certain, impending death.

Hurt captures what a pastor feels as he realizes that the fact of evil is going to overwhelm his world. Like Elie Wiesel in a similar situation, Hurt locates God in the midst of those who are facing their inevitable slaughter. While others conclude that God has deserted Rwanda, Hurt rediscovers his Christ through worship and a shared fate. Without being preachy, Hurt’s character shows us how a Christian should live in a time of war, injustice, racial violence and the propaganda of terror and scapegoating.

I could not help but compare this movie to the version of faith sold in a movie like Facing the Giants. The challenges to faith in Beyond the Gates may not be ones that American suburbanites can relate to, but that is precisely why they- and their teenage children- need to see this film. American evangelicals have discovered the God of Joel Osteen, but Beyond the Gates will help them discover the God of Christians who must face the machete that will kill their families and children. The Jesus of Your Best Life Now seems blasphemous in the hell of genocide and the unhindered slaughter of nuns and children.

Beyond the Gates delivers the expected messages of the preferences given to white Europeans and the passivity/blindness of the world as the genocide unfolded. Its young protagonists never find love because they are trying to survive. As one young teacher who promised to stay escapes into a truck and looks out on the children he has taught who will now die, every comfortable American should be able to see the metaphor for what preoccupation with ourselves and the mythology that props up our certainties and necessities has done to us. We are turning our back on suffering every day because we don’t want to lose control of our prosperity and comfort. Most disturbing was the vortex of hate, racism and violence that sucked in so many who seemed rational and normal, yet quickly became part of the murder of 800,000 of their fellow humans. How does this happen? In surprisingly believable and possible small steps that should warn all of us. Rwanda was Africa’s most Christianized country, but it made no difference when racial resentments exploded.

As one character, a reporter, says, when she was in Bosnia, the dead women reminded her of her mother, but in Africa, the dead women are just another dead African. Beyond the Gates is a frightening and brutally honest chronicle of evil and the triumph of true Christian faith in life and death. I recommend you view it, discuss it and be grateful that one of the finest portrayals of Christian faith and suffering was brought to us, not by the “Christian” media, but by the BBC.


  1. Thanks for this tip and the accompanying commentary regarding the embarrassing Facing the Giants. The movie “Sophie Scholl” is another outstanding exampe of a film that depicts stunning moral/Christian courage in the face of evil. But you certainly won’t find it in Lifeway “Christian” book stores.

  2. This movie caught my eye at Blockbuster, but only because it looked it had Ian McKellen in it (boy, he and Hurt look similar). Since I’d never heard of it, I assumed it was a straight-to-video release, and my interest dropped accordingly.

    Thanks for enlightening me — I’ll be checking it out next week.

  3. I’ve lived in the US most of my life, but my family is originally from Nigeria. So the “just another dead African” really struck me. Wow. I appreciate the reporter’s honesty, in a way – she’s far more honest with herself and with others than most Americans are about how they see “Africa” (in quotes because Africa is a huge place, and I’ve never quite understood why people tend to lump such a diverse array of cultures, languages and nations into just “Africa”). The truth is many people in the western world think of us as less than completely human. It’s an attitude I think the western church in particular really needs to face and come to grips with, but I don’t see that happening soon.

  4. Thanks for the recommendation, Michael.

    Tope, I’m sorry. I know that what you say is true, and I wish it were not so. This comment was a lot longer, so long in fact, that I decided to post it on my own blog rather than hog up the dialogue here.

  5. Thank you so much for this recommendation. I just saw it a few nights ago, and it’s a shame that this movie hasn’t gotten any recognition (that I’ve seen) that it deserves. Hotel Rwanda was a great film, and this one has so many similar themes, but I think it’s the better film simply for the moral dilemmas presented to someone who isn’t a native. Thanks again.

  6. Thanks for the recommendation. I tracked the movie down and had about 20 young adults over at my house to watch it. It sparked some really good discussion.

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