Saturday, August 19, 2006

DEVIL'S PLAYGROUND

Devil's PlaygroundVelda Bontrager Directed by Lucy Walker
Reviewed by Byron Merritt

THUMBS UP!

THUMBS UP DOCUMENTARY REVIEW RATING!

Sex, drugs, heavy metal/rap music, Nintendo. These are not things one would normally associate with the Amish, but there you go, it’s time to learn about DEVIL’S PLAYGROUND.

Most of us probably view the Amish as isolationists and backward thinkers. They don’t use electricity or modern conveniences. They travel by horse and carriage. They dedicate themselves to their church and community for life or are banished if they give up the church and head out into the "English" world. This is mostly true, except for one period in an Amish person’s life.

At age 16, all children of Amish parents are given the option of Rumspringa (Pennsylvania Dutch for "running around"). Rumspringa can last minutes, hours, days, weeks, or even years, depending on the individual. During this time they are allowed to do whatever they like, which includes drinking, sexual relations, smoking, driving (cars), and doing illicit drugs.

One such person is Faron, an 18-year-old son of an Amish minister. He’s been out of his parents’ house for almost two years and gets involved with crystal meth dealers in order to support his own drug habit. His life spirals out of control, but his parents are helpless to do anything about it because of the Rumspringa tradition. Faron has to choose his own path. But with peer pressures so high, the decision is not an easy one for kids who want to explore a world beyond the Amish communities they grew up in. You can’t help but cringe with fear as Faron drops in and out of the drug culture, nearly gets himself killed in a car accident, and eventually finds love and a decent job many miles away from his parents.

Other kids have similar issues, but battle more with internal conflicts than external pleasures and material things. One is Velda, a pretty Amish girl who left her community and found depression nesting within her. Trying to discover who she was without the help of her family and her church leads her down some dark paths but she eventually succeeds in life by finding a job and going to college; quite a surprise considering the Amish don’t educate their young beyond the 8th grade level.

This documentary certainly was an eye-opener. Who would’ve thought that the Amish deal with similar problems that non-Amish parents are forced to deal with? The information gathered by the film makers is impressive but limited, as the Amish become reclusive once they join the church. But the kids have no such qualms about being filmed since they have yet to take their oath.

I am disturbed mostly by the fact that the Amish don’t educate their young beyond a certain grade level because they feel it causes too much "pride" (one of the seven deadly sins). But this also creates an interesting paradox. If you don’t educate your kids, they are destined for menial jobs. The upside (I guess) is that this makes it difficult to support themselves if they decide to try and make a go at living in the outside world. Not surprisingly, the return rate from Rumspringa back to the church is 90 percent.

Click here for the Devil's Playground movie trailer!

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