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Most Hated Family in America


Louis Theroux has to be one of the most patient men on earth. In his documentary, Most Hated Family in America, Theroux follows the members of the Westboro Baptist Church headed by Fred Phelps and consisting mostly of his family members.

Grade:

Based out of their house in Topeka, Kansas, these are the religious individuals America has seen on the news picketing the funerals of soldiers and condemning basically everyone for their unholy actions, such as supporting the homosexual community. Theroux took it upon himself to live with them for a few days and discover the inner workings of the family and their belief system.

For most of the film he listens and tries to learn why they feel such hatred toward the rest of America (and Sweden). Despite their dismissive and at times disrespectful answers, he remains courteous and interested in what they have to say. As can be expected, the responses from the family members are centered upon one thing – God punishing the wicked and saving the righteous (them). What confuses Theroux, and the rest of us, is how they can claim to be the religious sect that most closely follows the teachings of the Bible; yet spew so much hatred. Is not the main teaching of the Bible to spread the word of God and help/love others? Apparently, not.

It is extremely disheartening to see how the elders of the family indoctrinate the children and control their lives. Theroux makes many attempts to interview the young adults separately, but at every opportunity there is some imposition by Shirley, the matriarch. The most poignant and frightening scenes include the youngest children involved in the picketing. Theroux openly asks the seven-year-old girl if she understands the sign she is holding. She responded like any seven-year-old would – a shy shake of the head and a simple, “No.”

Later on we see what is the actual result of this campaign of hate. One of Shirley’s sons, no more than twelve, is hit in the head by a drink container. Like most conflicts and struggles, the innocent bystanders are the ones who receive the punishment. Theroux attempts to explain that the families of these soldiers have nothing to do with what their church is fighting. His pleas fall on deaf ears. The Phelps family genuinely believes the rest of us are doomed to a life in hell.

There is little to be hopeful for when viewing the lives of a family such as the Phelps. We are shown some reactions from the public, such as a self-professed opponent of the homosexual lifestyle who condemns the actions taken by Shirley and her family. We are told that there are members of the Phelps family who have left the church, but unfortunately never see or hear from them reinforcing the fear for the children (and viewers) that even if they want to leave this house, they will be left alone in the outside world and shunned from their family and only friends. Theroux does exceptionally well asking the questions we all have in a very eloquent and polite manner, even when ignored or brushed aside. His patience justifiably wears thin towards the end of his stay; I can guarantee yours will dissipate quicker.

(closest thing to a trailer I could find, sorry!)

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