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Plot Details: This Review Reveals Minor Details About the Plot.

A chicken ain't nothin' but a bird.

Undertow (2004) on IMDb

Plot Overview

March 5, 2003. Somewhere outside Savannah, GA. The narrated story as viewed by a ten-tear-old grand­child Tim Munn (Devon Alan.) His teenaged hillbilly brother Chris Munn (Jamie Bell) exchanges sweet nothings (“We should disappear”) with neighbor, girl­friend Lila (Kristen Stewart) down by the river. He lacks the subtle touch. Instead of tossing pebbles at her window to get her attention, he heaves a rock through it. Lands him in hot water with her old man … and with the law of Drees County. He's been in trouble before. “You angry about some­thing?” the sheriff asks him.

He'll get in trouble again. He lacks the subtle touch. Instead of giving his new girl­friend small tokens of his esteem, he lays a bag of gold at her feet. For that matter his dad John Munn (Dermot Mulroney) instead of exercising restraint with Chris's mom when they were courting, had illicit sexual relations with her. Since his estranged brother Deel (Josh Lucas) also had sex with her, there's some question of Chris's parentage (“Chris is my son, and you've always known that.”) In fact there's some lingering bad blood in this family, and once Deel is let out on parole the chickens come home to roost.


“Undertow” flows with the biblical passage, (Eccl. 4:13-14) “Better is a poor and a wise child than an old and foolish king, who will no more be admonished. For out of prison he cometh to reign; whereas also he that is born in his kingdom becometh poor.” Ten-year-old Tim is in poor health due to malnourishment, but he's wise for always reading (“You think too much.”) Deel is like to take over as lord of the manor and nobody can tell him what to do. He came out of prison with a bad attitude and thwarts his brother. The neighboring Pelases who shelter Chris and Tim tell of their baby boy who became poorly nourished and died, “He wouldn't take my milk.” The parallels are striking, but what does it mean?

Tim (with Chris) flees with his books in a rucksack thereby identifying himself with them. Mr Pela's (Eddie Rouse) Mexican weather joke is a homo­phone between two languages, Spanish and English: “Chile today and hot tamale.” Solomon also knew literature, (Eccl. 12:12) “And further, by these, my son, be admonished: of making many books there is no end; and much study is a weariness of the flesh.” There's no end to Bible trans­lations, “of making many books,” and it would be weari­some learning its original languages. Chris piles a bag of Mexican gold coins in with the books (“Those coins are cursed”) identifying unrighteous mammon with religious literature.

In their flight Chris is unable to secure a job at the docks because of labor laws, laws incidentally keeping cheap labor out of the pool. They cross paths with the wedding of a Georgia cracker to an Asian beauty, there evidently having been a financial incentive for her to come over. Chris and Tim eventually hole up in a mammoth junk yard, mute testimony to planned obsolescence. The over­all context draws our attention to the machinations of money.

When we deal with (Bible) translations, from the perspective of money, there isn't much to be made sticking with the King James Version (KJV) whose volumes remain service­able for decades. If we're some­how convinced we need new trans­lations, how­ever, some­one will be buying them regular. They can't be sold as a new trans­lation with­out a copy­right, and they can't be copy­righted unless there are substantial changes from older versions. There­fore even though a passage is perfectly read­able in the KJV, it will be rewritten.

The problem Chris has is that even though he's innocent, it was his knife used as a murder weapon, he had opportunity, who knows if he had motive, but he does have a rep as causing trouble, which will work against him if he is picked up. The apostle Paul also picked up a reputation as a trouble­maker, and we may gather a lesson from him: (1Cor. 4:13) “Being defamed, we intreat:” If the law throws up Chris's bad reputation to him, he needs to entreat them that he didn't do it. Modern trans­lations (NIV, NASV, ESV), how­ever, substitute the word slander for defame (of the KJV), which doesn't play out the same way. Let's look at the reputable Fowler: (323–4) Oxford English Dictionary: libel & some synonyms.

False & malicious representation of the words or actions of others, calculated to injure their reputation.
The action of defaming or attacking any one's good fame.
(Pop.) any false & defamatory state­ment in conver­sation or other­wise.
(Pop.) the utterance of disgraceful imputations (The word differs from the etymologic­ally identical slander in not implying the falsity of the imputations made).
The utterance or dissemination of false statements or reports concerning a person, or malicious misrepre­sentation of his actions, in order to defame or injure him (‘False­hood & malice, express or implied, are of the essence of the action for slander’).

According to Porter G. Perrin, Index to English: The Meaning of Words 3b. Synonyms. A synonym is a word of nearly the same meaning as another. … There are very few pairs of inter­change­able words. (192)

It is Deel who slandered Chris, because he knows Chris didn't do it and he's being malicious in pointing the blame at him. Chris should not be entreating Deel, but he should flee from him.

There's a second point of difference in translation. In the gospel Jesus says of certain pesky demons, (Matt. 17:21) “Howbeit this kind goeth not out but by prayer and fasting.” The New International Version (NIV) uses these older manuscripts recovered from a geographical region influenced by the Gnostics who didn't believe in fasting. Their manu­scripts left out “fasting.” This movie depicts an active prayer life of the families, and when things really get tough, they will be praying, tribulations only focusing their prayers (“I'm sheltered in the arms of God”), tribulations that include fastings, as with Paul in, (2Cor. 11:26-27) “In journeyings often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils by mine own countrymen, in perils by the heathen, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren. In weariness and painfulness, in watchings often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness.”

We err when we don't trust Jesus who said, (Matt. 24:35) “Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away.” He promised to preserve his words as he has through the ages in the Textus Receptus (received text) on which was based the KJV. Other manuscripts though some­times older but from different geographical locales have been influenced by heresies in their copying and when discovered are like that released prisoner bringing trouble with him. We should trust that we have God's word as delivered to us (in the KJV). As novelist Grif Stockley puts it, “‘We Christians have difficulty believing the Bible is the word of God,’ he says gravely, standing beside the pulpit, ‘because we haven't grasped God's commitment to us’” (64). That is, it's there for us with­out mucking about with new trans­lations, because God committed to preserve it.

The early English that was used is that wise child that sometimes is poorly fed for rejecting the sacred dialect of the KJV as did Tim his food in this movie, and for that matter the Pelases' baby boy for whom, “My breasts was strangers to him.” George P. Marsh said in his graduate lecture on the English Bible: (452)

Early English specially appropriate to the translation of the Bible.

 § 10. The vocabulary of the whole Bible is narrow in extent, and extremely simple in character. Now, in the early part of the sixteenth century, when the development of our religious dialect was completed, the English mind, and the English language, were generally in a state of culture much more analogous to that of the people and the tongues of Palestine than they have been at any other subsequent period. Two centuries later the native speech had been greatly subtilized, if not refined. Good vernacular words had been supplanted by foreign intruders, compre­hensive ideas and their vocabulary had been split up into arti­ficially dis­crimin­ated thoughts, and a cor­res­ponding multitude of terms. The language in fact had become too copious, and too specific, to have any true cor­res­pon­dences with so simple and inartificial a diction as that of the Christian Scriptures. Had the Bible then for the first time appeared in an English dress, the translators would have been perplexed and con­founded with the multitude of terms, each expressing a fragment, few the whole, of the meaning of the original words for which they must stand.

Solomon says we're better to stick with the poor wise child than switch to the dominating king who won't be corrected. Supple­men­tary material shows the film auto out of service when “Some­one took the trunk key and stuck it in the ignition.” It's the Received Text and saccred dialect that's supposed to drive the car of the Bible, not the baggage of for­got­ten manu­scripts and the latest English. We're supposed to savor the native English words in our sacred trans­lation, not what­ever junk we find on the street as did Tim suffering from pica on account of his malnutrition, his rejection of good food. The movie's supplementary material does claim we are dealing with “symbolism, metaphor.”

Production Values

Undertow” (2004) was directed by David Gordon Green. The script was brought to him by Terence Malick who demonstrated an austere visual approach. The script was written by Green & Joe Conway based on a story by Lingard Jervey. It's loosely based on a real-life account of the Munn family. It stars Jamie Bell, Josh Lucas, Dermot Mulroney, and Devon Alan who all turned in excellent per­for­mances.

MPAA rated it R for violence. One scene is in Black and White. It was shot in 30 days. Utilizing a haunting score by Philip Glass and fine cinema­tog­raphy by Tim Orr, “Undertow” is a slow-paced thriller, with a concise story, great character develop­ment and excellent performances. Of special note is the opening sequence using freeze frames, slow motion, color manipulation, and transitional fades to capture Chris's flight from his girl­friend's ticked off father.

Review Conclusion w/ Christian Recommendation

“Undertow” maintained my interest without causing my blood to boil, it being on the low key end of thrillers. We could actually relate to the characters who all seemed quirky, and one of them deranged. It comes with a couple deleted scenes having been cut after its early release. It had kind of a Huck Finn feel to it, but with­out Twain's humor. If you'd like to settle down to a good movie that's not bombastic, this one should do you.

Movie Ratings

Action factor: Well done action flick. Suitability For Children: Not Suitable for Children of Any Age. Special effects: Average special effects. Video Occasion: Good for a Rainy Day. Suspense: Keeps you on the edge of your seat. Overall product rating: Four stars out of five.

Works Cited

Unless otherwise noted, scripture quoted is from the King James Version. Pub. 1611, rev. 1769, 2011. Software, print.

Scripture quotations marked NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION or NIV are taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION.
  Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved. Print.

Fowler, H.W., A Dictionary of Modern English Usage. USA. Oxford UP. 1946. Print.

Marsh, George P. “Appropriateness of Bible Dialect.”
       Lectures on the English Language. London: John Murray, 1863. Print.
       ——available to read or download at www.bibles.n7nz.org.

Perrin, Porter G. Writer's Guide and Index to English. Chicago: Scott, Foresman & Co., 1939. Print.

Stockley, Grif. Religious Conviction. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1994. Print.