November 11, 2011: America is submerged in fear and ignorance by a fascist, officially Christian regime. Desperate for hope, the people await the Messiah.
Among the many pretending the role is one man, an African-American preaching radical politics, who might very well be the real deal. But the Powers That Be, as aided by the media, are out to defame The One and install their own white, corporate-friendly, status quo-loving new Jesus to placate the masses.
That’s the intriguing, if far-fetched, premise of Tony Torn and Ruth Margraff’s short, five-part web series The Grand Inquisitor. Part Bush administration era parody, part update of the conclusion of Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov, The Grand Inquisitor aims zeitgeist-exploding big despite its approximately 25 minute total runtime.
If only it followed through – Torn and Margraff have seemed to bitten off more than they can chew in trying to take on so much post-9/11 angst in such a small format.
They’re not alone. The similarly futuristic and surreal 2007 film Southland Tales was a gigantic mess even with star power and a multi-million studio budget. The Grand Inquisitor doesn’t fall so far, but the two projects have an uncanny amount in common: both feature a carnivalesque array of broad caricatures spoofing our absurd end times, a “multi-window” style meant to mimic the overwhelming simultaneity of information on the World Wide Web, and an unabashed liberal viewpoint.
The major target in The Grand Inquisitor’s crosshairs is Bill O’Reilly, represented by a bald blowhard television personality named…Bill and played by Tony Torn himself. Bill is guided/taunted by a devil character named Damian (Michael Tisdale) and is a major force (though not the puppet master) behind his right wing network’s desire to sway public opinion against The One (Carl Hancock Rux). That’s right, the network represents Fox News (so obvious that one of the men in the booth is named Fox), while other characters represent the red states, the liberal elite, etc., etc.
Strangely, and like Southland Tales, The Grand Inquisitor features almost nothing but blunt stereotypes, and yet remains obscure and murky due to Margraff’s cryptic, ponderous dialogue and a plotline that follows a needlessly confusing (not “complex”) train of logic. Torn has stated, “As director, it’s my attempt to claim a personal perspective on Christianity after being confronted by the powerfully presented, yet soul killing version presented by The Passion of The Christ.”
That’s an admirable goal, but he was probably right to worry about its accessibility: “The danger of our approach is scaring folks away with the viciousness of the initial satire, before they are able to access the deeper allegory we are trying to present.”
I’ve already posed a couple other problems, but let’s not kick a well-intentioned director when he’s down.