The Movie Frailty Explained and Discussed
The Movie Frailty Explained and Discussed - wherein we discuss the twists and turns of the movie Frailty and try and figure the movie out. IMDB
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Here on THiNC. we (read, I write, and you yell at me for my plethora-filled grammatical errors) find tricky, thought-filled, movies, and we talk about them. I don’t do movie reviews. I try to only bring movies that are worth talking about. Not 100% are A+’s, but 100% are worth talking about… at least a little bit. Generally I prefer to find outstanding, indie movies, that will blow your mind. And then, after said mind blowing, we argue about what the heck just happened. Which, I love. (I don’t love the constant flogging I get for my obvious lack of writing skills, but alas, it is what it is.)

So, the other day, Anderson (from the illustrious site, brought us a movie for us to talk about. He mentioned that, since I am an outspoken Christian, it would be interesting to hear my take on this particular movie. After watching the movie, not exactly sure what that means. But I’m happy to talk about this fairly clever little movie.

(I’m sorry, but nothing ages a movie like an old school 4:3 ratio. Just saying. I’m sure our future selves will soon be saying that same thing about our current 2D 21:9 ratios, but I digress.) Anyway, I had never heard of the movie Frailty before. Zero. And it has Bill Paxton and Matthew McConaughey in it? Where was I in 2001? So thanks Anderson for bringing this movie to my attention!

Frailty Movie Overview

I am going to walk through this movie narrative not as the movie unfolded, but based on the right hook surprise we discover towards the end of the movie. And I am going to do this walk through so that we are all on the same page. That we are all coming at this film from the same direction. So last chance, if you haven’t seen the movie… turn back. Watch it, and come back. Last chance. 

As the movie starts, we watch as Adam (played by Matthew McConaughey), under the pretext that he is Fenton, goes and meets with the lead detective of the God’s Hand murders. See, I told you I was going to bring it strong right at the outset. Anyway, the Detective, Detective Doyle (played by Powers Booth), is interested in learning what “Fenton” knows about the murders. And so, Adam regales Doyle with a story about his father and his brother and how the murders of the town played out. Adam and Fenton’s father, Mr. Meiks or Dad (played by Bill Paxton), has a vision of an angel telling him he should destroy demons in this world. That Dad has been given a list of names that are actually demons, and that each one, one by one, needs to be destroyed. 

Immediately, Adam buys what their dad is saying. He believes the entire story about angels, demons, and their need to carry out God’s vengeance. But Fenton on the other hand, well, he isn’t even somewhat swayed. Fenton knows that his father is murdering people at random, and he’s using a spiritual excuse to do so. And yet, Fenton can’t figure out how to get out from under his father’s thumb… to tell someone what is happening. And so he participates in the first murders, hoping they’d eventually just stop, but they don’t.

Eventually, Fenton tells Sheriff Smalls about his father and the murders, and Sheriff Smalls comes out to investigate. And it’s then that their father jumps Smalls, and kills him. Which is a fascinating turn of events, mainly because their father is angry that Fenton forced him to murder someone for “the first time.” That until then, he had never killed anyone before. Instead, he had been “destroying demons.” Worse, Fenton’s father informs Fenton that the angel has told him something bad about him. Which, we can surmise, is that Fenton’s name has been added to the list to be killed. And so, to fight against this revelation, his father locks Fenton in the cellar and starved him until he has a revelation. And upon the next abduction and murder, Fenton is told to deliver the blow to kill the “demon.” Instead though, Fenton kills his father. But before the hostage is freed, Adam kills the hostage. And now the boys have two bodies to bury in the rose garden.

Well, as I mentioned from the top, Adam reveals to Doyle that he isn’t in fact Fenton, but rather Adam… the one that bought in to the delusions of his father. And not only that, but he had destroyed Fenton, and that he had become the God’s Hand Killer. Which becomes clear in a flashback showing how he had originally shared the visions his father had had. And when Adam puts his hands on Doyle, he sees that Doyle had actually killed his own mother. Doyle wonders how Adam could possibly know, and then he is struck down with Adam’s axe.

Now, as Doyle pointed out, a lot of people saw Adam at the police station even though he was posing as Fenton. But no one remembers his visit. The security cameras throughout the building futz and fizzle… to ultimately obscure his face. When the FBI agents raid the real Fenton’s house, they find all kinds of Detective Doyle’s things, which Adam planted. Which pointed all the blame in the direction of his dead brother. And as the movie ends, Adam tells his pregnant wife, that “God’s will has been served.” Roll Credits.

Initial Thoughts on the Movie Frailty

Divorced from the religiosity of it all, the movie was really very good. The double back flip from Fenton to Adam had me wondering if that was going to happen. It seemed to make sense, but I didn’t know if the film makers were all in on a negative ending, which would be required if that went that direction. And at each step, I was wondering where the plot would take us in order to bring us to the point that we have “Fenton” with information to share years later. It’s no wonder that the interview technique, starting at the beginning of the movie isn’t a fantastic success every time that it is employed.

The Theological Implications of Frailty

Now, as to the spiritual side of things. As I said before, I’m an outspoken Christian who happens to love movies. Really, I’m not as scary as all that. But I will say that if you don’t mind me getting just a little Christian dweeby on you, I’d appreciate it. The first is the phrase, General Revelation. That is the theology that we generally know the will of God through reading the Bible. We know that we shouldn’t lie. We shouldn’t steal. We shouldn’t covet our next door neighbor’s wife. We also know through the Psalm 19 that the heavens declare God’s glory. That the skies proclaim the work of His hand. That you are left without excuse if you don’t happen to believe. These are all general revelations.

But special revelations… that’s a different thing all together. Special revelations account for Angels, like Mr. Meiks said he saw. Throughout scripture there are a number of special revelations. Think, Moses and the burning bush. Think, Jonah and that call to go to Nineveh, which was then followed by a corrective whale. The Bible also calls out a number of angels coming with specific revelations as well. In this Christmas season, the most famous visit by an angel was the archangel Gabriel coming to Mary. And let’s look at what Gabriel said to Mary, just so we can compare it to what the angel said to Mr. Meiks.

“Don’t be afraid, Mary. You have found favor with God. You will become pregnant, give birth to a son, and name him Jesus. He will be a great man and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his ancestor David. Your son will be king of Jacob’s people forever, and his kingdom will never end.”

Luke 1:30-33

What is interesting about this quote from Gabriel is that none of the things he said countered scripture (Old or New (which hadn’t been written yet)). It was consistent. Gabriel informed Mary, a virgin, that she’d have a child. That He would have throne of Mary’s ancestor King David. And that He would rule over this Kingdom forever. The number one rule about special revelations as they relate to general revelation, is that they never contradict general revelation. And we don’t have a direct quote from the angel to Mr. Meiks. But we generally know what they said to him. If I were to formalize it, maybe it would have sounded something like this:

“Don’t be afraid, Meiks. You have been chosen by God to be His instrument of judgement. Across the land there are many demons in need of destruction. You will be given a list of the names of these demons that you are to dispatch, and then bury in the town’s public rose garden.”

Or something like that. But think about this, the “Angel” is telling Meiks that there are demons in this world that God needs help destroying. Meiks believes that God wants him to kill other humans. And because special revelation cannot contradict general revelation (God told me to lie to my professor… uh no. God told me to have an affair with my secretary… uh no. Etc., etc. God told me to give my Christmas bonus to the town’s soup kitchen… uh, ok… now you have my attention. Why? Because caring for the widow, the orphan, the impoverished is definitively held within God’s general revelation.)

But what if you believe that these “humans” aren’t humans, and that God is calling Meiks, not to murder, but rather to engage in spiritual warfare? First, uh, we can see clearly that these are people. They could be demon possessed people, but they are people all the same. And how did Jesus interact with demon possessed people? He cast out the demon, and then cared for them. Asked for food to be brought, he asked that their chains be let loose. Etc. We don’t see here that Meiks is caring for anyone but himself.

But the Supernatural Man!

After Adam kills Doyle, a number of pretty significant things fall Adam’s way. We see the security camera footage obscure Adam’s face. We see several witnesses not recognize him. It’s as if Adam is protected by God. Well, we know from the previous section that it isn’t God who is protecting him. Are there other explanations for what we see here? Coincidence. It could also be that Adam is the one that futzed the security tape. Or, who’s to say that Adam is actually in league with demons himself? Could it have been a supernatural intervention by dark forces? Maybe. Who’s to say? But we do know that it wasn’t God looking out for Adam. Who do you think is looking out for Adam?

The Movie Frailty and its Clever Twist

Minus the fact that this is a fairly old movie, I found the twist intriguing. The slight of hand of Fenton being Adam shifts the narrative from beginning to end. It changes Doyle’s prospects in a heart beat from an investigator with a new lead, to a victim about to die at the hands of a psychopath completely deranged by his insane father. But seeing as though I had never heard of the movie Frailty before, I was pleasantly surprised at just how good it was. Thanks, Anderson, for the tip! What did you guys think of the movie?

Edited by, CY

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9 Responses

  1. Anderson

    Thank you for taking the time to write about one of my favorite movies! You made my day. Apologies for the length of this post, I do not have time to make it shorter.

    I certainly did not mean any offense in recommending this film. My grandfather was a pastor and, since my parents lived in the parsonage, I grew up in the church. To my great shame, I chose the Prodigal Son path and did not start to repair relationships with my family until my late 20s. During that process, I discovered that some people I was pretentious enough to think of as simple minded held revolutionary ideas. For example, my grandfather was a radical pacifist, which I respect but find terrifying.

    There are two primary reasons I wanted to read your thoughts on Frailty. First, I love it, and I think it never gets the respect it is due. I enjoy your blog and a lot of other people do too. I was hoping you would like it. Thank you!

    Second, I wanted to run my simplified view of the New Testament by you and try to explain why Frailty resonates with me so deeply. My ten-second interpretation of the New Testament is that a person’s motivations are what matter. (“This is my commandment to you: love one another.” John 15:17) In Matthew 5:17-48, Jesus confuses the hell out of generations of people by stating that he had not come to annul the law but to fulfill it before contrasting a series of actions that violated the law with a series of thoughts and motivations that he equates with the aforementioned actions. Toward the end, he is more direct in stating “[l]ove your enemies and pray for your persecutors . . . .”

    This is just my interpretation. All fall short of the glory and all that. Here is the thing that scares the dickens out of me though: believing that motivations are the most important thing is terrifying because people do horrific things believing they are acting out of love. We have the capacity for rationale thought, which should temper humanity’s ability to hurt others while sincerely believing they are acting out of love, but some of our brains are just broke. (“[I] perceived that God has so ordered it that man should not be able to discover what is happening here under the sun. However hard a man may try, he will not find out; the wise man may think he knows, but he will be unable to find the truth of it.” Ecclesiastes 8:17.)

    I encountered a few fundamentalists in different churches who I would not be surprised to discover believed they were characters in Frailty. I think everyone has probably seen another person do something they thought was awful but with the best intentions. For the foregoing reasons, I find Bill Paxton’s father of two children an earnest and compelling character.

    I enjoyed your discussion of General versus Specific Revelations. While I do not disagree with your point, I loved that you contrasted a revelation from the New Testament with the revelation Mr. Meiks likely received. I saw your discussion of Psalms in the preceding paragraphs, but the proximity of Luke 1:30-33 to the Meiks revelation got me all excited. The revelation provided to Meiks is about as Old Testament as they come. (“This is the very word of the Lord of Hosts: ‘I am resolved to punish the Amalekites for what they did to Israel, how they attacked them on their way up from Egypt.” Go now and fall upon the Amalekites and destroy them, and put their property under ban. Spare no one; put them all to death, men and women, children and babes in arms, herds and flocks, camels and asses. 1 Samuel 15:1-4.)

    I used to have a recurring nightmare that we were living in an unforgiving Old Testament world. Frailty captured that nightmare, mixed it with faith like a child, and made a believer out of me.

    • Taylor Holmes

      The brilliance of the Bible is that it is one consistent story from beginning to end. Throughout the Old Testament, until Christ’s arrival on the scene, they lived in the era of the veil. The separation. And yet, the citizens of the OT were given a temporary provision for the absolution of sin. It was a way to pay off your debts at a later date by the only one with any real currency at all. It’s like as if I was allowed to head down to the local pub, order several black and tans and a plate or two of nachos. Then I tell the pub owner, there’s another guy… he’s got my money, he’ll be here soon. Promise. k. bye.

      Which brings us back to the point you made – that Jesus didn’t come to abolish the Law, but to fulfill it. The curse of sin is central in both the Old and the New testaments. It’s a question of separation from God, and the curse that separation creates. It’s as simple as that. The funny thing about the Old Testament is that people like to point to the Judgements of sin (like in 1 Sam) as a sign that God is a cruel and horrific overlord. But let’s be brutally honest here… the judgements of the New Testament will be much much worse than any particular people group catching God’s ire. Revelation 16 says that the seven cups of judgment will eerily mirror the chaos inflicted on Egypt when the Pharaoh refused to let the Jews go. But what is that all about? How could a perfect God allow this to be? All this judgement from Genesis all the way through to (and especially) Revelations?!?

      It all comes back to God. A gallon of white paint can’t have a speck of black hit it and still be perfectly white paint. It would be against the definition of the color “Perfect White”. (Really stupid analogy – but you get the lame point that I’m making.) If a perfect God, that sustains all matter, and through whom all of the universe is held together, becomes imperfect… the universe collapses. I have been walking through the entire Bible in my Biblionomicron series and the thing that just has been so loud and so very clear in that exercise has been all about the overarching, never ending love of God for us. And all you have to do is avail yourself of that love, step under the mantel of protection, and it is all yours. And the definition of separation from God is judgement. Whether you are currently on fire or not, you are in judgement to be separated from God. But it isn’t a negative statement, its a positive one. We are freely allowed his grace. But yeah, I too have had my moments of stress like you commented on.

      Frailty though didn’t connect like you commented. Like as if the Old Testament had come alive. But I saw it as yet another Pentecostal preacher that is reading the tea leaves all wrong. That has determined that they know the mind of God, specifically. And are actually just as insane as Jeffrey Dahmer, or Charles Manson. They will know we are Christians by our love. Which, is why Trump and the evangelical move to follow his selfishness makes me so angry. Sorry, that is the last of the politics. But I think that if we really are all about God’s love, then we are all about the widow, the orphan, the impoverished. We are looking out for the downtrodden and the broken. This is the mind of God. Not lists of people/demons to dole out retribution against. So for me it didn’t click like it did for you. But I get why it did. I understand. It was an intriguing movie. I enjoyed it. Thanks for the recommendation.

  2. Anderson

    I think the “Pentecostal preacher that is reading the tea leaves all wrong” might be why I did connect because it felt a little too much like some of my childhood memories. I am glad you did not hate it! After I wrote my comment, my partner and I looked at other recent comments and realized I might be a lunatic. I was not trying to take a cheap shot at God with the reference to 1 Samuel, although in retrospect it sure reads like one.

    In an effort to stop myself from further ranting, I will just say that I appreciate your voice as well as your Biblionomicron series. Love your piece on Ecclesiastes. Oh and please talk politics whenever it suits you. There is a dearth of Christians who are unafraid to speak frankly.

    Yours in struggle.

    • Taylor Holmes

      I appreciate the compliment. But you have to understand, I regularly get thrashed for my spiritual beliefs inserted into “regular” non-spiritual movie discussions. I don’t mind that… because I believe literally everything is spiritual, and so I believe that even our entertainment is a portal or revelation about our beliefs about God. I’m not going to stop doing that. It’s my site after all, and it’s really the main reason I created this site, even people think it is, or should be, something different. As for the politics? When I bring up politics (I have a political science degree from Wheaton, and I worked on The Hill for a bit under Senator Grassley, with the intent that I would go on to get my law degree in order to become a chief of staff. That all went in the dust bin when I decided to go work in non-profits doing technology.) the hate really pours in. Like, as in, my spiritual views can be tolerated. But oh, good heavens, please don’t mention politics or molten lava level vitriol will pour fourth. Does that mean we should stop? Well, no. But, that isn’t what this site is about. I sort of have to pick my battles.

      But I will say that, having “been” (past tense sounds weird, but true) a Republican my entire life. As my dad was a lobbyist, I saw crazy things happening as Reagan, Bush Sr. and Jr. and Clinton held power. But the gaslighting that is happening right in front of our eyes… and the lock-step marching of Christians behind this new Republican dialectic is horribly offensive. I used to justify my Republican beliefs by saying that I wanted small government mainly so that the Church could be free to intervene on behalf of those that are really in need. Parishioners giving 10% should be the constituency that will intervene on family’s experience abuse, and drug overdoses. But they aren’t giving 10%. And they aren’t intervening. Average donations from church goers are something closer to 3%. Which boggles the mind. (If you want to do a fun Old Testament study, go looking for where we got the 10% donation mandate. It isn’t there. I mean, 10% is there. But it’s crazy. If you want a Biblical mandated % of what we probably should be giving in the New Testament, the only # we see is 100%. If you go backwards through the Old Testament we see 23% and 30% and more even. But I’m digressing on my digression at this point.)

      Let me just say this. Mind blowing thought of the day. I believe the Anti-Christ will actually come from the “church” and that he/she/it will be supported by the world wide church. I 100% believe that now, after watching Jerry Falwell and Franklin Graham bow at the trough of Trump’s power. Want some crazy conspiracy theory reading about how the church is sidestepping Trump’s moral decay? Go search Google for the Cyrus Prophecy and Isaiah 45. It’s just baffling. But I believe Trump will wipe out in the next year. There are too many litigations actively pulling at his attention. He’ll probably declare a national emergency to get something stupid down in an obvious power grab, and I think that will eventually cave his support from the Right. But this little “experiment” shows just how little the Church at large is familiar with the real concepts of what is actually going on in the Bible. First shall be last. The least of these will be great. We must die to self so that we might live… etc etc.

      The thing that convinces me that Christianity is real, is that it isn’t a religion at all. But a relationship with the God of the universe. And that God is calling us to literally live in his upside down kingdom by putting others first, and loving in spite of our desperate, raging desires to get the credit and the adulation we think we deserve. (But do we really deserve it? I mean, really? I think I do… but boy I really don’t.)

      Anyway, thanks for the encouragement. And thanks for the comments. You should keep writing and podcasting on your site. Just keep churning out content. It’ll come. (I mean, I think it will… hasn’t yet for me even! But this little fiefdom seems to be growing at like a 250% a year clip just because I keep churning out content in SPITE of what people think they want to hear! hahaha.)

      (by the way, my dad was a Pentecostal pastor back in the day… I’ve always thought writing about what I saw at a young age would make an interesting book…)

  3. Bumble


    Thank you for a thoughtful and civil dialog. (In this day where political parties are just shouting at each other without any real engagement, this is a fresh scene to see). I was brought here because my church is preaching through the book of Joshua, and some people were objecting to the caricature of God as a Genocidal Monster, raising the movie “Frailty” as a case example.

    What was really helpful from Taylor is that he pointed out our understanding of the Bible (General Revelation) would help us sort out the irregular interpretation (from Special Revelation). Since the movie does not portray the Bible in any way, it seems the movie could be adapted to portray a modern terrorist from another faith and the point would still be made. Therefore, without proper theology, faith can easily be misguided into fanatical actions.

    Since I was wrestling with this issue, a friend pointed me to the easy to read which I found a helpful treatment. May be Anderson might want to check the book out too.


  4. Deb

    So this is the thing: at the end we see the crimes of the victims without editorializing. Now, the challenge is this, do we have an unreliable narrator in Adam? Perhaps. But the story wasn’t told that way. It was told this way: WHAT IF a man was called to exact judgement on people who were so consumed by evil they had become demons? And what if a son who literally couldn’t believe appropriated belief to bridge the gap between him and his father. And killed “real people” to get into his natural father’s good graces.
    What would have made this more interesting would have been a catalog of Fenton’s killings which had no “list” and Adam’s killings which had no record-ie not any of those killings made a blip on any public records. Because they actually WERE demons. Just a thought.

  5. Chris

    My take is they live in a universe where demons are real. Dad was doing God’s work killing three demons. Fenton was a demon but Dad didn’t want to acknowledge the fact. Adam continues Dad’s work killing demons because he also had the perception gift as well. That’ why no one could remember him and the tape was fuzzy. God is protecting his next demon killer, Adam.


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