Heart of the Beholder is based on the true story of Mike and Diane Howard, video storeowners in St. Louis in the 1980’s. All is going along well for them until 1988 when The Last Temptation of Christ is released. The Howard’s refuse to pull the video from their shelves, and are targeted for financial ruin by a fanatical religious group, the Citizens For Decency. The group has blackmailed the Prosecuting Attorney to file obscenity charges against the Howard’s for carrying X-rated videos, a move supremely ironic since the Prosecuting Attorney frequents prostitutes. The case is taken to trial, but that is not the end of the difficulties for the Howard’s. Mike becomes very depressed and nearly throws his life away before bouncing back and strategizing a way to bring down the Prosecuting Attorney.
Early on in the film, a comment is made that not all Christians are like these fanatical groups who bomb family planning clinics and ban books. And that is important to remember. However, groups like the Citizens For Decency are still very vocal in their attempts to regulate other people’s lives, often in extreme and violent ways. Their members are damaged, vulnerable people who have found their way into the group, desperate to have a place to belong.
One such person depicted in this film was played by Silas Weir Mitchell as Lester, a mentally ill man easily influenced to commit crimes ranging from arson to intimidation and near kidnapping of a child. I recognized Mr. Mitchell from his playing an equally psycho young man in last season’s hit sitcom My Name is Earl, and his performance is outstanding.
This story is so incredible, I wondered how much was cooked up to make the story thrilling in a Hollywood storytelling way, and how much was truly factual. I found myself shaking my head in disbelief, such as when the movie Splash is presented as a target for banning, because their “rationale” was so ridiculous. But those who ban books and films are not rational. Since I am a lover of story and film and its potential to enlighten, educate and entertain, I feel that we should all protest censorship. It is up to individuals to decide, based on reviews such as mine, whether a film is something they want to watch or not, and leave everyone else to decide for themselves as well.
Heart of the Beholder is an entertaining and engrossing film. I liked the opening sequences as we follow the mighty Mississippi to its banks in St. Louis, but it soon has a made-for-TV movie feel to it. It is still worth renting or buying the DVD as this is a fascinating story that echoes the present as extremist groups still attempt to regulate how people should think and behave in our country today.