Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Devil's Playground

Ben and I watched Devil’s Playground the other night, the documentary about Amish kids on Rumspringa. It’s worth seeing, especially if you don’t know anything about the subject – basically, the Amish believe that you have to make the choice to become a Christian on your own, so when their kids turn sixteen they give them the freedom to go out into the “english” world – where most people I know live – and decide for themselves. 90%, apparently, decide to go back to being Amish, so that kind of tells you a lot right there, but I think the film could have gone deeper – basically it just followed the lives of a few kids, but there were still a lot of questions I had.
What was interesting to me was that with only a few exceptions, most of the kids only use it as an opportunity to watch TV, drive, and do a LOT of partying, and the parents seem to be completely aware that after a while of this, most of them will realize it’s kind of just easier to come home. And there are aspects of this that are pretty cool, if you think about it, and the sense of community the Amish have is very strong, but the thing I can’t get down with is the fact that by and large you’re disowned if you decide to go english. That’s kind of a lot of pressure on a so-called “choice”. I think what I’d really like to have seen is much more about either Amish life in general or about the people who do leave; how their spiritual life has changed, what it’s like to be without your family – they touched on it this with one girl who left to go to college, but that was about it – it just seemed way deeper than they showed and that there would have to be some kids who either left or thought about leaving – aspiring artists, or kids with questions about their faith, or with a passion for something besides partying or even wanting to explore things they don’t know about. There was a reality show on a while ago called Amish and the City – and it was only a step up from the Real World in that they mixed the Amish kids in a house with english kids (and waited for hijinks to ensue), but they also introduced the Amish kids to all kinds of new experiences, and although it seemed as though most of them would go back to being Amish, you could see how exciting it was for them to go in the ocean for the first time, or to travel, eat new foods, and in some ways, even though it was like, the WB I think, they showed some things the movie didn’t – that may be because the nature of a reality show starts with a certain contrivance, and that in real reality (oh dear god I hope that’s not what it’s going to be called now) kids don’t go that far from home, and do kind of limit it to partying a lot. But to me, I just thought, well, if that’s the case, I’d rather see an entire movie about one very interesting Amish kid making that decision.


kfoz said...

I grew up surrounded my Amish, and I was interested in seeing this film, because I had never heard of this practice of going out into the world and then making a choice of where you belong. The film disappointed me, because it seemed to focus exclusively on kids who chose to do drugs--if I remember correctly, one is a real speed freak by the end--and this seemed to distract the filmmakers from doing more on the actual Amish, which is what would interest me. I can see speed freaks anytime I want, so I don't need a film about them.

hutchie said...

southwest michigan is lousy with amish. they're all over the place around here. it's a fascinating culture. one i admire greatly, in some ways. our friends simon and dan's grandparents were excommunicated. they said true amish won't eat food prepared by english hands.

to me the weirdest scene in that movie is the huge party the kids throw on the farm while the parents are inside pretending to ignore it.

Betsy said...

Exactly my thoughts, Ken. And yes, it's easy to admire certain aspects of the culture Anne, I think so many of us "english" don't have that sense of community. I feel like I do now, but I didn't always.

DAM said...

Huh, I also never knew/heard about the 16-year-old "year of choice." Where do these kids live during the course of making their decision, which, as Betsy said, doesn't seem like a decision at all? The experience of the kids in the film sounds like an extended spring break in which they are exposed to a very narrow view and experience of the world. It's no wonder that they tire of it. Even english kids tire of all the partying at some point.

It's certainly not my place to judge how a community behaves/believes, but what choice is there really when a "choosing teen" knows that if they fail to return, they fail to have a family. They are thrust into a world in which they are not entirely familiar and need to establish familial connections.

The kids in the documentaries I've seen surely mourn the loss of family and community, but embrace the secular world, while continuing their religious practices. (Not all, but many.) A difficult decision for sure. A courageous decision. One that no person should have to make.

Nancy Miller said...

As I am one of those ex-Amish kids (meaning I left that way of life,) I can tell you the movie was very accurate and although you wanted them to go deeper,I don't think that's possible because the Elders don't want to be video taped or have pictures taken of them they are extremely private people. I used to so resent the stares and whispers, but now I realize I was dressed differently therefore I had to realize people are naturaly curious.