The bracing Licensed to Kill reveals the minds of hate criminals

As in his earlier Coming Out Under Fire -- about the long history of gays and lesbians in the American military -- Dong shows himself expert at editing and organizing his material for maximum interest. It's a judgment call whether his broad strategy here is successful or not; by including such a range of murderers, he denies us the luxury of simplification and resolution. The more you wish he'd point a finger at the single biggest cause of gay-bashing, the less willing he seems to do so.

Because of the backgrounds of most of the men, he inevitably returns several times to the role of religion -- and of Christian churches in particular -- in creating a climate of hatred and intolerance. He quotes Leviticus 20:13, which, at least in my Revised Standard Version of King James, seems unambiguous in its denunciation of male homosexuality: "If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall be put to death, their blood is upon them," God informs Moses. To be fair, in that same paragraph, God, who is hardly a gentle shepherd here, also commands death as the penalty for so many actions -- sleeping with your neighbor's wife, sleeping with your stepmother, cursing your mother or father, sleeping with your daughter-in-law, and, of course, the ever-popular trafficking with Moloch, among others -- that 90 percent of the world, including many clergymen, would be hanging from gibbets if a literal reading were consistently applied.

Of course, there have been numerous scholarly challenges to the translators' word choices and readings of context. But these, while valuable, seem merely a way to bring us to some "correct" reading of the Bible instead of, more logically, challenging the very notion of its absolute holiness. Dong basically opens the door to the vast subject of religion's role in forming reactionary social attitudes without following through on it. Of course, that's more than he can shoehorn into this particular movie, but it would make a damned good topic for his next one.

Licensed to Kill.
Directed by Arthur Dong.
80 minutes.

Showing 7:30 p.m. Friday, October 10 and 7:30 p.m. Friday, October 17 at the Museum of Fine Arts, 1001 Bissonnet. Dong will appear in person October 10.

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