February 8, 2015

The Overnighters

Jesse Moss, 2014
Williston is a town of 20,000 that is at the center of the North Dakota oil boom. The area has been enjoying an enormous amount of economic growth due to the discovery of the Parshall oil field in 2006. The boom has given the state of North Dakota the largest unemployment rate in the United States and has also helped the state maintain a billion dollar budget surplus. And because of this, people are flocking to the state for job opportunities in the energy sector as they hear of people getting hired on the spot and some getting six figure salaries. People who have failed with other ventures in other states look to North Dakota as a second chance. Pastor Jay Reinke is one a harbinger of second chances. There aren't many people like him. He has an ability to look past people’s faults, their mistakes, past crimes. He is a pure Christian, willing to open the doors of his church to provide shelter to the homeless who have arrived in droves. 

The film is an honest look at a piece of the American experience. It’s a film that puts things in perspective, makes you grateful for the roof over your head. These people are not just running from their past. They are attempting to recreate a different future, and they struggle to do it without the Pastor’s help. Some of them are true bottom-dwellers of society. The gravel, litter-riddled parking lot providing space for them to sleep in their car is an upgrade from the status quo. 

The film is also very conflicting at times. Pastor Jay lets everyone into his Church and personal home. This includes sex offenders. Most people, including myself, would draw the line there. But he looks at sin on an objective, more universal scale. He makes statements along the lines of us all being sinners. He doesn't discriminate the differences of them. That is probably the most conflicting part of Pastor Jay. The townspeople, his long-time veteran congregation members, they are all against him opening his doors to the sex offenders. You get a sense that if he himself drew the line there, he would be able to maintain some type of compromise with the city and would be able to continue to provide shelter to the other people who are needy. But he can’t. He digs his heels in deeper when he encounters adversity. The community turns their back, the congregation dissolves. And what is he left with? Nothing but his principles. You have to wonder if that’s worth it. Because of him NOT drawing that particular line, not budging, everybody who was relying on his support ultimately suffers. Is it worth losing everyone because of the stubborn act of not turning away a few? Besides, Jay can't save them all anyway. You see some people work their way through the church system and come out the other side. You see them gain employment and attempt to move on to the next chapter. But then there are people like Alan who create a facade of a success story, only to completely unravel into the same old dirtbag as soon as he is challenged about his past. It's a really interesting look at a portion of the North Dakota population of the North Dakota during a rather unique period in American History. There are clearly a lot of success stories coming out of the state, but there are also a lot of failures as we see here.

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