This past weekend was an interesting one, at least for me personally. The Catholic Church celebrated its birthday, which we trace to that first Pentecost. After Jesus’ Ascension, the Disciples, along with Mary, were in the upper room when God poured out His Spirit upon them. This was manifested by tongues of fire that rested on their heads, and they spoke in prophetic languages. From that point on, the Church became a missionary institution, charged from on high with spreading the Good News. For this Catholic, it is one of my favorite holy days we celebrate. As one who takes part in Charismatic worship, it takes on added importance. The Charismatic group that I am a part of always has a Spirit filled gathering around this day, a time of renewal. That was the big event for me this weekend. As a film reviewer, I also planned a trip to the theater. I almost saw Dream Horse on Friday night, though while standing in line to get my ticket I had a change of heart. The Spirit does work in mysterious ways. Nothing against Dream Horse, but something told me that Profile (2018) is the movie I should see. I am glad I did, and I did so right before meeting up with my Charismatic friends.
In Profile, Amy Whitaker (Valene Kane) is a young reporter living in London. We see her hard at work on her computer, and most of the shots are just her researching things on the internet. One of the big stories she is tracking is how hundreds of European women are leaving the West and joining the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) and other Islamic extremist groups. Her desire is to figure out why this is happening, and she pitches this idea to her boss, Vick (Christine Adams), at the media outlet for which she is employed. In order to obtain the information she seeks, she decides to create a fake social media profile based on what she had found other women do who had transitioned to the Middle East. She also did some digging on how she should dress and the various things she should put on her account, all with the intent of getting the attention of an ISIS recruiter. Once she is contacted by a young ISIS fighter in Syria going by Abu Bilel Al-Briani (Shazad Latif), she receives additional help from a Syrian co-worker named Lou (Amir Rahimzadeh) as to how to specifically act. Given the interest Vick shows in the story, and the potential for a promotion, Amy gives herself over to her character, Melody Nelson, while she is speaking to Bilel. During her conversations Bilel, she is the hijab wearing Melody Nelson, giving in to his advances just so much as she can to continue to build trust and gain the information she is seeking. When dealing with the rest of the world she is Amy Whitaker, involving the decision to move in with her boyfriend Matthew (Morgan Watkins), smoking weed to calm her anxiety over interacting with a terrorist, and trying to get advice from her friend Kathy (Emma Cater). Everything else in her life is presented as basically a distraction, and she becomes increasingly engrossed in her alter-ego. Though Bilel is clearly involved in extremist violence that she does not care for, Amy also is shown a sensitive side to the ISIS member that results in her developing feelings for him. One day they are talking when he undergoes an attack and it appears as if he dies in an explosion. Believing he is dead, Amy is snapped back to reality and begins trying to move on with her life. However, a few days later she gets a call from Bilel, and it happens to be at the moment that Matthew is arriving at her place. When she suddenly kicks Matthew out, he decides to break up with Amy. Vick is also concerned with Amy, and decides to pull the story. With seemingly no other options, she decides to go to Turkey to meet Bilel. It is hinted that this could be what saves the story, but with everything else falling apart in her life it could be that she earnestly desires to be with Bilel. However, part way through her trip she discovers that her recruitment is actually part of a sex slave trade. Unfortunately, in their last conversation Bilel also sees her real name. When Amy returns to London instead of traveling on, he sends her a fatwa (basically a solemn Islamic declaration) calling for her to be killed, particularly if she publishes her story. The film ends with her making the decision to go ahead with it anyway, though it results in her having to change her name and address.
For those of us who have had over a year of Zoom meetings and other such interactions, Profile might be a difficult film to watch. It is intense for other reasons, but Zoom fatigue is real. The whole movie is shot from the perspective of Amy on her computer. For all but two scenes she is in her London flat, and everyone with which she interacts is through Skype or FaceTime. For those tired of seeing such things before our eyes, this could be tiresome. However, the film did an excellent job of building the tension of a person leading a double life. I hope this does not lead to other like-filmed movies, but it works particularly well with this one.
As I mentioned in my opening paragraph, I was glad I chose Profile. There is an interesting line that Bilel says early on in his exchanges with Amy that spoke to my experiences with my Faith. He tells her that he loves converts because they often make the most Faithful people. As much as I do not want to give credit to a terrorist, even a cinematic one, he is correct. Every Easter Vigil sees new people come into the Church, and the joy they feel is palpable. However, the fact that he said something so prescient is also worrisome. Too often we tend to conflate those who earnestly practice Christianity with Muslim extremists. There seems to be a silly comparison to Christians seeking converts and the passion with which they preach to the actions of terrorist groups. To be fair, there have been some truly awful things done wrongly in the name of Christ. But the overriding message of the Bible is love, and that guides most of what our leaders say. I can confidently say that about Pope Francis, anyway. Still, the fact remains that there is a growing emptiness in Western culture that is referenced in the film. Amy adopts the language of one of the teens she researched as to why she decided to convert to Islam and travel to the Middle East. She mentions how she grew up Christian, but then witnesses her friends that had the same upbringing turn to drugs and partying. Meanwhile, this Faith that seemingly had all the answers, that her parents probably told her was right and true, seemingly did nothing to address what she was seeing. Hence she latched onto what was the first, most seemingly pure thing she could find. She does this because our souls long for the Divine, and the Divine is not found in the proliferation of trivial pursuits our society is constantly inventing. Some of these are benign, but others are actually quite damaging. While you may find a few exceptions, ask former adult film stars what that life is like and you will not get too many positive responses. Yet, we are more consistently told that there is nothing wrong with such things. When certain Christian leaders do address them, sometimes it comes off as condemning, and instead it pushes people even further away than intended. All these things can be inferred from watching Amy’s life unfold as she gathers information for her story. She does not want to be involved with Bilel, and yet he offers something more real than anything else in her life. It is awful, misleading packaging, but it seems more substantive. You can deny God’s existence all you want. I understand. But He is more real than any of us, including myself, more than we will ever truly comprehend, and He will always believe in you and love you. You do not need to lash out at the world, like Bilel and people like him.
I had been thinking about Profile all weekend, and I hope this review does justice not only to an important film, but my thoughts on the subject. In some respects, the actions of people like Bilel and earnest Catholics like myself and my Charismatic friends are two sides of the same coin. We both desire to affect change in the world, we simply go about it in vastly different ways. My weapons are not AK-47s but prayers. I hope people see this movie and understand that there is a different way to bring about positive things in our community. It takes bravery, such as Amy had when she decided to go ahead with the story despite the threat to her life. It is rated R, and therefore not one to show the whole family. But it gets my recommendation nonetheless.
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