Review by Sean Boelman
Taking its title from the Bible verse Luke 23:34, For They Know Not What They Do is a timely new documentary and a harsh yet honest indictment of the religious community. An examination of the hypocrisies of a community that supposedly professes love and compassion, this film offers a stark reminder of both the darkness and the potential of humanity.
The movie takes a look at four conservative and faith-based families who have come to terms with their children’s LGBTQ identities, exploring the relationship between religion and self-expression. Perhaps the most interesting thing about the film is its depiction of personal growth and how open-mindedness and empathy can lead to someone becoming a better and more understanding person.
There are two stories in the movie that are dominant, and they have the most emotional impact because they are undeniably heartbreaking. A story involving a young man who is a survivor of the Pulse tragedy that happened four years ago in Orlando, Florida is moving and provides an emotional portrait of how a lack of support can be both physically and emotionally hurtful to the LGBTQ community.
Another portion of the film tells the story of a gay man who, filled with self-hatred and without anyone to help him, was driven to drugs and formed a dangerous addiction. This segment is told from the perspective of the parents and offers what is likely the most powerful message to be gained out of the entire movie.
The remaining two segments are mostly uplifting, about people who found success despite facing opposition after coming out as transgender, but with a runtime of only an hour and a half, filmmaker Daniel G. Karslake spends these a bit less time on these in favor of the more hard-hitting stories.
Karslake weaves between these storylines in a way that is entirely effective and impactful. The transitions between the different segments and the supplementary material feel natural, emphasizing the thematic connections that tie them together rather than arbitrarily cutting them at convenient times.
A majority of the film is told through interviews, and that allows it to have a very personal feel to it. By letting these people tell their own stories in their own way, Karslake focuses on the emotion they express. It wasn’t rare to see an interviewee burst into tears, and it has quite the emotional pang.
For They Know Not What They Do has great potential for an educational tool against the hate and lack of compassion that is sadly rampant in American society today. It may not be an easy watch, but it’s a necessary one.
For They Know Not What They Do is now screening online in partnership with indie theaters. A list of participating locations can be found here.