Fish Out of Water
The author A.J. Jacobs wrote a book, The Year of Living Biblically, about the year he lived to the letter of the Bible in every way. He did it just to see how society has changed since it was written. He also wanted to look at how those who cherry pick the Bible for their own ends—while ignoring the more ridiculous concepts—might view a man who throws stones at adulterers but refuses to shave, be near his wife within a week of her period or wear clothing of mixed fabrics, etc. He wanted to avoid being glib. (He failed; the book is entertaining, but smarmy.) He also wanted to avoid being condescending to those who are religious and use the Bible as a moral guideline, rather than as a way to justify hatred.
Ky Dickens’ documentary, Fish Out of Water, tries something similar. It looks at what the Bible actually says about homosexuality, instead of the broader ways it is interpreted. It’s a perfectly valid idea for a documentary. Unfortunately, it’s already been done, but better, by Daniel Karslake’s For the Bible Tells Me So.
Karslake’s film is sloppy, but passionate. So Dickens goes for the Michael Moore route of throwing goofy, glib animation to outline her points—intercut with impassioned input from those from the LGBTQ (Q?) community who have had their sexual orientation used against them.
This approach should be a slam dunk; Dickens (who narrates Fish Out of Water) even stacks the deck by throwing in cartoonish hate monger Fred Phelps as an opponent to gay marriage. But the appeals to human decency have little to do with the deconstruction of the Bible. No matter what the talking heads offer (one unintentionally funny scene features a young man talking about how wonderful his boyfriend is, while the boyfriend stands there looking miserable), it is irrelevant to the debate at hand and plays like filler for an already short 60 minute movie.
Despite the padding, Fish Out of Water is in a great hurry and rushes through its individual points. “Man shall not lie with another man” is actually a verse about property, because women were considered property to their husbands. Next up, church leaders are afraid of rocking the boat by looking at the Bible in terms of its current context. Next up…
Dickens doesn’t even play fair. She pits people like fire-breathing Phelps against college professors and open-minded religious types. That Fish Out of Water is so cheap looking and redundant is not an excuse, as most of the budget was clearly thrown at the animated sequences. As Dickens used the animations as scene transitions, she probably thought they were cute and energetic. But the reality is, the red-brown background and circular motion make the segues look like swirling, pulsating, bloody poop. And here I was about to say what a waste of time the movie is.