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In Theaters


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Adam R. Holz

Movie Review

Millions of reality TV fans made A&E’s Duck Dynasty a surprise hit from 2012 to 2017. Now, The Blind tells the story of this famous clan’s bearded patriarch, Phil Robertson. And while many may know of Phil’s tenaciously outspoken faith now, they may not know the hard and twisting road he walked before surrendering—and that is the right word here—to Jesus.

This biopic (distributed theatrically by Fathom Events and scheduled to screen from Sept. 28 to Oct. 10) unpacks Phil’s story from his childhood through 1985.

Over the course of a long day of duck hunting, Phil relates his story to a friend who wants to know what changed for this man who was once ruled by his thirst for the bottle and the rage it ignited within him.

Flashbacks tell Phil’s story. And that story, almost from the very beginning, is tightly interwoven with the story of Kay Carroway’s—or Miss Kay as almost everyone called her. Kay and Phil grew up hardly a mile apart in Vivian, Louisiana. But whereas Kay’s family was relatively wealthy, Phil’s could hardly have been more poor. His father worked in the state’s oil fields. Meanwhile, his mother was in and out of mental institutions, often leaving Phil to act as a surrogate parent to his brother, Si, and his two sisters, Jan and Judith.

The swampy woods around the Robertson’s impoverished shack of a home offered young Phil an escape from the clamor, the hunger, the unknown future from day to day. “I could get lost in them,” Phil narrates. “They were my refuge. But sooner or later, the real world comes knocking.”

Phil and Kay found each other in childhood, with Kay embodying a kind of mercy and wholesome goodness that she’d need to survive the storm that was to come.

The pair married while Kay was just a junior in high school (where she soon became pregnant). In fact, Phil left a scholarship at Louisiana Tech to care for his young wife. Oh, and to hunt, of course.

For a time, it seemed as if the determined couple would rise above Phil’s humble roots. And when his friend Al gets him a teaching job in Arkansas, the future seems bright for the growing Robertson clan.

But Al—Big Al, as he’s known by everyone—proves a destructive influence, tempting young Phil to embrace the bottle, smoking and a reckless life that will leave soon threaten to destroy not only Phil, but his marriage and children as well.

Positive Elements

The Blind is, ostensibly, Phil Robertson’s story. His testimony, really. But the real hero of this story is Miss Kay. Her innocent belief in the power of love is sorely tested by her husband’s addiction to alcohol, his abusive rage and his emotional abandonment of his bride. Kay Robertson does not make it through unscathed during the decade of Phil’s descent into slavery to the bottle, as we’ll see. But her love for her husband, and her willingness to fight for their marriage, is a beacon of light in this film.

In a fit of drunken anger, Phil tells Kay to leave him and to take their three children (Jase, Alan and Willie) with her. She does so, taking refuge with Phil’s sister Jan, a woman of devout faith and compassion. Jan proves a stabilizing force and helps Kay in her darkest moment. Her encouragement paves the way for Kay to get involved in her church (which offers her a house live in), to get a job and to provide for her three children.

By the time Phil begins to journey out of addiction, Kay’s established a new life. Some part of her wants to give her husband a chance, but she also intuitively seems to realize that Phil still has work to do before that’s even remotely a possibility.

Spiritual Elements

The Blind’s title references a duck blind, of course. But it quite probably has another meaning, too: a reference to those who are spiritually blind.

Phil most certainly is that. Haunted by his father’s absence, his mother’s mental instability, his increasing addiction to alcohol and his deep sense of shame, Phil does indeed wander as a spiritually blind man through much of this film.

There’s a great deal of spiritual content here, of course, as various characters (most notably Jan and Pastor Bill Smith) try to break through to Phil. When Phil’s friend asks him how he changed his life, Phil responds bluntly, “I didn’t do it. Only God can pull off a move like that.” He realized he had to “stop always making it only about me.”

And even though Phil repeatedly says he needs Kay to stop nagging, to give him his “freedom,” in the end he realizes his determination to live life on his own terms was killing him and poisoning everyone around him. “Funny thing is, once I gave it up, that’s when I got it all back. Everything I’ve been chasing all these years. Funny how that works. How you gotta come to the end of yourself to find the beginning of God.”

Elsewhere, after Phil kicks Kay out of the house, Jan tells Kay a message a preacher once delivered to her. “At some point in our lives, we are all going to feel desperately alone, like we are the only soul in the entire world. And that that would be the most important moment in our entire lives, because we realize that with Jesus, we ain’t never alone.”

In those dark days, Kay says of Phil’s drinking and violence, “He becomes the devil, Si. I’ve seen it in his eyes. But it ain’t him. You know that ain’t your brother.” Likewise, at one point Phil himself sees his dirty, disheveled visage reflected in a lake and also later tells Kay that he saw the devil there.

Phil eventually surrenders his life to Jesus, ceasing his running and his drinking and his raging, dying to himself to be born again into a story that only gets bigger after the events of this film.

Sexual Content

As high schoolers, Phil and Kay kiss. We then see them in a car making out, which prompts Kay to wonder, wisely, “Think it’s right we’re doing this, and we ain’t married?” A wedding ceremony of sorts (it seems it’s just the two kids committing privately to each other on their own) soon follows.

We see some other kisses and tender embraces between the couple once they’re married. It’s clear early on that Kay adores Phil, and her deep affection for him is expressed in longing looks and tender touches—a beautiful picture of the joy a young married couple may share.

Under Big Al’s “tutelage,” Phil begins partying more, and Al introduces him to other women. It’s never completely clear whether Phil is unfaithful in this season, but it certainly seems that his affection is drifting dangerously away from his faithful wife—a drift she feels very keenly.

We see Phil shirtless a couple of times, usually in scenes where that image reinforces how poor and hungry he is.

Violent Content

The most disturbing moments of violence in the film come when Phil, who’s drunk, physically mistreats Kay. In one scene, he shoves her in anger, and she flies into a refrigerator, hits her head and crumples to the floor. Other times, he slams his fists angrily on the wall beside her head. Another scene, he holds her in place and yells at her while she tries to tell Phil that he’s hurting her arms.

We see someone driving drunk, which results in a nasty accident.

Ducks, as you might have suspected, fall to Phil and his family’s shotguns. We see several being carried. (It’s also emphasized that early on, Phil hunted not for sport, but to help his family survive.)

There’s mention of someone dying unexpectedly.

[Spoiler Warning] At her lowest point, Kay comes perilously close to giving into the temptation to take her life—a fate she avoids largely due to Jan’s intervention and encouragement.

Crude or Profane Language

The Blind isn’t excessive in its gritty content. But there is some dialogue that definitely hints at various characters’ rough moral edges. We hear three profane uses of “h—,” as well as multiple variants of phrases like “went through hell” and “gone to hell” that could be heard profanely or as a dark spiritual reference. Also in that territory is one use of “hellbent.”

There’s one harsh s-word, uttered by Big Al. We also hear one use of “d–n” and one use each of the exclamations “Good Lord!” and “Oh, Lord.” We hear a smattering of lighter interjections such as “shoot” and “dang.”

Drug and Alcohol Content

Big Al plays an incredibly destructive role in Phil’s life, pressuring him into drinking and smoking. Many scenes here depict both of those things. And it’s the drinking, as noted above, that increasingly tightens its addictive grip on Phil’s life as the story progresses. We see him drinking beer, shots and moonshine, initially with Al and the “boys,” but increasingly by himself, too. As noted, that drunkenness plays a key role in awakening a wild, violent and angry side of Phil which puts his wife and family at risk. Indeed at one point when he encounters his children after a long separation, they’re afraid of him.

Alcohol and driving mingle more than once, with predictably bad results.

We hear (and briefly see) that both of Kay’s parents were drinkers, too, and that her mom’s alcohol consumption increased as she got older.

All in all, there’s a lot of drinking depicted here, but it’s never glamorized and the outcomes are consistently bad.

Other Negative Elements

Phil eventually comes to his senses and realizes how destructively self-centered he’s been. But his incredibly callous and self-centered behavior toward Kay, especially, is truly painful to watch at times.


The Blind delivers a classic story of redemption. A lost and broken boy becomes an even more lost and broken man en route to a dark fate only Jesus can rescue him from.

I don’t think it’s too big of a spoiler to say that Jesus does rescue Phil Robertson from himself—from his alcoholism, from his shame, from his explosive outbursts of violent rage.

As I mentioned above, at times it’s brutally hard to watch this man’s self-destruction. He collapses into his soul, medicating the journey down with liquor, seemingly powerless to stop the damage from consuming his marriage and family. It’s harrowing stuff.

But God …

God’s pursuit of Phil is relentless here, whether through his wife, his sister or an incredibly patient pastor. And in time, those influences and that pursuit break through Phil’s hard, often inebriated heart.

Watching the film, I didn’t feel like there was anything gratuitous here. That said, it doesn’t flinch from depicting Phil Robertson’s demons. He (and others) drink and get visibly drunk in many scenes. The specter of suicide is hinted at in one powerful scene. A handful of profanities (including one fairly harsh one) give the story a realistic feel, but they may be a bit more realism than some will want to deal with.

Still, depicting a story of deep brokenness without actually showing some of that brokenness is tricky business. I feel the story accomplishes that admirably and never glories in being “edgy” for edgy’s sake alone.

And in the end what’s more clear than anything is God’s power to redeem, to repair and to restore a man bent by sin.

It’s a story that hardcore Duck Dynasty fans will likely love. But it’s a story of forgiveness and redemption that has the power to connect with an audience broader than that one.

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Adam R. Holz

After serving as an associate editor at NavPress’ Discipleship Journal and consulting editor for Current Thoughts and Trends, Adam now oversees the editing and publishing of Plugged In’s reviews as the site’s director. He and his wife, Jennifer, have three children. In their free time, the Holzes enjoy playing games, a variety of musical instruments, swimming and … watching movies.