While seated comfortably behind his study desk in his rural American home, Doug Rawlins enthusiastically blogs about his faith. He gets some flak from certain quarters of the internet that don’t want anyone to speak about Christian beliefs, of course. But he’s gained quite a few followers, too.
In fact, he’s gained so much attention that he’s been invited to be a minor speaker at a conference about faith and learning at the University of Cairo. Let’s face it, being invited to a place considered to be Islam’s “seat of learning” is a pretty lofty opportunity for some little software developer with a blog. It’s kind of incredible, really.
But while seated in front of a camera on an Egyptian television show that reaches a massive Muslim audience, Doug is feeling … less enthusiastic. It’s not that he doesn’t want to be there with the show’s host—a man he’s come to highly respect—but Doug can’t help but hear his wife Liz’s voice echo in his mind.
“Don’t preach!” she told Doug. Working for the State Department has definitely driven home the fact that the last thing her husband should do while in the Middle East is to start spouting off about his Christian faith.
As the TV program goes on, however, there is a point that Doug could have almost predicted might happen: The Muslim host begins talking about Jesus. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but Doug finds himself in a quandary. Should he simply agree that Jesus was a valued teacher, a man who God used to bring wisdom to the world? Or should he profess his true belief that Jesus was none other than the son of God?
Should he talk of God’s saving grace through Christ? Is there really a middle ground to take without feeling like he’s betraying his own faith? Can he stay silent without betraying God, who freely gives all a chance at redemption and new life?
As the Muslim audience gasps, and Doug’s heart pounds, he realizes the choice he’s made and the things he’s said.
After that, the TV show that normally reaches tens of thousands in Egypt goes viral online, and it sets the whole Muslim world buzzing about an American preaching Jesus in the heart of the Middle East.
When the Hezbollah strongmen soon break into his hotel room, beat him, bind him, wrap him up in a rug and throw him in the back of a delivery van, Doug fully realizes the consequences of that fateful moment’s choice. And it’s only the beginning of what will unfold in painful ways for a small software designer with a medium-sized Christian blog. Doug Rawlins, an American blogger who writes about faith, will soon learn what faith is really all about.
Liz pleads for the State Department to work to get her husband freed. When that fails, she flies to Iran herself after getting word that Doug has been taken there. There, she repeatedly puts herself in harm’s way, trying to gain his freedom.
An underground group of Christians in Iran help Liz on several occasions. Doug pleads with her to get away from the threat of Hezbollah and the Iranian government as soon as possible, even if that means leaving him to a certain death.
[Spoiler Warning] Eventually Liz meets some Israeli Mossad operatives who risk their own lives in a rescue attempt.
The film presents a clear contrast between Christian faith and Islamic extremism. On one side, Doug chooses to talk openly about God’s salvation through faith in Jesus. And he stands by his declaration of faith to the point of being tortured and thrust before a firing squad.
In the midst of his torment he calls out to God. At his lowest point, he asks, “Where are You?” In addition, a small, underground group of Christian believers also reach out to help Liz as she flounders. They comfort her, praying for Liz and risking their lives on Doug’s behalf, too. When Liz visits their in-home meeting area where they gather as a church, we see a cross hanging on the wall.
On the other side of the scale, however, the Islamic extremists here are depicted as being driven only by a heavy-handed desire to quash anything that opposes their belief system. They lie, torture and kill to reach their goals and demand that Doug accept Allah’s word or die. “We aren’t afraid to die,” a Hezbollah thug named Ramzi declares. “That’s why we’re going to win!”
That’s not to say however, that all of the Muslim characters here are painted with that same extremist brush. Several Muslim men put their own lives on the line to do what is just and right, and they openly speak out against what they see as injustice.
State Department officials don’t want anything to do with Doug’s case for fear of looking prejudiced against Islam. And a Muslim’s lawyer screams “Islamophobia,” even though her client is caught with terrorist recruitment pamphlets and films of beheadings.
We find out that Liz turned away from her faith after losing a child in a car accident. Doug holds the hand of a dying man in a moment of Christian compassion, ignoring the turmoil around him so that the wounded man won’t die alone.
A young Muslim-American girl wears a cleavage-baring dress. And while in Iran, Liz steps out of the shower wrapped in a towel and is confronted by a group of strange men waiting in her room. They approach threateningly and grab her, and we sense that the moment could become sexually violent, before one of them demands that she get dressed.
This film can be disturbingly difficult to witness at times as Doug is beaten over and over. Sometimes he’s pummeled and kicked by several large men, or bound and thrown violently into the back of various vehicles; other times he’s manhandled and has his head bashed repeatedly on a table. Once, Doug is strung up by his arms and beaten viciously with clubs. There are times when his face is just a mass of swollen flesh and oozing cuts and other times when he’s simply bruised and scabbed over. At one point the Hezbollah thugs drag him out before a firing squad.
Doug isn’t killed, but many others are. We see men and women gunned down. Some are left lying in a pool of their own blood. Bullet wounds seep gore. Several men are caught in the blast of a grenade. And the camera looks closely at one dying man who is badly burned and bloody from the explosion.
A man lays out a tarp and a variety of tools in a secret room and then moves to torture his daughter, who is bound and gagged in the corner of the room. The camera cuts away before we see what he does, but it’s later implied that he tortured her to death because of the dishonor she brought upon her family.
Doug is shown a video (outside our view) of a man being tortured with electric probes. We hear the man screaming in torment. Doug’s captor threatens to do the same thing to his testicles, and he pulls out a large drill to attack the Doug’s knees (but stops before actually cutting flesh).
Liz is physically threatened on a couple occasions, too. But other than being manhandled and pushed around, she escapes any serious physical harm. We see several car chase scenes that include high-caliber gun battles. At one point, a van Liz is riding in gets hit by a truck-like vehicle. In flashback, we see Liz in a car accident. She’s pregnant, unconscious and bloodied.
More than 20 f-words and a dozen s-words are joined by multiple uses of “d–n,” “h—” and “a–hole.” God’s name is misused three times.
Men smoke cigarettes and cigars throughout the film. And we see several different people, including Liz, drinking large glasses of alcohol.
“We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed”(2 Corinthians 4:8-9).
The Bible talks repeatedly about Christians, at some point in their lives, having their faith tested. That can come in many forms, of course, but that testing is precisely what Infidel—a well-acted film based on a true story—is all about.
A man musters up his courage and speaks about the saving grace of Jesus in the Middle East, then is imprisoned, beaten, and tortured by those trying to force him to publicly renounce that belief.
Without question, then, this is a movie about spiritual obedience, godly devotion and renewed faith. But it’s far from your typically comfy faith-focused offering. Instead, Infidel weaves in elements of enduring agony, loving desperation, governmental impotence and daring rescue. It’s tense, honest, disquieting, profusely profane, and at times bloody and painful.
Ultimately, Infidel reminds us that faith in the face of real-world persecution isn’t always a comfortable thing to watch, even when it’s depicted in a deeply inspiring story.
After spending more than two decades touring, directing, writing and producing for Christian theater and radio (most recently for Adventures in Odyssey, which he still contributes to), Bob joined the Plugged In staff to help us focus more heavily on video games. He is also one of our primary movie reviewers.