He drives into Bevel, Texas, late one night—a disheveled man in a disheveled van. A boy, about 12, sees him.
“You lost?” the boy says.
“I’m looking for the church,” the man says, and the boy points the way. When the man arrives, a woman in a pink robe steps out of the house next door.
The man introduces himself as David Martin. He’s the town’s new preacher, he says.
The woman—Celia—welcomes him without a smile and shows him where he’ll be staying; a small, sparsely furnished room with a twin bed and tiny bathroom adjacent. She advises him to bring his stuff inside. “It’s not safe here at night,” he says.
He lies down on the bed and shuts his eyes. “I just want to sleep,” he says.
The next morning, the van’s wheels are gone, and its windows are broken. All the boxes and bags in back—the files, the pictures, the empty wine bottles—are gone. Someone’s taken everything that David Martin owns.
Or, we should say, stole himself.
But the real David Martin—the reverend buried in an all-too-shallow hole in a nearby quarry—doesn’t need it anymore.
“I am a religious man,” the real David Martin tells the stranger. A cross hangs from his rearview mirror. He has a certificate in the back of his van that proves he’s a pastor. While he has veered from the path of righteousness (as we’ll get to later), David still believes in God and His power to heal. And when he pulls off into the quarry for a bit, he tells the stranger that the man should confess his sins.
“There’s power in confession,” the reverend says.
“I don’t believe in your religion,” the stranger tells him.
“Religion has nothing to do with it,” David says, but continues to insist that it’s the first step toward redemption and salvation, that whatever he’s done can be wiped clean. “I want you to give yourself to God,” he adds. That leads to a confrontation that culminates in David’s death.
When the stranger subsequently arrives at the church, he knows nothing about his new vocation, so he starts reading the dead man’s Bible—beginning with 1 Timothy. He has no theological or even religious background to add to the text, so he simply reads its first chapter to his sparse flock—allowing the sole English-speaking congregant to translate to the rest of the faithful.
“Jesus Christ came into this world to save sinners, of which I am chief,” the stranger says. He reads Paul’s words about being a “blasphemer, and a persecutor and a violent man,” feeling the weight of the words upon him.
And so the stranger’s pastorship begins. He reads from the Bible and adds little. He carries himself with unsmiling, deep humility, acutely aware that he is a chief sinner. People begin to notice that he’s different from most ministers they’ve met. “I’ve known a few preachers in my day,” Celia says. “You’re not like any of them.” And as he preaches—without condemnation, some remark—his flock steadily grows. Someone even stands up in church and confesses that she is “dirt” and feels like she’s beyond saving, but later asks the stranger to baptize her. And, in a lovely riverside ceremony, he does.
The Quarry is, at its heart, a deeply religious story: We see spiritual vestments and spend a lot of time inside a tiny church (one that doubles as the locale for a circuit court, too). People talk about religious matters quite a bit. People sing hymns, sometimes to themselves. We hear lots and lots of biblical passages (most of which come with a double meaning, and a few interpretations that might be controversial).
Celia smokes a cigarette with one hand while holding a Rosary with the other. The local police chief, noting that the stranger doesn’t smile much, suggests he watch some TV preachers to “get some tips.” When the stranger is asked to pray, he begins reciting the Lord’s Prayer, but doesn’t know the words after “our Father.” After a pause, though, the congregation takes over, assuming that their own reverend father wanted them to lead the prayer themselves. Hypocrisy is a big theme, too—aspects of which we’ll flesh out a bit below.
But the story again and again comes to the movie’s central theological thrust: the importance of confession and forgiveness. And we see the stranger’s own need to confess grow as the movie runs. Turns out, the real David Martin was right: There is power in confession, even if the results of that confession—in the context of the movie—are mixed.
David Martin makes a confession of his own to the stranger. “I loved a woman and she loved me,” he says. But the woman had a husband and children, and “I am a religious man.” It’s suggested that this might’ve been the main reason he left (or was forced to leave) his previous congregation.
But sexual immorality, the movie suggests, is nothing new for the kind of preachers that this small Texas town is used to. When the stranger walks into Celia’s room late one night, she mutters that he might be “like all the others” after all. (He just came in, though, to ask what hymn Celia was singing to herself.) And when the stranger first reports that his stuff was stolen and the police chief asks him if he was with anyone during the night, the stranger is taken aback, given that he’s a “pastor” and all.
“I don’t care who you sleep with, Reverend,” the chief says. “I’m asking if you’re traveling alone.”
The police chief is sleeping with someone, though: Celia. The stranger hears them in bed together, and we see the two in the same bedroom afterward: The chief is pulling on his clothes while Celia lies in the bed, apparently naked, asking him to stay the night for once. He tells her not to “beg,” and an angry Celia pulls on her robe. (We see her bare back and brief, shadowed hints of other parts of her body.)
The chief tells a dirty joke involving oral sex and circumcision.
[Spoiler Warning] We don’t know what the stranger is running from until the very end of the film, but it turns out that he discovered his wife and her lover together and, in a heat of passion, killed them both.
David Martin’s murder (which is replayed once during the movie) takes place some distance from the camera: The stranger hits him over the head with a wine bottle and David falls out of sight. We hear what might be the man’s last gurgle, but the next we see of him is his lifeless corpse (with a bloody wound on its head). As the stranger drags the body to a place to bury it, he gets a jagged piece of glass jammed in his palm, which he graphically and painfully pulls out. He bandages the wound with a piece of the dead man’s shirt, and the wound lingers throughout the film—perhaps meant to serve as a quiet echo of Christ’s own pierced palm, or perhaps the deeply wounding nature of sin.
We later see the half-unburied corpse, and it looks really, grotesquely bad. The chief describes in detail what bits the animals have eaten away. The stranger sometimes sees David in dreams or visions, looking like himself but with the bloody wound still on display.
Another man is arrested for David’s murder, and two deputies climb into a cell with the guy to extract a confession. The next time we see the accused man, he sports a number of bruises and abrasions to his face. The man’s 12-year-old brother also suffers a bloody injury to his head at the hands of the police.
The stranger has some pretty messed up dreams, including one of him being trapped in what looks to be a coffin and a burning building. He later rips down a wanted poster that’s apparently for him: The poster tells us that he’s wanted for murder and felony arson.
Two men are stabbed, one to death. A gunshot wound may also lead to a lingering demise. We learn that someone was killed in a traffic accident.
Nine f-words and about six s-words. We also hear “a–,” “b–ch,” “d–n” and “h—.” Jesus’ name is abused twice.
David Martin drinks wine straight from the bottle as he drives. (He’s already emptied a few.) When he pulls into the quarry, it’s so he can “dry out,” and his insistence that the stranger confess his sins is made under the influence of alcohol. For his part, David confesses to the stranger that he’s an alcoholic, to which the stranger tells him that’s hardly a secret.
The stranger rejects the wine, but the man who steals the stuff out of the back of the van drinks some of it later.
The thief, a man named Valentin, uses the quarry for his own purposes: to grow marijuana. He’s a known drug dealer, and he his little brother Paco, tend to the crop in the middle of the night. And when it looks as if the police might be on to his crop, Paco goes to the quarry and pulls up the illegal plants.
Celia and the police chief both drink alcohol (with the chief shooting empty beer cans), and Celia smokes cigarettes, as well.
The chief urinates in a bathroom (we see only the top half of him). The stranger doesn’t explicitly lie much, but he spends the entire film misleading most everyone. And when he does lie, it tends to be a mighty big one.
The chief is suspected by many of being a racist, and much of what he says might confirm it.
When the stranger stands up at the front of that tiny church, dressed in another man’s vestments and preaching out of another man’s Bible, he knows that the people who stare at him from the room are looking for wisdom. Comfort. Truth.
He has no wisdom, no comfort to give. But he has, against all odds, stumbled onto a bit of truth.
“It’s not me that you are here for,” he says. “It’s the words. It’s the book. I don’t know what I say.”
The Quarry is rated R, and as such it has some obvious problems—especially when it comes to the film’s sometimes raw language. Like the stranger at the movie’s core, this story isn’t spotless.
And yet there’s truth here, and it’s that the truth itself—and confessing that truth—can indeed set people free.
That freedom comes with caveats. This is no standard Christian film with a happily ever after ending for everybody involved. The movie embraces the sorts of paradoxes that have been a part of the faith since its inception: In our weakness we are strong. The foolishness of God is wiser than the wisdom of man. It’s possible to live and yet be dead. And sometimes we find a different sort of life in the midst of death and suffering.
The police chief tells us that “forgiveness only works in a world where people learn their lessons. But they don’t. Not here, anyway.” And indeed, not everyone learns their own lessons until the very end—perhaps when it’s too late—if they learn them at all. But the lessons themselves still have power and resonance. Even if the movie’s characters are resistant to them, the viewers need not be.
Paul Asay has been part of the Plugged In staff since 2007, watching and reviewing roughly 15 quintillion movies and television shows. He’s written for a number of other publications, too, including Time, The Washington Post and Christianity Today. The author of several books, Paul loves to find spirituality in unexpected places, including popular entertainment, and he loves all things superhero. His vices include James Bond films, Mountain Dew and terrible B-grade movies. He’s married, has two children and a neurotic dog, runs marathons on occasion and hopes to someday own his own tuxedo. Feel free to follow him on Twitter @AsayPaul.