Today’s Prayer Focus

Beyond the Gates of Splendor

MPA Rating: PG-13-Rating (MPA) for some violent content and thematic elements

Reviewed by: Chris Monroe

Better than Average
Moviemaking Quality:

Primary Audience:
Adults Teens
1 hr. 36 min.
Year of Release:
USA Release:
November 5, 2004 (limited)
Featuring: Steve Saint, Carmela, Dawa, Dayumae, Frank Drown, Kathy Saint Drown, Elisabeth Elliot. Gren, Dave Howard, Kimo, Olive Fleming Liefeld, Marilou McCully, Mincaye, Col. Malcolm Nurnberg, Ompodae, Paa, Carole Robarchek, Clayton Robarchek, Ginny Saint, Jaime Saint, Jesse Saint, Rachel Saint, Valerie Elliot Shepard, Tementa, Marj Saint Van Der Puy, Barbara Youderian
Director: Jim Hanon
Producer: Every Tribe Entertainment
Copyright, Every Tribe Entertainment Copyright, Every Tribe Entertainment Copyright, Every Tribe Entertainment
Relevant Issues

What about the Psalm 91 promises? “…no harm will befall you, no disaster will come near your tent…” Answer

Review of the historical drama directly related to this film: END OF THE SPEAR

Why do followers of Christ have hope? Answer

Does God feel our pain? Answer

Christian Answers EffectiveEvangelism™ site—Learn how to be more effective in sharing the Gospel

Is Jesus Christ the answer to your questions?

““a story beyond tragedy… beyond reason… beyond imagination””

Noting the book “Through Gates of Splendor” which tells the story of five missionaries who sacrificed their lives in the jungles of Ecuador, this documentary film “Beyond the Gates of Splendor” takes us through that original journey to the events that followed half a century after. A thoroughly informed and accurate story, it has some limitations, but is well worth the watch.

The well-known facts about this story are that five men, Jim Elliot, Roger Youderian, Nate Saint, Pete Fleming, and Ed McCully ventured to Ecuador in the mid 1950’s as missionaries, along with their wives, to share the Gospel with those who were out of reach of it. In the process, these five men lost their lives and the event became worldwide news. But in this account, the events begin fittingly with the backstory of the native Ecuadorians, the Waorani people, and sets up the history, culture and violence of their lives that led to the horrific event of the missionaries’ deaths. Following that is the backstory of the five men—their days together in school, getting married, their decision to go to Ecuador—leading up to the day they died. The film then takes us beyond that tragedy to show the fruit of the labor of these men, specifically through Nate Saint’s son, Steve Saint.

Due to the nature of the event, there are references to murder and death. Some real footage from the 16mm camera the five missionaries had was retrieved and does include some images of these men after their decease. The talk about it all is more upsetting than what is shown, but even that is discreet and refrains from sharing too many details. The women of the Waorani tribe are also topless most of the time, so there is some nudity; but it is on par with what you would see in National Geographic.

One of the biggest criticisms I have of this documentary is the lack of emphasis on the Gospel of Jesus Christ. These filmmakers did excellent work setting up the colliding worldviews of the missionaries and the Waorani people, and do well building up the drama of the inevitable conflict between them. They also help round out our understanding of this story by involving a scientific viewpoint and interview anthropologists who understood the situation. However, when it came to exacting why these five men would attempt something so courageous, and just how the Waorani people’s lives changed so drastically, it seems the power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ was glossed over.

The bottom line is that the reason the five men traveled to Ecuador in the first place and the reason these Indians had the ability to change their lives is all because of Jesus Christ. That is where the ultimate credit belongs. God is mentioned a few times, as well as His Word, but could have been explained more. For example, after the missionaries’ death and the Waorani people begin to hear God’s word, there is a drastic change with their problem with murder. It is stated that before, six out of ten deaths were homicides—but all of that changed. It is explained by the anthropologists that it helped that they were taught not to kill from God’s book. This is true, but a little too general.

This film covers a lot of ground, starting with the lives of the missionaries, all the way to a grandchild of one of the slain men, Nate Saint. Fortunately, one typically unsung hero in this story is also mentioned, Nate’s sister, Rachel Saint. It is often not emphasized enough, but Rachel is the one who had contact with the Waorani tribe long before these five men ever attempted to try and reach them. Rachel began first by ministering the Gospel to one woman, Dayuma, who in turn shared the Gospel with the rest of the Waorani people. Amazing, too, is the fact that several of the women who lost their husbands also visited the Waorani tribe—even meeting some of the very men who killed their spouses.

This story is quite miraculous and spiritually heavy hitting. Though the Gospel is not explicit, there is so much to glean from this astounding tale. The themes of forgiveness and sacrifice and how even the most violent people can change (by the power of God) are the kinds of things that make the lasting impressions in this production. And poignant lines depicting these missionaries’ philosophies are also an inspiration. When considering the danger of going to the Waorani people, the missionaries were not afraid and said, “They’re not ready for heaven—and we are.”

The production value is top notch. There are various interviews, real footage and photos from time these events happened, some reenactments, and recent footage with Steve Saint and his family living with the tribe. It is also a very touching and inspiring movie that is a must for any believer and also compelling enough for someone who doesn’t share the Christian faith. Seeing this will also be a good primer for a future narrative film said to already be in production.

See our review of the historical drama directly related to this film: END OF THE SPEAR

Viewer Comments
Positive—This is a superb film. It is designed to appeal to the secular film audience, not necessarily to the committed Christian. Thus one should not be surprised that it is not produced with lots of Christian-ese language. The film can open the door to conversations with pre-Christian friends who are invited to view it; so I encourage believers to attend, invite friends, and be ready for free-ranging questions. I have already seen it 3 times with friends and will show it to more people this weekend.
My Ratings: [Excellent!/5]
Rick, age 48
Positive—For a documentary, this story never became dull. It was fascinating. The editing was very good, especially the way the actual footage was woven throughout the story. It did not rely on hype, sensationalism, or take advantage of the emotional nature of the story. In an attempt to remain objective, the movie may have missed a few opportunities to present the gospel and to emphasize the miracles that God performed in the hearts of the people as well as the missionaries. It certainly has reminded me to diligently pray for our missionaries and their work.
My Ratings: [Good/5]
Jayna Coppedge, age 43
Negative—DISAPPOINTED. Having read “Shadow of the Almighty” and “Through Gates of Splendor” I was very excited to see “Beyond the Gates” We saw the film last night, in anticipation of hearing how God had used these five men and their families to bring the Good news of Jesus Christ to the lost tribe. We left the film feeling very empty and regretting we had brought guests. This morning we are still trying to figure out the intent of this film and its message. It seems the message was no more than a story of 5 “studs” who go to conquer a wild tribe of natives to the American way of moral life. There was very little mention of God and his calling or His hand in any of the mission. There was no testimony of how the tribe came to know the Lord Jesus and His salvation for them. We had wanted our guests to see our faith and our Lord, instead they like us saw nothing but a National Geographic type film. I have learned valuable lesson… always see a film for yourself before taking a guest!
My Ratings: [Better than Average/3½]
Tressa Nunley, age 37
Neutral—I love the story of Jim Elliot, Nate Saint and the other men who gave their lives. I was thrilled and moved when hearing Stephen Saint and the Indian Man share their testimony. I have waited 3 years for this movie, and although I think the photography, footage, compilation was great, it totally (almost) lacked any emotional punch. I felt like I was watching a PBS documentary. I realize it was meant to appeal to a broad spectrum, but without some Gospel message it only had a secular message.

My non-Christian friends did not realize that is was a Transforming Power, not an educational process that changed the Waodani’s lives. The name of Jesus was not mentioned once (that I heard), and the famous statement of Jim Elliot “He is no fool…” was not mentioned. That statement has inspired thousands of people, including myself. I found the movie interesting, but uninspiring.
My Ratings: [Excellent!/3]
Sharon Kirkpatrick, age 52
Positive—Hollywood can’t write a story like this. Take your family; It may be the last chance they’ll have to see how Christians LIVED their faith and how people should be doing it today. I’m in tears and stitches every time I see it. Bring a box of Kleenexes. You’ll need it. I can’t remember the last time I laughed or cried like that in a movie!
My Ratings: [Excellent!/5]
Caleb, age 24
Positive—After reading the reviews above, I’m not sure what film these people saw. To describe it as being about “five studs” totally misses the mark. The five studs she refers to were five of the most dedicated and committed young men in the history of Christendom. They had one reason for making contact with the tribe, and it was made very clear in the movie. When encouraged to arm themselves with guns when going into the jungle, they declined, saying “we’re ready for Heaven, and they’re (the tribe) not.” The widows of these men, all of whom appear in the film, make their commitment to spreading God’s word to these people very clear.

As for emotional impact, everyone I saw the movie with wished they had given out Kleenex with the tickets. How anyone could not be impacted by the recollections of the widows and their friends is beyond me.

Whereas “The Passion” showed what Christ did for us…”Beyond the Gates” shows what we can do for Christ. On a 1-10 scale, I give it an 11.
My Ratings: [Excellent!/5]
Kristy L. Hicks, age 43
Positive—It is obvious that this film is made for the secular audience in an attempt to reach the unchurched. When a film comes out full of scripture it gets labeled a “christian film,” which is synonymous to cheesy and preachy Christian films. People, aside from the church-goers, are turned off bigtime by this. Those are the people that need to be reached!!! We don’t need films that preach to the choir and fail to relate with the secular audience.

Getting hammered over the head with Christian content is not what is going to reach the unchurched.

I couldn’t be more pleased with a company dedicated to bringing stories such as this to the theatre. I would rather this be there than Texas Chainsaw Massacre or Resident Evil, how about you?

You would think a film like this would get nothing but support from the church family considering what else is in theatres.

I am really disappointed in some of the comments. This film wasn’t made for you, this story was written by God and is presented in a way that relates to everyone.
My Ratings: [Excellent!/5]
Brian Nichols, age 22
Neutral—I was very excited about this documentary coming out. I would highly recommend it to anyone who has read Through Gates of Splendor or any other books about these missionaries and are aware of their faith, their families faith, and have a sense of their spiritual life. I was very disappointed in the film because Mr. Saint failed to pull into this documentary the Gospel of Jesus, the faith of these men and their families and how they truly depended on God. He never mentions this stuff. He tells the viewer they were Missionaries. I think God is only mentioned a couple of times.

This documentary is not very spiritual and does not have an impact on your life, because you don’t have a feel for who these missionaries really were. If he would have added these things to this film, it would be one of the most outstanding documentaries ever made. But, because he did not I would recommend that you read Through Gates of Splendor or any other book about these missionaries before watching this film. You will appreciate it much better. It is definitely not a film that you can use on non-believers to help show them who God is. I think that is what disappointed me the most.
My Ratings: Good / 5
Debra, age 48
Positive—I had read the book, Through Gates of Splendor many years ago, and when I heard about this movie I was excited. I wasn’t sure when I saw that it was a documentary. But after watching it I was glad I rented it. The story is that these men did not waste their lives—the tribe was reached with the gospel! I also appreciated the subtle message that, in our culture today, we have become savage to an extent. The pictures flash between the tattooed tribe to the tattoo’ d youth of today—the body piercing then and now!
My Ratings: Excellent! / 5
David Jeffers, age 47
Negative—I was also disappointed in this movie. The movie fails to answer the compelling questions posed by the story: Why did the five young men put themselves in such a dangerous position—why did their families return to the tribe after the murders—and what caused the tribe’s remarkable transformation? By remaining silent on these questions, the movie misses an awesome opportunity to testify to Jesus’ love and power. It is an intriguing story; a non Christian viewer will be curious and, presumably, receptive to hearing a clearer explanation of the spiritual reality behind the events. I am preparing for missionary service myself, and usually even the simplest missionary stories move me to tears and make me want to hop on the next plane. This one didn’t grab me emotionally at all. Also, I found the story confusing in places; some narration in addition to the interviews would have helped to fill in the gaps about the family relationships, dates of events, etc. There is quite a bit of nudity, which I think was pretty much unavoidable, but may be a problem for some viewers. Also, the scenes of one of the tribesmen visiting the U.S., while humorous, felt disrespectful to me.
My Ratings: Better than Average / 4
Lisa, age 32
Positive—I agree with Brian Nichols from the earlier comments. It’s obvious this film wasn’t made for the church, but for those in need of it’s story of redemption and reconciliation. What better way to show SHOW the gospel than a true story of five men who LIVED it out! People today don’t want to hear Christians talk, they want to SEE them living exactly what they’re preaching. This is the most powerful story of the church from the past century. This unique filmmaking mind set creates a piece that will last for generations to come, instead of being labeled “Christian propaganda” and shelved like the rest.
My Ratings: Excellent! / 5
Holly, age 25
Negative—The name Jesus was not mentioned one time in the entire movie! Far cry from what was written in the book Through the Gates of Splendor! Opportunity missed to expand the Kingdom. I was disappointed mostly in the interview with secular anthropologists who gave their opinion on the dramatic change of the Auca’s. There were just given new information. True, in a sense, but what about the supernatural power of Christ to change the heart of people? Not even mentioned. I hope the next film will redeem what was lost in this one. I won’t recommend this film to anyone, but rather, will recommend the book Through the Gates of Splendor to everyone.
My Ratings: Good / 3
Kim Myers, age 47
Comments from young people
Negative—I think that this movie was absolutely terrible. I went to the theatre in the hope of learning the story of Jim Elliot, but I left in a daze. The story is extremely hard to follow in that it is constantly flashing back to what different people have to say about the event. I think that it would have been much more effective if it would have been a reconstructive story.
My Ratings: [Excellent!/1]
Jackie, age 15