Bill Paxton’s ‘Frailty’ (2001): Looking Back On A Controversial Thriller – Retro Review

It has been twenty years since Bill Paxton’s controversial film, Frailty, was released on November 17, 2001, and since then, the movie has gained quite a following. Since then, there has been a debate on the ending among fans. Some people seem to take the side of mental illness, while others say the father truly had a vision from God. I’ll be honest, the ending still confuses me.

In 2001, when the movie was released, Frailty wasn’t on my radar. In fact, the first time I saw the film was about ten years ago. A friend of mine recommended it, so I decided to check it out. For the ninety-nine minutes that the film ran, not once did I become disinterested or bored. I couldn’t keep my eyes off the screen.

While I absolutely love Frailty, it’s not one that I can re-watch very often. I have a religious background in Christianity, so the film is one that unfortunately brings back a lot of bad memories. It stirs a lot of negative feelings, because of some of the beliefs I used to hold. It’s a film that will stay with you long after you watch it. It will make you think and may even challenge your views on mental illness and religion.

Frailty synopsis:

FBI agent Wesley Doyle is shocked by Fenton Meiks’ confession about his Father’s delusions that forced he and his brother Adam to become demon-slaying murderers. When Doyle accompanies Fenton to see the victims bodies, Doyle’s learns the whole truth, but it might be too little, too late…

Frailty was directed by Bill Paxton (Aliens, Twister, Apollo 13), written by Brent Hanley (The Bottoms, The Violent Bear It Away) and stars Paxton as Father Meiks, Matthew McConaughey (Dallas Buyers Club, Killer Joe, Dazed and Confused) as Adam Meiks, Powers Boothe (Tombstone, Sin City, Sudden Death) as FBI agent Wesley Doyle, Tony Award winner Levi Kreis as Fenton Meiks (War Room 2015), Matt O’ Leary (Brick, Death Sentence) as young Fenton, and Jeremy Sumpter (Into the Storm, Peter Pan) as young Adam.

THE CONTROVERSIAL PLOT

The answer to Frailty can be summed up with one single question: is the father receiving religious visions, or is he mentally ill? This is the quandary that faces the viewer from the very outset of the film. When the movie opens, we see what seems to be a very normal man living with his two sons. There is a brief mention of a mother who died years earlier. Other than that, we see a normal household. Then we see the father at work in a garage, and the camera lingers on him until the scene ends. If you look at his face, he seems to be thinking deeply about something. It’s the first sign in the movie that something is off about dad.

He wakes up in the middle of the night and tells his two sons that he’s received a message from God. From now on, they will kill demons that look like real people. As the film progresses, this is precisely what occurs. The father kidnaps and kills people that God has told him are really demons. The boys’ father tells them that eventually, they will have to kill as well; it’s all a part of God’s plan. This is where Frailty breaks off into two opposing beliefs as older son Fenton acts as the atheist, a doubter in what his father is proclaiming and doing in the name of a just God. Adam, the younger son, acts as the faithful person who believes everything his daddy is saying and doing.

(Warning: the rest of this article contains spoilers)

A TWIST IN THE PLOT

At this point, the viewer has to decide which side to take. This is precisely what makes Frailty such an engaging film. The first time I saw the movie, I kept trying to find clues that would point me in the right direction. There came a point where I was pretty confident that the father was bat-shit crazy, until that twist at the end…

Frailty lures you in and makes you think that the older son is correct; the boys need to get away from their crazy father. Fenton finally reveals to the FBI agent that he is actually the younger Adam, not the older son. Adam touches the man and receives a vision just like his father did, picturing the agent when he was younger killing his mother in their backyard. Adam then proceeds to kill the agent.

The first time I was watching this, I remember being utterly confused. I thought that God was telling this man to kill evil people in His name, and that his sons were supposed to kill as well. This is backed up by the fact that whenever the family kidnapped someone in a parking lot, the security cameras would always blur out the image. It seems as though God is protecting them. If this is all true, then we are left with the conclusion that the real villain of Frailty is God Himself.

I don’t have a problem if that’s what it’s trying to say. I’ve always wondered, especially since I left Christianity, how an angel like Lucifer who resided in a beautiful and perfect place like Heaven would rebel against his Father? What would cause him to fight against something so good? A third of the angels openly rebelled against God according to the Bible. What if they saw some kind of darkness within the Almighty? It’s just a thought. But that’s exactly what Frailty does… it makes you ask a lot of questions.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

Twenty years later, and I’m still obsessed with Frailty. While the film still confuses me, it also draws me in. I watched the movie again for this article, and I’m still thinking about it. I believe Frailty would be good with a group of friends who are open-minded. I think there would be some lively conversation after the credits rolled.

About Jeremy Adkins

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One comment

  1. Great article! Movie does sound confusing.