When I sat down to watch this documentary about former child preacher Marjoe Gortner, what I didn’t expect was a blazing exposé of the evangelical circuit’s flagrant avarice and exploitation of Pentecostals’ deeply held convictions. It’s truly jaw dropping to watch as we follow a now-grown Gortner returning to the preaching circuit to raise money for his personal life with his new partner, and casually lifting the veil over the deliberate manipulation of Pentecostal congregations for every dollar they have. One of the movie’s most striking scenes is the juxtaposition between the psychological impact of frenzied preaching in intentionally poorly ventilated venues, with many attendees writhing in religious ecstasy (or, mania, depending on your perspective), contrasted with Gortner and an associate literally cackling in the back office as they count their pirated booty. What you make of Gortner himself also depends on your perspective; maybe he’s a charlatan, maybe he’s a victim of child abuse, maybe he’s a survivor doing the only thing he knows how to do, or maybe he’s all of those things? Whatever he is, one thing that’s certain is that he’s charismatic and it’s easy to see why so many people are enraptured with him, which adds an entirely different level of subtext to the documentary, because you can completely see how this would happen and you find yourself rooting for him in the end. At a brisk 88 minutes, “Marjoe” doesn’t overstay its welcome, and provides plenty of food for thought about the psychological evils of commodifying religious faith.
Rating: ★★★★ (out of 5)