North Bend Film Festival ’21: ‘The Body of Levi’ Offers a Compelling Glimpse Into the Complex Communities of U.S. Faith Healing

Still from 'The Body of Levi' - a group of people of varying ages stand in a room, facing a man who has his back to the camera, with one hand on the head of a ypung boy. The crowd have their hands lifted in prayer and healing.
Still from ‘The Body of Levi’

The Body of Levi gives a fictional account of  a Pentecostal church’s healing service, held in a couple’s home in order to pray for their ill son. The film captures the feelings of many of the characters, including adults and the minister, but pays careful attention to the reactions of Levi’s friend Jeremiah and how he processes the difficult images of illness as they meet with religious fervor. It would be limited to say the film offers “a slice of life” look into U.S. Pentecostal communities, but despite its brief 15 minute runtime, the film gives a robust portrait of some Christians’ approach to health and healing. 

As someone who grew up in the Charismatic movement, I can confirm much of the short film has elements I recognise from my own childhood religious community. Whether it’s the passionate prayers for healing, shouting hallelujah, the lifting up of hands in worship, saying “from the top of your head to the souls of your feet,” or using anointing oil, The Body of Levi employs realistic ritual pieces found in many Pentecostal communities, giving the film texture and specificity. Even aspects I didn’t remember from my own experiences, like the overall concept of holding a healing service at home, felt resonant and appropriate.

The choice of music in the film is particularly interesting, and includes a cacophony of non-diegetic choirs working into a frenzy, similar to music found in feature-length arthouse-style horror like the works of Ari Aster. The music suggests a film more graphic and frightening than it really is, and while the climax does require suspension of disbelief in regards to how the unnamed illness manifests, it never quite feels like a speculative film. Because of that, the music feels a little discordant with the film, but still proves to be a compelling aspect for mood-setting.

The film concludes with statistics about laws governing religious freedoms, shifting a film that largely spoke for itself into a morality tale. Although this could have been an interesting component, it deserves more grounding in the actual dramatic narrative. The film takes a decidedly condemnatory approach to prayers for healing, suggesting some negative generalisations about prayer-based communities, but the statistics are startling and certainly deserve consideration, discussion, and reform.

Despite some awkward dialogue and acting, the short film offers a meditative yet dramatised look at a subset of U.S. Christianity. The rhetoric of communities built around faith healing is a worthwhile subject matter, and for anyone interested in Pentecostal approaches to illness and healing, The Body of Levi will be a compelling narrative that raises questions about contemporary American religion and the ethics of childcare.

Bishop V. Navarro (they/she) is a poet, writer, and media studies scholar from Tampa, Florida. She holds an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of South Florida and currently pursues a PhD in Communication at USF. Her scholarly work examines boundary vulnerability in horror and science fiction media. You can find her on Twitter, Letterboxd, Instagram, and Tumblr @vnavarrowriter 

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