"A Portrait of the Artist as a Manic Depressive Christian"
What You Need To Know:
It is hard to see the alleged genius in Daniel Johnston’s raw, amateurish songs and drawings, but it does occasionally peek through the fog. Regrettably, despite the positive Christian elements in Daniel’s life now, this documentary only superficially explores the issue of David’s faith. The movie also contains some strong foul language, brief nudity and drug references, so extreme caution is advised
(Ro, C, FR, LL, V, S, NN, A, DD, M) Romantic worldview of the misunderstood artist working alone and on the fringes of society, with some solid Christian references and statements of belief in God, but an obsession with the Devil and a false description in print of the Devil that ascribes divine powers to Satan; 13 mostly strong obscenities (including repeated shots of a young Christian man wearing T-shirt saying “F Satan”) and one “I swear to God”; no violence shown, but discussion of mentally ill’s man’s angry, slightly violent episodes and threats to kill another person and causing a plane crash; one or two light sexual references; brief upper female nudity in one scene and rear male nudity in two scenes; light alcohol references; no smoking but discussion of man taking lots of LSD during one period of his life; and, teenagers rebels against his mother’s Christian faith and his mother comes across as a bit overbearing in her faith, but son appears to have converted later in his life, despite an over-obsession with the Devil.
THE DEVIL AND DANIEL JOHNSTON is a documentary about Christian folk songwriter and artist Daniel Johnston, who has had a long bout with manic depression since a teenager. As a reclusive teenager in Virginia during the late 1970s, Daniel compulsively recorded his thoughts, stories and songs on cassette tapes. He also rebelled against his mother’s Christian upbringing.
After falling in love with a young woman who didn’t return the favor, Daniel runs off on a moped and joins a carnival. He then lands in Austin, Texas without any money. With help from his brother and two sisters, he manages to record a series of albums on homemade cassettes, which he begins to hand out. Daniel achieves some notoriety on MTV and with people like Kurt Cobain of Nirvana, David Bowie, Tom Waits, and Beck, but his manic depression, fueled by some experimentation with LSD, leads to violent episodes and trips to the mental ward. His songs and drawings are filled with warnings about the Devil, and occasional references to Jesus Christ. Now in his mid 40s, he lives with his parents, with whom he has established a level of peace and creativity, but, apparently, not without medication.
It is hard to see the alleged genius in Daniel Johnston’s raw, amateurish songs and drawings, but it does occasionally peek through the fog. Regrettably, despite the positive Christian references in Daniel’s life now, this documentary only superficially explores the issue of David’s faith. It avoids any discussion of whether Daniel’s apparent conversion to Christ has helped improve his mental stability and creativity. Although Daniel seems to be a Christian now, his theology appears to suffer from a lack of intelligent thought or biblical direction. The movie also admits that Daniel is a little obsessed with the Devil than he is with Jesus Christ, who overcomes the Devil.
It’s hard to really say what the truth is, however, because this documentary is more concerned with the secular aspects of Daniel’s life, his illness and the weird qualities of his art. Thus, despite a couple attempts at interpretation, the ultimate meaning of Daniel’s life and Daniel’s art eludes the filmmakers and eludes the movie’s viewers as well. The movie offers too many unanswered questions, not the least of which is why some people love Daniel’s work so much. Of course, Daniel never seems to have enough money to give his work the kind of professional sheen it obviously needs.