March 19th, 2008

DEVIL’S PLAYGROUND (2002) *** ½

Lucy Walker helmed this fascinating and thoroughly absorbing documentary about the Amish tradition of “rumspringa” in which an Amish teenager is allowed to go into the “Devil’s Playground” (the world) and experience life before he or she makes up their mind whether or not they will become a full fledged Amish person.  We see a group of teenagers who party, get drunk, get stoned, and use (and sell) crank.  While most seek refuge back into the open arms of the church to become baptized, there are a few who decide to stay among “the English”.  However, one girl retreats after her baptism and is shunned from her community and even tries to attend college (which in the religion is strictly forbidden). 

 

While at first this may seem like an extended edition of MTV True Life for the horse and buggy set, this documentary is actually very deep when probing into the lives of the diverse youngsters.  If you thought all the Amish were uptight prudes, wait till you see these kids sewing their wild oats.  It almost makes you wish you were Amish just to get invited to some of the wild parties these kids throw.  (One party has over 1,500 people in attendance.)  Of the kids profiled, the most intriguing is Faron, the preacher’s kid who deals meth and snitches on some other dealers to avoid doing time. 

 

Walker has a keen eye for detail and her subjects are all for the most part very forthcoming about all their illegal activities.  It would be interesting if she did a 14-Up style follow up someday to see where some of these kids are today and if they’re still with the Amish folk.  It would definitely be something to look forward to.