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POWDER (1995)

PHILOSOPHICAL ISSUES: Philosophy of religion, faith/reason

CHARACTERS: Jeremy/Powder, Jesse (Mary Steenburgen, orphanage counselor), Donald Ripley (Jeff Goldblum, science teacher), Sheriff Barnum, Deputy Harley


SYNOPSIS: The movie “Powder” is a modern day messianic fable: a perfect person is thrown into an imperfect world and tries to change things for the better. Many if not most religious founders were rejected by their peers, and this is precisely what Jeremy experiences. The principle philosophical message of the film is Eastern: everything is connected and at death we flow into our surroundings. Jeremy is born prematurely when his mother is struck by lightening and subsequently dies. Jeremy is an albino with no hair, and his strange appearance causes his father to reject him. He is raised home schooled by his grandparents, who, perhaps from embarrassment, shelter him from the world. When his grandparents die he is brought to an orphanage where others become aware of his super-human intellectual and physical abilities. Jeremy is ostracized by the locals, and he yearns to return to his parents’ farmhouse to live in solitude. After a series of demoralizing conflicts, he escapes back to the farmhouse, only to find that its contents have been sold off foreclosure. Some town officials encourage him to run away, and others insist that he return to the orphanage. A thunderstorm erupts, and, when Jeremy runs into it, he is struck by lightening; he transforms into a pulse of energy that radiates across the farm field, strikes bystanders and gives them enlightenment.


1. Jeremy speculated that God struck his mother with lightening, thereby giving him extraordinary abilities. What purpose would God have in creating a person like Jeremy?

2. Dr. Stippler informed Jeremy that he had the most advanced intellect in the history of humankind and they needed to ask him questions about it. Jeremy responded “You’re not here to ask me questions; you’re here to find out how I cheated. That’s the only way you can make sense of it. It’s what you need to believe.” Is Stippler’s attitude a healthy or harmful why to approach extraordinary events like those of Jeremy?

3. When Sheriff Barnum asked Jeremy to help regarding his invalid wife, he stated, “I don’t know what it is that you do, I’m not even sure you can do it. If you can, I need your help.” In theological terms, the Sheriff is a skeptical person who is willing to try anything as a last resort. Is this a healthy or harmful approach to take?

4. Ripley, the science teacher, appears throughout the movie offering scientific explanations of Jeremy’s abilities. Suppose that Ripley’s explanations were correct. What effect would this have on our understanding of Jeremy’s messianic role?

5. After Deputy Harley killed the deer, Jeremy enabled him to experience suffering and death through the eyes of a deer. Harley’s experience compelled him to give up hunting altogether. Even so, he remained antagonistic toward Jeremy, and even referred to him as “that thing.” What’s the religious message here?

6. One of the common traditional components of a miraculous event is that it teaches some message which couldn’t be taught otherwise. What specific messages were conveyed through Jeremy’s miracles?

7. Does it undermine Jeremy’s messianic role that he was so socially immature and unable to connect with people?

8. One movie reviewer asked, “How could anyone as smart as Powder have a problem with the morons in this movie?” Jeremy is indeed very much at odds with people in the world. How does this play into the film’s messianic theme?

9. Throughout the movie, Jeremy yearned to go home. In one sense, home is his secluded grandparents’ farm house. When it became clear that he could no longer return to that home, home ultimately became absorption into the larger world. Is there any way of rectifying these two notions of home?

10. One movie reviewer stated that a flaw of the movie is that it expects “us to be satisfied with an ending that settles less the more you think about it.” What does the ending settle, and what, if anything is left unsettled?

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