By Jeffrey Bridgman
“The Last Sin Eater” is a film adaptation of the novel by Francine Rivers. It takes place among the woods of the Appalachia in settlement community of Welsh families during the 1850s. Although America was to be a new start for this community, they brought with them the dark secret of an ancient rite which chose a “sin eater” to take upon himself the sins of those who have passed away to save them from judgment. This sin eater is considered unclean and has to live as an outcast in the wilderness atop Dead Man’s Mountain, only coming down when the death bell is rung to take away the sins of the dead at funerals.
Cadi, the protagonist, is a young girl haunted by the accidental death of her younger sister, who fell trying to follow Cadi across a log bridging the gap over a gorge. Although warned not to look at the sin eater at a funeral, Cadi does so, and instead of a dark evil, she sees warm blue eyes, much like her own, staring back at her in sorrow. Wishing to be set free from the guilt of her sister’s death, she seeks out the sin eater against the rules of her community, hoping that he can eat away her overburdening sins. Although the sin eater only eats away the sins of the dead, after some hesitation, he agrees to attempt it. However, following the ritual, she cries out in despair, disappointed that nothing has changed. She still feels the same.
Soon afterward, unable to bear the guilt, she plans to throw herself off the same log from which her sister fell, but she is stopped by a stranger to that part of the mountains—a traveling preacher who asks her why she would want to do such a thing. After hearing her story, he tells her the story of Jesus, who is the last Sin Eater, taking away the need for any more sin eaters to come after Him. Set free from her guilt, she shares the truth with those around her, setting the stage for even bigger, darker secrets than her own to be brought to light.
The theme of forgiveness is played out beautifully in this movie. Cadi experiences the weight of sin lifted from her when she gives her sins over to the last Sin Eater, Jesus. This exemplifies the kind of forgiveness detailed in I John 1:9, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”
At the end of the movie Cadi is able to share her experience with her mother. During the conversation, she learns her mother had also been blaming herself for what happened. By talking it over, their relationship was restored.
James 5:16 says, “Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed…” Yet, how often do we sacrifice healing, joy, peace and love because we’re unwilling to strip away our pride and be honest enough to confess to one another? This is just a sample of the kinds of thoughts “The Last Sin Eater” provokes.
Although this movie may not be the newest and greatest action flick, it is well worth a watch for a moving illustration of the concept of forgiveness—and those lovely Welsh accents are great, too!