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Newly discharged from the U.S. Navy, Elvis Sandow (Gael García Bernal) travels in search of the father he's never known (William Hurt), now an evangelical pastor in Texas. With a beautiful wife (Laura Harring), a seemingly innocent daughter and a son bound for Bible college, the pastor wants nothing to do with the bastard son who reminds him of a wayward past. Rejected yet again by the man who abandoned him at birth, Elvis sets out to destroy his father's Edenic existence. Directed by James Marsh (Wisconsin Death Trip); co-written by Marsh and Milo Addica (Monster's Ball).

 Let Us Pray

Talking to God through prayer comes naturally to the characters in our film The King as it does to a great many Americans. The simplicity of the act of prayer disguises its mind-boggling implications. Praying presumes the existence of a higher power that you can talk to anytime you want without any kind of technology or intermediary or expense. It also presumes a world where the laws of nature and empirical experience are open to regular and yet unseen manipulation, where believing is more important than knowing. It is a world that many of us believe we live in and probably all of us wish we did.

A sandy, desolate beach in Cornwall, England on a chilly spring afternoon. I am eight years old and I have just been given a new toy car by my grandmother. No more than three inches long, it fits snugly in my pocket. I run gleefully across the beach to reach the wet sticky sand exposed by the receding tide. But when I arrive at a suitable spot for building little tunnels and roads for my new toy car, I feel for it in my pocket and it’s gone.

I retrace my visible steps methodically maybe ten times over. On the verge of tears, I close my eyes, put my hands together and pray for the return of my little car. As an afterthought, I challenge God to reveal himself to me by answering my prayer. As I re-trace my steps yet again, there is my little car poking out of a footprint in the sand.

There’s an official-looking website called the Presidential Prayer Team which suggests specific topics of daily prayer to help guide the President and his team. One particular area of concern to the Presidential Prayer Team is the delicate health of the Vice President. The veep’s body seems to be a constant battleground between the forces of light and darkness—each niggling ailment is vanquished by prayer but there is always another popping up to take its place.

This site obviously has some weight in the higher circles of power (at least on earth) as its organisers are sometimes included on the regular conference calls that the President conducts with his influential Born Again supporters. One of the main objectives of the website Presidential Prayer Team is to recruit 1% of the American population to join in daily prayer for the President, the assumption being that numbers count in matters of prayer and divine intervention as much as they do in electoral politics. And for all I know they do. I would guess that millions of Americans prayed for the re-election of President Bush and that indeed came to pass.

I can recall several other lost and found miracles that confirmed my belief in God as a child, whereas I can’t remember any specific instances when my prayers were mocked or ignored. In fact the last time I prayed sincerely I was 19 years old and convinced I was dying of a drugs overdose in a London underground station. I was looking to cut a deal in extremis. Even that prayer seemed to go down pretty well, based on the evidence of my survival.

The recovery of my little toy car and the facing down of the grim reaper in the London underground doesn’t prove the objective value of prayer but it doesn’t disprove it either. The same would have to be said for the re-election of the President. And despite all the efforts of the Presidential Prayer Team, it is quite difficult to discern the work of the Lord in the Bush presidency—at least based on my reading of the New Testament.

That said, making decisions based on faith and what you wish for is not necessarily an act of self-deception. Far from it. Even a sceptic knows that desirable objectives have to be willed as well as pursued.

So, in that spirit, might I suggest a moment of prayer for Vice President Cheney’s recent foot ailment? You don’t necessarily have to pray for healing and the assuaging of his pain. There is not yet a terrestrial intelligence agency that has the ability to eavesdrop on your prayers. No one else on earth will know what you pray for. If enough of us pray, who knows?