C.O.G. is the title of a story based on an essay by David Sedaris, a writer which listeners to This American Life will recognise as one of its most regular and well-known contributors. Sedaris is known for telling colourful stories about from his own life, which almost sound too fantastical to be true.
One of these stories concerns what he did immediately after leaving university. When we join David he is on a bus on his way to a small town to work the land (like in Grapes of Wrath apparently). He quickly gets a job in an orchard picking apples with lots of Mexican migrants. However, things do not go exactly to plan when a friend he was supposed to be meeting ditches him so she can spend time with her new boyfriend in San Francisco.
All alone, he strikes up friendships with some unusal people, including a colleague called Curly, and a born-again Christian and recovering alcoholic called John who is determined to make him a “C.O.G.” (Child of God).
Those familiar with Sedaris, or even This American Life will quickly be at home with the style of story-telling on display here. It goes to great lengths to treat each of its subjects fairly, no matter how detestable they may be.
The films themes concern hurt and disappointment. We soon learn David, who calls himself Samuel for much of the film, has recently fallen out with his mother. He is an atheist, although some of the only people that show him any kindness are Christians. This causes him to reassess his view of the religion as he reaches his lowest point, in a similar way as John did many years before. However, because of David’s sexuality, we get the sense that he will never get the full acceptance he so badly needs at this stage in his life.
The relationship between John and David is what ends up holding the film together. John is a character it is easy to like and loathe is almost equal measure. He is a man with little pretence who will be trying to tell David the greatness of his relationship with Christ one minute and then start swearing at him the next because of a mistake in his workshop. Like David, he has a lot of problems of his own and relies on the kindness of others in the church to get by.
Another illustration of John’s character is when the Christian family he is staying with asks him to leave, having found him a beauty salon he can both live and set up his workshop in. John is completely enraged by this, how can a family who calls themselves Christian do such a thing? Through out the film incidents like this point to a flawed man all too aware of his own weaknesses, but unable to let them get the better of him some of the time.
Overall, C.O.G. feels very like an episode of This American Life in cinematic form. It brings together some of the most talked about subjects in American life, family, sexuality, religion and self-worth and interweaves them into a very engaging and thoughtful tale from David Sedaris’ life.