The Confederacy lost the American Civil War, of course – a quick Google will tell you that. But we live in a time of “alternative facts”, and while all of us are sadly acquainted with nonsense like Holocaust denial and the notion that the last U.S. Presidential election was rigged, this kind of spurious belief can be found everywhere – including, it seems, the Civil War.
This is the starting point for Lynn Shelton’s 2019 comedy Sword of Trust. After the death of her grandfather, Cynthia (Jillian Bell) and her partner Mary (Michaela Watkins) learn that they will not be inheriting his house as expected, but he has left them a 19th century military sabre which, through a long and spurious loop of logic, seems to imply that the Confederacy had actually won the war. How that makes any kind of sense is beside the point; what matters is that Civil War Truthers are a thing, and that means there’s a market for artefacts that support their beliefs.
Which is how Mel (Marc Maron), the proprietor of a rundown Alabama pawn shop, is roped in. Mel, being Jewish, has no truck with white supremacists, but he’s plugged into the dubious antiquities market and so, along with his gormless, conspiracy-obsessed employee, Nathaniel (Jon Bass), he helps facilitate a meet up between the couple and a coterie of backwoods “the South Will Rise Again” types.
All this sounds like a good set-up for a lacerating satire of revisionist history and wilful ignorance and, to be fair, those elements are in play here, but Sword of Trust is written and directed by mumblecore exponent Lynn Shelton, and her focus has always been on the personal. Indeed, Sword of Trust turned out to be Shelton’s final film, as she passed away from an undiagnosed blood disorder in 2020. In that light, it’s tempting to view the film as a kind of thesis statement, albeit unintentional, on her body of work.