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Summer Movies

January 21, 2011

One of the up-sides of returning home from holidays to a 15 degree drop in so-called Summer temperatures is that it’s January and you have more time to watch movies in the evening (those in the northern hemisphere will not understand that last sentence). Two movies provoked some thought last week. And in different ways they made me think about the action of God.

The first could hardly be called an ‘action’ movie. It is Silent Light , directed by Carlos Reygada and is characterised by slowness, sparseness and beauty – at times reminiscent of Into Great Silence. It opens with a rural sunrise which must last for nearly 5 minutes! Early on we observe the family at prayer before the meal. No words are spoken, just silent prayer as we wait to see who will open their eyes first and how long it will be till ‘amen’. I found the silent prayer surprising. It reminded me of a more puritan and individual approach to prayer, but I assume it is a Mennonite practice. The rhythm and pace of the movie reflects the life of the people. There is a beautiful scene with family members washing each other at the river. There is no overt commentary and yet when we learn of the main plot – the husbands attempt to decide whether to leave his wife for the woman he is having an affair with – a contrast is set in place between his ‘world’ and that of his family life. Curiously the father is attempting to be open about his struggle and is telling his wife all. So we are led to grapple with the combination of honesty and modern narcissism he embodies. He seeks advice from his old father on the one hand and his local mechanic on the other. Again the community is part of his life and yet it is a life which is centred around him and his ‘happiness’. His wife on the other hand appears in her sorrow occasionally, but the focus is on his struggles. In the end the decision is taken out of his hands, for while they are driving together she asks him to pull over, feeling unwell. In the pouring rain and in her sorrow she has a heart attack on the side of the road.

The family tenderly washes the body (the women’s work) and places it in the coffin (the men’s job). A funeral service is held and the grief is palpable. The children asks their father about death and he tells them it is like a sleep that you don’t wake up from. As the family grieve the ‘other woman’ arrives and asks to see the deceased. The husband lets her in and she kisses the dead woman on the lips. The woman ‘wakes up’ and the movie ends with a reversal of the opening scene – a slow sunset.

What does this have to do with the action of God? It occurred to me that the dead wife was reminiscent of the crucified. A woman betrayed by someone who ‘knew not what he was doing’ in his preoccupation with his own happiness. Beyond that I am left reflecting on the powerful combination of images in the movie.

The second movie could easily be mistaken for an ‘action movie’ but the action of God is not in the ‘action’ (not in the wind, or the earthquake or the fire). The movie is called Julia. It is directed by Erick Zonca starring Tilda Swinton and Tilda Swinton is sublime – a very incarnational kind of sublime. She plays a raging alcoholic (Julia) whose life is out of control and unravelling fast. Every morning she seems to wake up in strange places and new beds and is losing her job. Her life takes a turn for the even more chaotic when a rather strange women from her street asks her for help to kidnap her son from his grandfather so she can see him. As you can imagine things go from bad to worse and there are many twists and turns in the plot. Julia begins as a character with very little redeeming features. She takes on the kidnapping job for the money and is ready to make more money by double crossing the mother. In the end the main point of the story is somewhat predictable if dramatic and unpredictable in the detail. Her relation with the boy is her redemption. She comes out of it with no money, just a boy she has learnt to love and who loves her, in spite of her constant acts of betrayal. She is no hero, but finally chooses life over death.

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