ART 'N SOUL (reviews)

MY FAVOURITE 10 MOVIES OUT OF OUR LOCKDOWN 100

Stockman bearded

So during Coronavirus Lockdown the Stockies as a family watched 100 films over 100 nights. It was a wonderful family experience. We rotated the choice of film. We found ourselves in a few little series. We picked a few awful movies and watched some amazing ones too.

People have asked me to share my favourites, so below are my favourite 10. 

Before I get to those I also enjoyed a few series. Jason Bourne and Mission Impossible. Phew. Hectic. So far fetched that anyone would survive most of what happened never mind film after film! 

The Harry Potter series. It was good to watch those actors growing up but for me a little inconsequential. 

Eddie Murphy was at his best in Beverley Hills Cop. Great fun. 

Best of the series section was the old faithful Indiana Jones. Action and fun and that last Gospel According To… sequence in The Last Crusade!

Then there were for me my old favourites. Groundhog Day seemed appropriate to the life we were living. We were glad we watched it early. It might have been a more painful watch after say 60 days. I have always loved Trading Places and as for The Breakfast Club, it still speaks about all our stereotypes and prejudices… and not just for teenagers! School of Rock is always a joyous night too.

Looking a themes and there was one that raised its head tragically far regularly and poignantly while it did we had the George Floyd murder in America. My daughter Jasmine was exasperated from early on by the way white America was treating the black and coloured communities. 

Three movies that didn’t make my 10 but are highly recommended are Glory Road, Remember The Titans and McFarland USA. These are all sports movies where coaches bravely bring on black players to the first two Basketball and Football and Hispanic kids in McFarland. Joyous to see racism beaten against the odds but again as in so many movies the racism in colleges and communities is way too tragic.

So, here are the ten I enjoyed the most:

 

  1. JUST MERCY

The true story of Bryan Stevenson who decided to defend black men who were falsely accused of crimes, many ending up on Death Row. 

 

2. HARRIET

Another true story of another inspirational and remarkable African American, this time using the Underground Railroad to help slaves to freedom. 

 

3. TOLKIEN

I wasn’t sure about this one as I have not in any way got into the the Lord Of The Rings movies. His relationship with CS Lewis convinced me to watch and it is a wonderful film about his youth and the war, that gave him the imaginative resources for his writing career which he is just about to start when the movie ends. 

 

4. BLINDED BY THE LIGHT

I had wanted to see this for some time. A young Asian boy in Luton discovers the music of Bruce Springsteen and that helps him traverse his teens, avoiding racism and the tensions between him and his Pakistani Muslim dad. Serious and funny and at times celebratory, all beautifully blended. Also a true story.

 

5. THE BOY WHO HARNESSED THE WIND

Set in Malawi, yet another true story, about a young man who works out how to create a windmill that could then pump water to the famine stricken fields of his family and village. My father-in-law then read the book and this guys ends up in a Presbyterian College later in life!

 

6. THE HATE U GIVE

Based on a novel a 16 year old black woman is witness to her friend being shot by a white policeman. It seems sadly so common and the movie is about the girl’s courage to testify and the riots and injustices. 

 

7. BLACKKKLANSMAN

Fascinating film as a black journalist joins the Klan. 

 

8. JULIET NAKED

I love the writings of Nick Hornby and this is based on his book of the same name when a women accidentally falls in love with the rock star her ex partner is obsessed by. 

 

9. THE GUERNSEY BOOK AND POTATO PIE SOCIETY

Having spent some time in Guernsey this was a treat of a romantic historical drama based on implications of the German occupation of the island in World War 2.

 

10. ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD

An arty kind of film that didn't go down with all of the family but that I imagine movie buffs would love for its conjuring of late 60s Hollywood. I was fascinated by it because it centres around the Charles Manson murders that are indelibly linked with the music of that era. 


REMASTERED: THE MIAMI SHOWBAND MASSACRE - Netflix Documentary

Miami_showband_picture_netflix

Ardal O’Hanlon’s Showbands; Now The Irish Learned To Party was a fascinating insight into a unique era of Irish culture; a time when we couldn’t swipe right! I did not get the Showbands. They weren’t original. Yet they did give us Van Morrison and Rory Gallagher! 

I was also a little intrigued by Fran O Toole and The Miami Showband but then they were murdered on their way home demo Banbridge in the summer of The Bay City Rollers.

The Miami Showband Massacre! I remember that. I was only 14 and I never really knew a time when the morning news was not about the night before’s killings but I knew that this was an evil even beyond all the regular evil. Three of the band were killed while two in the van with them survived. The drummer had gone home to Antrim by car and missed it all.

Last week another documentary on The Showbands was released on Netflix. Remastered; The Miami Showband Massacre is in a series that also looks at the attempted assassination of Bob Marley and the unsolved murder of Run-DMC’s Jam Master Jay.

These are big pop/rock music stories but surely The Miami Showband story is bigger than all of the rest; the brutality of the killings, the intrigue of why they were targeted and the fact that two of those who ambushed them were blown away in a premature bomb. It’s an incredible story and we follow survivors Des Lee and Stephen Travers to unpack the mystery.

This Netflix film highlighted a few issues for me. Why? The why always eludes me. While the band were being searched outside their van at what they thought was a legitimate security stop, two men were attempting to put a bomb on their tour van. It blew up, killing them both. Now when was that bomb intended to go off and what did the bombers hope to achieve.

A theory is that it was supposed to explode on the other side the border. There are different opinions as to whether that would be before or after the band got home. The reason apparently was to make all of Catholics look like terrorists so that the border could be shut tighter. That innocent musicians should be chosen for such a message reveals the utter inhumanity of our wee country during the Troubles. That one of the band was a Protestant didn’t register or seem to matter.

Then we need to ask, as Stephen Travers does in the documentary, who made such a call about the border and using The Miami in the scam. This is where it gets very uneasy for those of us who grew up as Protestant and Unionist. We assumed that the IRA were the terrorists and the British security forces were the law. The Miami above every other atrocity might blow that myth apart. Stephen Travers even says that when they were stopped and heard an English voice that he believed that they were ok as this must be the British Army and they were here to keep them safe.

The English accent has been a source of mystery down through all the investigations, official and not so official. The English man was never identified. These killed planting the bomb were UVF and the guns were UDR and collusion is without doubt. How far up the line is the biggest question that has yet to be answered.

In all of this Stephen Travers comes out as an incredible human being.  He is a warrior for truth but a peacemaker alongside. His grace is palpable. He has no malice or ill will. He set up the Truth and Reconciliation Platform to seek to be a peacemaker in a world where he could easily have lived with animosity and lived with vengeance.

The best bit of the film, apart from a few seconds where my wife appears in a 4 Corners Festival audience, is when Stephen is chatting across a table with Winston Irvine. Winston is a former loyalist combatant, now working in community development. Stephen asks him what he knows about the bomb on the bus. Winston says that his understanding was that it was not to blow up with the band inside. Stephen disagrees and then adds that it is good that they can sit and share their opinions, have different opinions but build relationships. It's an incredible conclusion in Travers life and this documentary.

Remastered; The Miami Showband Massacre is a dark watch but Travers is a light shining for truth and peace. I recommend it!


INVICTUS - A Pastor's Review

Invictus

There are many things about the Invictus movie that grabbed my theological attention. They were particularly pertinent to me when I wrote this review as at the time I was preaching preaching from Colossians about the Kingdom versus the Empire.

For those who haven’t seen the movie, it is a historic piece based around the 1995 Rugby World Cup. Nelson Mandela newly elected first black President of South Africa uses a white sport, a symbol of the apartheid regime that has just been overturned, to bring a nation together. Rather than obliterate this last bastion of the white Africaaner, Mandela holds it up as an important part of their identity and uses his support of it to change the perspectives of the white population towards him and the black population towards their white neighbours, former enemies!

Empires are built on military violence and overthrow. The Kingdom of God is built on a humble defeat on a cross of wood. Empire makes people conform and excludes. The Kingdom of God is a loving inclusive world.

Nelson Mandela has always recognised his Methodist schooling as being influential in his worldview. Never has that Christian influence been more powerful than when he started to build a rainbow nation instead of a Black nation that excluded all minorities. No, Mandela’s vision was inclusive. He was working for the good of everyone not just his own colour and race.

In the movie Invictus director Clint Eastwood captures a radically new way to see politics. He puts on the screen a revolutionary culture of love, mutual admiration and esteem of identity. From this he builds a work of deep reconciliation. This approach of Mandela was almost unique in the Twentieth Century and revealed the possibility of Jesus idea to love your neighbour and how that crazy idea, so abhorrent to our natural inclinations brings hope and healing to very hopelessly divided scenarios.  

Instead of building his new country by greed, selfishness and revenge for what had been done to him and his people, Mandela chose the way of mercy, grace, reconciliation and peace. It was seeing beyond himself to the needs of others and indeed the needs of everyone that was so alternative. These are some of the issues Jesus went on and on about, worked out before us on the silver screen but even better in that part of history that it explores.

The other thing that the pastor/preacher in me picked up from the Invictus movie was the ways that Nelson Mandela was fuelling his social transformation. The title of the movie takes itself from a Victorian poem that Mandela told Pienaar had got him through the darkest days of his twenty seven years in prison. He wrote it out for the Springboks’ captain as the World Cup progressed. This reveals the power of the written word to strengthen, console and inspire.

Another thread working its way through the plot is the power of the song. The new National Anthem a little despised by the white Africaaner becomes a song that is used to unite not only the nation but the rugby team; it becomes another source of unifying inspiration.

As I preached through Colossians in Fitzroy I saw how Paul was using both the written word and the song to bring Christ’s Kingdom to take over from the Empire. It would be suggested by many that the wonderful description of Jesus in chapter 1 v 15-20 come from an early Church hymn.

Walsh and Keesmat in their provocative book Colossians Remixed; Subverting The Empire see it as subversive poetry. The idea is that as we read and seep our souls in the written word of the Christian story we free ourselves from Empire thinking and find the alternative imagination of God’s narrative.

In chapter 3 Paul mentions psalms, hymns and spiritual songs and worship becomes more than liturgy to fill a family gathering. The reason that the writer to the Hebrews encouraged Christians to carrying on meeting together is that like Mandela he recognised the importance of the written word and the song in the spiritual formation of the follower of Jesus. Go somewhere on Sunday and engage in these potent resources!


MARY MAGDALENE - THE FILM - More a Reflection Than a Review

Mary Magdalene

Mary Magdalene - the movie. Reviews are always going to be subjective. How was Joaquin Phoenix as Jesus? What about a script based on Mary? Was it Scripturally based? What about the fictions parts? 

For me, as someone who has lived in the Gospel accounts for almost 40 years of my life it was never going to be about a movie review. I do not find myself watching Bible films as entertainment open to review. Rather it is about spiritual meditation and reflection. Oh yes, I was asking about whether Phoenix’s Jesus felt authentic to me and I was interrogating every part of the fiction. Yet, more intensely I was asking what I could learn about the Gospel accounts and how they apply to my life?

A few things has me surmising. Most obviously Mary Magdalene’s role in Jesus’ life and the aftermath. I remember a friend who was doing an Art Thesis around Mary Magdalene asking me where the Bible said that she was a prostitute? You we wrestled with that one. It seemed so obvious. Yet, nowhere in the Scripture is that suggested. This movie ended with the fact that Pope Gregory was the one who made Mary Magdalene a prostitute and how the Vatican made it right as recently as 2016. Protestants, on the whole, seem to have followed Pope Gregory! 

A film about the Gospels centred on Mary will obviously need some filling out and there was a lot of that. However, being the Bibliophile, I started at the end. Matthew and Mark both make it clear in their accounts that Mary Magdalene was there at the crucifixion and the tomb. The men are scattered. 

Mary witnesses not only Jesus’ death but also the resurrection. This is major truth, a central part of the story. Often times, though we always have a woman declare the resurrection in Fitzroy to hold to this Biblical truth, we often see this as circumstantial. The movie sees it as being about Mary’s insight into Jesus plans and teaching. It opens up interpretation!

Jesus radical approach to women is obviously a thrust of the plot here but never in a garish way. That women are following him is enough. That Mary is the witness of Jesus' death and resurrection is ultimate punch... and a Biblical one!

What I find particularly helpful about such movies, even ones that stray a lot further from Scripture than this one, is to get a feel for the times Jesus lived and taught in. The context for Biblical text is vital. This Mary Magdalene movie reiterated for me the violence of the times. There are scattered crosses and a fictional part where Peter and Mary go through Samaria and come across a village where the people have been attacked and left to die, reminded me of the violent context for words about forgiveness and mercy and peace and love. Jesus call to such things in his day was not an easy or popular message. We in Northern Ireland, in our pots conflict context need to be aware of the radical an costly call to forgiveness in Jesus’ setting and therefore ours.

Most of all the movie brought the prophets right into Jesus message. Isaiah and Amos seem particularly important to the writers Helen Edmundson and Philippa Goslett. Jesus contextualises his teaching in the demand for justice in these prophecies. Most vital throughout is the difference between the ritual of religion and this Kingdom coming spirituality which is authentic and active. The overturning of the table sin the Temple really benefits from this juxtaposition of the Old Testament prophets and New Testament Jesus.

So, on Easter week, much to surmise indeed. I imagine the film will struggle with the critics. Anything Christian tends to begin with either pre-viewed prejudice or ignorance of what Christian faith is about. Added to this I think there are moments when the movie moves a little too slowly and lacks some energy. Phoenix’s Jesus is a little other worldly and lacks a little charisma. Rooney Mara is much more convincing as Mary Magdalene. The resurrection scenes don’t burst with miracles and hope like they could and should.

So, Mary Magdalene might not get an opportunity to draw a wider audience than those of with a vested interest. No matter, watched with an open mind and sieved through the actual Scriptural accounts, it can open up many insights, a helpful resource in these last days of Lent!


QUEEN OF KATWE - Film Review

Queen Of Katwe

It is Disney so we are not much likely to have trauma or an unhappy ending. Take that all as read and we find ourselves in a movie that has few white actors and 80 Ugandan kids who had no acting experience given the thrill of an acting boot camp to play their part. Of the stars David Oyelowo, fresh from his Dr King portrayal in Selma, and the young Madina Nalwanga who plays the Queen of Katwe do a convincing job.

The Queen of Katwe is a teenage girl, in the lowest rung of Ugandan slum poverty who against all the run of play becomes a Woman Candidate Master in chess. The child of a Kampala slum dares never to dream of being involved in a Hollywood ending, never mind it being her true story. Phiona Mutesi is a real life Disney story and that story deserves telling and is told well.

For me though this would always be subjective. Having spent the last two summers in Uganda, taking a team again this summer, and trying to expose my congregation to that country and our connectedness there, a partnership work similar to the one that Phiona benefited from, I was licking my movie watching lips on this one.

On May 6th we will show the film in Fitzroy and it will do everything I hoped it would. Viewers will be transported to Uganda. The contextual research is near perfect, down to the very words that Ugandan's use. The bustle of the Kampala life, the bleakness of the poor in the slums and the near impossibility to better themselves is all laid out.

Then, into such hopelessness, there are those who give their lives to improve the lives of others. Oyelowo’s character sacrifices his own betterment to improve the children that he teaches chess and other sports to... as does his wife.

Chess is such a fascinating game to play among Ugandan children or any other African child. With little play time at a young age and education done in a very rote manner, chess, that uses problem solving and imagination, is more than a game. It teaches about life and how to deal with the knocks and be creative about how to dream beyond the situation. One great spin off of Queen Of Katwe would be chess clubs springing up all over the continent!

So, if you haven’t seen it, or even if you have, come along to Fitzroy on Saturday May 6th at 7pm and see a real life Disney and a whole lot more within. No spoilers on the ending!


HALFWAY HOUSE PLAY by PHILIP ORR - reviewed

Half Way House

District 6 is a green gash in the middle of Cape Town. In 1966 the white apartheid government declared it a white area and brought bulldozers in, flattening the houses and shops and sending the black and coloured residents out onto the townships of the Cape Flats. It is a shocking tale of injustice.

On the first of my many trips to the District 6 Museum I rushed to the little bookshop to grab a history of the place. Nothing! There are novels, plays, poetry books, photographic books, biographies and even a fascinating programme to The Public Sculpture Project but nothing more concrete (did I really use that word).

I was fascinated with this approach in dealing with history. We in Northern Ireland are right in the middle of the dilemma as how to deal with our past. I started to ponder if art was a better way to unpack it than in a history book of blame. 

Philip Orr’s play Halfway House helped convince me that there is something in this. In our year of 1916 Centenaries, there will be much talk and discussion, debate and argument. It is important that we look back at such crucial events as the Easter Rising and The Somme to find out what shaped us into who we are today. However, how we look might be as crucial as what we look at!

What Orr does with this play is give the historical facts flesh and blood. He humanises The Easter Rising and The Somme and the consequent events. We need to remember that we don’t jump from 1916 to 1969 or 1998 or 2016. After those dominos fell one hundred years ago, they tipped more to fall. There was a continuing story.

So, two women meet in 1966, halfway between then and now, in The Half Way House Pub on the Glenshane Pass. They are caught in a snow storm and, taking shelter around the fire, they share their lives. They find out that they are from the same town. Their families know each other. There have been interconnections. Yet, two very different lives are lived in the very same place. 

There is the uneasiness of finding out they are from different sides of the community and their discussion about family, loved ones and particularly fathers lead them into uncomfortable conversations about The Somme, The Easter Rising, the immediate legacy and how both families might commemorate those events 50 years on. 

The two actors Louise Parker and Antoinette Morelli are brilliant engaging the audience from start to finish with just a conversation. They show the tenderness, frustration, anger and at moments empathy and sadness. They shine many lights onto our history both in the information about the era and insightful commentary too.

I was impressed by Orr’s particular genius with this play in the breadth of audience in the house. In Fitzroy, where I watched, there was a wide range of political affiliations in the room. I have heard that in other places even wider. None of those affiliations would have left feeling that their side of the 1916 story was given a bad press nor would any have felt the other side’s story was unfair. If any had ears to hear then there was a lot of helpful listening. 

Listening is of course the theme for this year’s 4 Corners Festival. At the Festival we will be putting on Philip Orr’s other work about 1916, Stormont House Rules. Where Halfway House was set in 1966 this one is up to do date. It is more of another dramatic reading debate and will be a little more vociferous but will again be an artistic way to engage with historic events. It might open a door in our souls.

http://4cornersfestival.com


SELMA; THE MOVIE - A Sermon To Respond To.

Selma

“From the bridge at Selma

To the mouth of the river Nile

From the swamplands of Louisiana

To the high peaks of Kilimanjaro

From Dr. King's America

To Nelson Mandela's Africa

The journey of equality moves on

On, on, on”

 

Bono’s rap as the flags of African states flashed up and down on Willie Williams light bulb curtained back drop of the Vertigo Tour as the band cracked up Where The Streets Have No Name was my first real awareness of Selma. Tonight I watched the movie that will place it in the cultural conscious for a good while to come. Ava Du Vernay’s film on Dr. Martin Luther King concentrates on this short phase but very big moment in the Civil Rights Movement. 

 

In the dialogue we get the clever and imaginative strategy of the entire campaign condensed into a semtex sized bite. What we also get is a character sketch of Dr King that is deep and wide and high. British actor David Oyelowa does an amazing job at conjuring up the frailties, doubt, wisdom and extraordinary strength of King. It is the vulnerable moments that touch the most. MLK is such an icon that the idea he had weaknesses is hardly thinkable. Selma paints the picture of an ordinary human with deep faith and an extraordinary vocation.

 

The film is simply a classic in every cinematic way but I’ll leave that for the movie experts. For me a few things stood out. Firstly, the part that songs played in the movement. I was particularly taken by the scene where King phones Mahalia Jackson in the midst of his uncertainty just to get her to sing to him. My Masters Dissertation looked at the transformational power of song, looking closely at the Civil Rights Movement, and this scene validated my thesis. It is there throughout the movie. When President Johnston uses the phrase We Shall Overcome in his speech to declare the rights for the black vote I had to google it to confirm it was true. John Legend and Common’s Glory as the song that kicks in when the credits role is a powerful and perfect end for the movie; reason to break the horrible and disrespectful tradition of leaving the cinema before the credits.

 

Secondly I was taken by the depth of faith at work in the movement and the movie. The use of Scripture through the dialogue, particularly at times of crisis was striking. I was unaware that that it was at Selma that John Lewis appeared on the scene. I missed the privilege of time with him last year when a meeting before mine over ran. I was disappointed and got a signed copy of his book Cross The Bridge as consolation. The first chapter of that book is about how faith was the thing that pulled them through the beating, jailing and murder of friends. The movie for me is a powerful illustration of how Christian faith at its best can be socially transformative. I looked at some of our current world issues and was saddened that that faith that brought change to America is a more peripheral resource of our society. 

 

Finally, the over riding thought as I left the QFT was what does this mean for me? What kind of Belfast, Northern Ireland and world am I imagining, seeing vision of and strategically playing my part in making it a reality. Where do I need my faith to be brave? For me the film was a sermon and, with sermons, the listening is not the point, the response is what it is all about. I am marinating, surmising and seeking God as MLK did on that bridge. There was only one Martin Luther King, only one John Lewis. We will not get up the day after watching Selma and find ourselves on the forefront of history. However, we are all called to follow Jesus into Kingdom coming, shalom bringing redemption, turning the world in repentance from how it is to how it can be. 

 

Selma shows us one ordinary, flawed, sometimes doubting human being whose understanding of God’s ways and faith in God drove him to make a contribution. Lord show me mine… And then Legend and Common with a choir sing…

 

One day, when the glory comes

It will be ours, it will be ours

Oh, one day, when the war is one

We will be sure, we will be here sure…

Oh, glory, glory

 

My soul sighs, “Phew!”


THE FALL - CONCLUSIONS ON ITS CONCLUSION

The Fall

So… it is over. Two series over two years and the suspense is done. We can walk the streets of south Belfast without feeling the fear anymore. The Fall has been a phenomenon. I am not sure I have ever spoken to more people about a television series. For sure, those of us watching in Belfast were even more intrigued. I know that street. I used to live across the road from that house. I know him. Oh look there is my daughter! Indeed Jasmine appeared in her school during the first series! So what are the conclusions, now that the credits have rolled for the final time.

Well, for me the success of The Fall was the suspense created. One evening we headed to shop after watching an episode and I found myself looking over my shoulder in an underground car park, more than a little spooked! Maybe for those of us familiar with the setting it made the fear a little more real. Anyway, for me that was the strength of the series.

The script was not as strong. There were so many contrived situations and scenes that simply wouldn’t happen in real life. Perhaps the last 10 minutes while looking for Rose in the forest was most far fetched of all but we were still gripped even when we could see exactly what was about to happen. That is perhaps down to the superb performances by Gillian Anderson and Jamie Dornan who play such complex and fascinating characters. Dornan’s murderer Spector gives just enough glimpses of light to perplex and Anderson’s Deputy Inspector Stella Gibson has more than enough tints of darkness to keep you wondering!

My theo-TVologist’s head was working over time too. I have no idea about writer Allan Cubitt’s theological interest or intention but the title The Fall has theological resonance. That all came to out in the last episode as Spector and Gibson finally eyeballed each other. That, perhaps too lengthy, interview saw Spector rather surprisingly confessional. Not only that but his answers were a succinct psychology of the Serial Killer. It is here that Spector tells us how killing made him feel like God and how when he was killing his senses were sharper than a normal person, like Stella for instance! He speaks about being outside the law secular and religious. It all has the marks of the Biblical fall in Eden when Adam and Eve reached outside the law too, seeking that spectacular taste, longing to be God; reaching beyond themselves and and becoming less!

Where The Fall was maybe most successful of all was revealing that there are splinters of this fall in all of our souls. Just before Stella goes in to interview Spector she let’s her colleague A.C.C. John Burns uncomfortably understand this very fact, reminding him of the evening he crossed the line in his sexual advances towards her. She spoke from her own self awareness. Gibson’s sexual ethics and actions throughout the series cross a variety of lines. Writer Allan Cubitt has said that his aim was to show that we are all on the continuum. We might not be as far down that continuum as Spector but we all have our fallen flaws. Theologically accurate says the Presbyterian minister. 

As I have said the script at times was as suspect as Paul Spector. There were also perhaps a one or two episodes that ran on the spot a little. We could have done with a couple less. All in all though The Fall was a huge success and there will be demand for another series for sure. It has made Jamie Dornan a star. Gillian Anderson’s stock has risen again. Belfast has come out of it well even if it showed that we can murder even without The Troubles. No doubt we would be quickly sucked in to another series. However, if it was set in Macclesfield I might not!

In the end from a theo-TVologists perspective redemption is sadly never explored. What justice should look like for Spector ricochets all around the forest in those final scenes. Grace might be a good title for the rumoured third series but the suspense that was so powerful might be trickier to conjure in a plot with more light!

 


PHILOMENA REVIEW Pt 2 - A Lesson In Forgiveness

Philomena

Philomena is still racing around my mind as a spiritually stimulating movie. In the first part of my review ( read it here...) I looked at the evangelistic work of Philomena on Martin Sixsmith. In this blog I want to look at the end of the movie. If you haven’t seen the movie then I am heading in to a big spoiler so stop reading now… go and watch it… and then come back here after you have enjoyed. If you haven’t seen it and want to continue reading then having been warned a will give a little background. 

Philomena was an unmarried teenager, sent to an Irish Magdalen Laundry where Nuns looked after you in return for your working for a few years in their convent. It wasn’t pretty and many of the children were then sent off to be adopted. Fifty years after her son was born, and almost as many since she had seen him last, Philomena sets her heart on finding her son. Martin Sixsmith who has lost his journalist credibility in a political leak takes on the story. An unlikely partnership they set off on a trail that leads them to a shocking conclusion that the Nuns have lied to not only Philomena but her long lost son. By the time they discover this her son is dead and the hope of reconciliation gone. 

Sixsmith is outraged at this injustice and the behaviour of those who claim to represent a God that he already has trouble believing in. He bursts through the private doors of the Convent and begins an assault one of the old Nuns who he reckons is culpable. As he does so, Philomena appears on the scene, looks the Nun in the eye and tells her that she wants her to know that she forgives her. Sixsmith is even more exasperated and says to Philomena, “Just like that?” to which she answers, “No, not just like that,” expressing the cost of this brave act. When Sixsmith shares his anger Philomena looks at him with some pity and says, “that must be exhausting!”

 It is one of the many many profound scenes in a movie that is lingering with me as days go on. I was immediately thinking of the importance of that idea of forgiveness to the social and political reconciliation in Belfast. Forgiveness needs spoken, and it is not lost on me that it is spoken to the Church in this instance, and there needs to be understanding that when it is falteringly uttered that the words come with a huge cost and deep pain. Yet, it is something that releases the anger and that pain. It is a freeing act. Philomena, not for the first time in this movie, reveals deep truth in the simplest of ways.

read Philomena Review Pt 1 here...


PHILOMENA - REVIEW PT 1 - Faith in God; Simple But Profound

Philomena

So it took a flight to America for me to get to see Philomena. Janice and I are not big cinema goers. Life in ministry is about people and evenings off are rare. Trying to add an evening out to our schedule is never easy and therefore a rarity. Even the Fitzroy Film Club heads out on nights that we are already booked and so I get to the end of Philomena and realise that I am way behind time in blogging about it now but boy does this movie need to be blogged about. Let me blog it in two parts. The issue of forgiveness that raises its head at the end of the movie is absolutely crucial to the Northern Ireland situation that I skirt around the edge of in my life, ministry and blog. We will get to that…

First, let me look at the issue of God in the movie. I often write about a transformative moment in my life in Cape Town when I touched the shoulder of Cindy as we prayed for her. Cindy was dying of AIDS and as I thought I was helping her I was suddenly infused with an energy from her that was for me redemptive and Divine. I suddenly realised what Jesus was on about when he talked about meeting him as we connected with the poor and marginalised in the Parable of the Sheep and Goats in Matthew 25. God meets us in that connecting moment.

That is what happens to Martin Sixsmith when he helps Philomena Lee look for her lost son in an almost selfish means to find work, having lost his vocational credibility in a political scandal. The sophisticated, educated, wealthy and English secularist shows patronising contempt for the simple ordinary Irish Catholic. The film shows a turning of the tables as Philomena confronts Sixsmith with his prejudice and weaknesses. 

A couple of lovely moments to illustrate. As they are driving along Philomena pierces Martin’s cynicism about God by asking straight out, “Do you believe in God, Martin?” You can see Sixsmith ponder that around his mind and he responds with how complex a question that is and how difficult he finds it to give a simple answer. “What about you Philomena?” “Yes!”. It is beautiful. 

As the movie continues that simple “Yes” reveals a confidence and profundity. Sixsmith gets more and more frustrated with how Philomena speaks about it and lives it out. At another point she asks him to stop the car as she wants to go to Confession. By this stage Sixsmith is exasperated at Philomena’s faith in spite of what nuns have done to her in the past and indeed, as the movie progresses, even in the present. As she gets out of the car he gives an anti-God rant that concludes by asking her to ask God what he has to say to him. Philomena leans back in and says, “I think he would say you are a feckin’ eejit!” Utterly brilliant!

What we need to remember in these dialogues is that we are hearing them from Sixsmith’s perspective. Ultimately, through his own awakening to this women’s simple faith, he portrays Philomena’s faith as something that transcends the Church’s shortcomings. The movie is as much a deconstruction of his own arrogant snobbery, intellectually and spiritually, as about Philomena’s strength of faith in God and in other people, even in people who have badly mistreated her. 

Get to see it before your next flight to wherever!