Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Movie Reflection: Get Low

As a called and ordained minister of the Church of Christ, and by his authority, I therefore declare to you the entire forgiveness of all of your sins, in the name of the Father, and of the +Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

For 10 years of my young life, The Brief Order of Confession and Forgiveness, page 77 (coincidental to Mt 18:21-22?) in the The Lutheran Book of Worship (aka The Green Hymnal or the LBW) was my regular contact with the concept of forgiveness. I knew the page well, considering how the page curled from regular use, my ink-pen stained finger prints dotted the page, and the growing fuzzy edges prevented paper cuts. The LBW provided tactile reminders of sins committed and assurance of God's love in Christ, like a nun kneels and rubs her fingers along beads of a rosary. The "Brief Order of Confession and Forgiveness" was usually the first act of public worship each Sunday morning. Alongside the sermon, the confession had the most impact on me in early Christian life. This practice suited me not because it's fun, but because I am a naturally reflective person. Where have I been? Where am I going? What is my relationship with God? I could ponder those questions for years, but in the span of a few minutes, my reflections and redemption took shape. Even though I have felt the impact of sin and the liberation of redemption, the power of confession and forgiveness can still be elusive.

Imagine reflecting upon haunting sins and the elusiveness of forgiveness for a span of 40-plus years. Though I could only imagine that kind of torment, the storytelling of the film Get Low took me inside one man's understanding of love, sin, forgiveness, penance and redemption--and how his thoughts and actions influenced others' views and actions. The film is a 1930's period piece from the Bible Belt with an interesting connection to my own faith tradition in the Evangelical Lutheran Church In America. The film made me realize the gift of confession and forgiveness in the life of the church and my own faith, but it also made me realize how the church's rituals and teaching can be deficient in people's real lives. The confession and forgiveness practice can be programmed and sometimes rote, and life in between the rituals and proclamations is much messier than people (clergy included) care to often times understand.

Though forgiveness is the driving theme, the story telling is well crafted and the character development, cinematography, and top notch Bluegrass music (Jerry Douglass and Alison Krauss, to name a few) maximize the theme's impact. Because the film is based on a true story, some details could not be fictionally created (you can't make this stuff up!). After 40-plus years living the life of a hermit, Felix Bush (Robert Duvall) comes to town wanting to throw a funeral party, his own, before he dies. The meaning of this funeral party is revealed through his interactions with a local funeral director Frank Quinn (Bill Murray), his assistant (Lucas Black), two preachers, and an old friend (Sissy Spacek), and other town folk. For Frank Quinn, the funeral is unorthodox, but an opportunity to revive his sagging funeral business. For his assistant, his sense of right and wrong is constantly challenged.

A few sub themes worth noting in "Get Low" include the understanding of vocation in the world and how it is shared. Another sub-theme deals with how little people really know about one another--even in a small town. Another involves reflections upon integrity in the midst of personal identity and promises kept. It's one thing to teach, preach or discuss themes of sin, confession, forgiveness, redemption, vocation, relationships, promises, integrity and peace. Video is a special medium--and film story telling is a unique opportunity for impact, with the cinematography, music, and acting interpretation. Not only is the story and it's themes powerful because of the film making quality, but the humor is prevalent and disarming, but not distracting or trite. I can only tell you so much. Go see the film. Take adults. Take teenagers. Take someone you love. Talk about the film with one another. Journal about the film. Blog about the film. Tweet about the film.

For readers in the Puget Sound area, my wife and I viewed the film at Grand Cinema in Tacoma. This was our first trip to the Grand, and it represents all that is good about a trip to the movies--a non-profit cinema with lower prices and smaller concessions, staffed by friendly volunteers in a well-cared for setting both inside and out. We will go back because of the mission and the experience at the Grand.

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