Monday, May 9, 2011

Another untimely review: Conviction

What am I willing to sacrifice in order to pursue a life passion? Does a life passion take on a different scope if that passion is a family member?

At one point in the film Conviction, Betty Anne Waters (Hilary Swank) has been advocating and fighting for her brother (Sam Rockwell), convicted of murder for nearly two decades. She sacrificed her marriage (it ended in divorce) and nearly gave up her relationships with her children in order to prove her brother was wrongly convicted. Waters graduated from law school and passed the bar in order to serve as her brother's council for his murder case. She went through well over a decade without a friend, except for a fellow law student (Minnie Driver) who doggedly befriended Waters and endured Waters' tireless work and persistence in obtaining anything that could help her brother. In a conversation with her two teenage sons, one of the sons states that Betty had given up her live to save Uncle Kenny. Waters paused, looked at her son incredulously, as if the concept of sacrifice never crossed her mind.

The title of the film is a perfect play on words and a deep reflection on the nature of passion. Surely, it is a good story about the pitfalls of any justice system, but for me this was a film about the relationship between conviction and passion. Waters was depicted as someone who did not see herself as passionate or one who sacrificed. The other question that came up in conversation about the story with my wife was whether Waters' relationship with her brother was unhealthy. This was a sibling pair who could be analyzed in psychological parlance as "fused," rooted in growing up together in an abusive household. I wonder if Waters (as she is depicted) is a Christ-like figure. Christians for centuries have written, taught and preached to fellow Christians and the world that we should reflect and embody Christ's "sacrifice" for humanity. I am not a Christian proponent of a sacrificial Christology. The sacrificial nomenclature is hard to escape in the Bible and Christian theology, and I though I don't wholeheartedly reject it, I don't embrace it.

Looking into the character of Waters and her (loving? obsessing?) pursuit of securing the freedom of her brother, I can't help but think of Jesus. In my limited knowledge of the Bible and theology, I can't recall anyone who bothered to ask Jesus whether he believed that his death was a sacrifice to him (and I would be glad to learn from my readers where I could find further reading on this topic) or whether theology has bothered to ask the question about the nature of sacrifice as it relates to love. In addition, how is a sacrifice beneficial (or even loving) to a relationship if the person who made the sacrifice for the "sake of the relationship" has to constantly remind the other person that they made the sacrifice in the first place?

Over the years in my life of Christian faith, I've been asked to accept the idea of Christ's sacrifice at face value, that I had better appreciate it and think about it to the point of guilt and shame. Only then will I have faith. Until my work with my theological education teachers (mostly Pat Keifert and Walter Sundberg at Luther Seminary) I had not considered the multiple dimensions of sacrifice in the Christian faith and theological discourse. Conviction serves as a reminder of the multiple dimensions of understanding sacrifices and relationships. There's plenty of guilt and shame to go around in the world, and I am thankful for the love and grace I have received in the body of Christ. Many have lovingly given in more ways than I can count so that I may have a better life (did they always see it as a sacrifice?). Watching Conviction offered me some new questions and insights to the interplay of love, justice, sacrifice, guilt and relationships. It wasn't a sacrifice for me to give up four dollars and two hours to watch the film.


  1. Hmmm... I have never thought about Christ's sacrifice coming with guilt or shame for me. Right or wrong I have always taken it as a loving free gift.. the way I happily give to my kids.

  2. Thanks for your comment Kelly!

    In Christ's return after the resurrection, he doesn't mention his sacrifice. I was wondering if Jesus was speaking to us directly today whether he would constantly remind us of his sacrifice. I wonder if the church has employed sacrifice language for the sake of control. I appreciate your response and that you put your focus on the life freely given...

    Watching Hilary Swank's interpretation of the character made me think about what a freely given life might look like--I'm not sure it was equivalent, but at least thought provoking.

    The guilt and shame thing has more to do with the church at large than Jesus. The church over the centuries has dished up large helpings of guilt and shame...