MESSAGE IN THE MOVIES
Photo By Warner Brothers
Directed by Denis Villeneuve. Starring Hugh Jackman, Jake Gyllenhaal.
The first words you hear on the screen are the words of The Lord’s Prayer. To a religious film critic this seemed like a golden moment. But my hopes were soon dashed. The prayer is offered by a father with his eldest son as they aim and kill a deer. It’s just a ritual that uses God as a talisman for successful hunting.
Prisoners is a gloomy and bleak crime drama that presents such a dark worldview that there is no other use for faith than the simple representation of yet another aspect of ife that has failed us. The movie also makes great use of the labyrinth, the medieval prayer pattern, but turns it into something altogether different.
All of this religious posturing is for naught, however, as Prisoners tells its long, twisted tale about when happens when two fathers (Jackman and Terrence Howard) set out to find their two daughters who disappear on Thanksgiving Day on a walk after dinner. Since a suspicious RV has been parked in their small-town Pennsylvanian neighborhood (blasting out “Put Your Hand in the Hand” on the stereo), their thoughts naturally turn to its driver (Paul Dan). The girls are not in the vehicle and there isn’t enough evidence to hold the suspect, so he is released.
This doesn’t stop the fathers from pursuing the suspicious person, followed by Detective Loki (Gyllenhaal), who is trying to be procedural in the investigation while working alongside the compulsive and vindictive nature of the two dads.
Things turn dark very early in this 2½-hour film and they stay there. It seems that there are many secrets in this little middleclass town and none of them are good. And, without giving anything away, a serpentine plot ends up wrapping itself up in an unbelievably tidy fashion.
Twenty-five years ago David Lynch’s Blue Velvet did a masterful job at depicting a world of despair in the midst of surface normality. Unfortunately, many more films to follow, including 1991’s Best Film Oscar Winner The Silence of the Lambs, would choose to offer up this bleak moral canvas. The novelty has worn off. After 1995’s Se7en, I had had enough bleakness in my life.
To be sure, the events of 9/11 and its aftershocks have something to do with the many films that show a world in which God’s love and forgiveness are absent. It’s time, I think, for our finest writers to explore religious faith once again. It’s always been easier and more commercial to emphasize our basest nature. But it is the works of art (including films) that tap into grace, beauty, and hope that draw us closer to the very God who gave us the desire to create in the first place.
Two halos: A well-directed, well-acted but a contrived and shallow tale of revenge.
Five pitchforks: (Violence, swearing, and a worldview that is bereft of hope.
Rev. Bruce Batchelor-Glader
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