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Peter T Chattaway

Get Low

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Link to our thread on Crazy Heart, which also co-starred Robert Duvall and was directed by Scott Cooper, who co-stars in this film.

Little birdies are telling me that this film (which opens in limited release in the U.S. on July 30 and in three Canadian cities on August 6) will be promoted in various Christian media outlets -- like, not with interviews and other freebies, but with actual bought-and-paid-for advertising -- so I'm wondering if anyone here caught it on the festival circuit and knows what there is about the content of the film that might lend itself to such an approach. I'm guessing it has something to do with the "preacher" referred to in this synopsis sent out by the publicist:

Robert Duvall, Bill Murray, Sissy Spacek and Lucas Black star in Get Low, a story loosely based on a real-life incident (that has since become an American folktale) about a Tennessee hermit who threw himself a "living funeral" in the 1930s. Mixing dry humor with homespun drama, the film marks the feature debut of director Aaron Schneider, whose short Two Soldiers won an Oscar.

For years, townsfolk have been terrified of Felix (Duvall), a wild-haired recluse who's lived in the backwoods for nigh on four decades. People say he's done all sorts of unspeakable things. Then, one day, Felix rides into town with a shotgun and a wad of cash, saying he wants to buy himself a funeral - one held while he's still alive, where anyone can come and tell a story about him.

Fast-talking funeral director Frank (Murray) enlists his gentlemanly young apprentice (Black) to win over Felix's business. Using flyers and a radio show, Frank plots to put the "party" into funeral party. As the funeral approaches, the mystery about Felix's past - which involves a widow (Spacek) and a preacher (Bill Cobbs) - only deepens. But on the big day, Felix will reveal all.

Although the film's story has been embellished, it is based in truth. The real Felix "Bush" Breazeale lived in the Tennessee woods and ended up throwing himself a funeral. Like Felix in the film, he also held a lottery, giving away his land as a prize to be claimed after his death. It is said that as many as 12,000 "mourners" from at least 14 states showed up on June 26, 1938 - including a Life Magazine photographer - to pay their respects and watch the event transpire. . . .

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My dad -- a bluegrass fanatic -- is very excited about this one. I told him he just wants to go for the soundtrack. :) But I expect I'll probably go see it with him.

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It's always interesting to see how secular coverage of a film often gets into the theological nitty-gritty more than the Christian coverage. Compare the CT Movies interview with Robert Duvall, which has already been referenced in our thread on The Apostle, with the interview at NPR. There's very little discussion of the theological substance of this film at the former site, beyond the fact that it has "themes of forgiveness and redemption", but the latter site gives us this:

Duvall's character wants absolution. But when he goes to a minister to ask him to speak at his funeral, the minister asks him if he's "made peace with God." Felix is silent.

"Mr. Bush, you can't buy forgiveness. It's free, but you do have to ask for it," the minister says.

But Felix won't ask. Why should he beg God for mercy when "I never did nothing to Him."

Ultimately, this story is about rejecting cheap, religious grace and seeking the forgiveness of the people you have loved — and hurt. That defiance matches Duvall's own philosophy.

"Why on this side of the grave does a preacher or a man have that power to send me to heaven or hell?" he asks. "I don't buy that. So, I think if there is a judgment day — IF — it will be on the other side of the grave."

That's interesting stuff, and it only begins to touch on some of the questions I had after seeing this film. But at least it begins.

NPR also mentions that Duvall was raised Christian Scientist, which is interesting.

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FWIW, the website Pretty Good Lutherans notes that the original idea for this film came from a Lutheran pastor named Scott Seeke, who is the lead pastor at this church, and that the movie is very loosely based on relatives of his wife Beth Birkholz, who is the associate pastor at this church. (And based on the picture, I'm guessing that they have a cameo as the couple who win a certain lottery at a certain point in the film; don't worry, that's not a spoiler, it's treated as an incidental detail within the movie itself.) The actual screenplay was written by others, though.

Incidentally, I came across this review from the Journal of Religion and Film's coverage of the Sundance festival, and once again, a la the NPR story linked above, we find the story summed up like so:

If a person commits an act that results in death, the Christian way to gain redemption is to confess that sin and to ask God for forgiveness. However, in Get Low, the perspective of Felix Bush (Robert Duvall) is different “They keep telling me to ask Jesus for forgiveness. I never did nothing to him.” Instead of accepting the Christian path, Felix takes the hard low road of personal penance and, in the end, communal friendship and forgiveness.

Now, of course, there really shouldn't be an either/or opposition between seeking forgiveness from God and seeking forgiveness from our neighbours -- but I don't think it is inaccurate to suggest that This Movie basically sides with one against the other. (And then there is the fact that, when the Duvall character's story is finally revealed, it turns out that the REAL evil was committed by someone else, not him -- so the average moviegoer might be inclined to say, "There, there, it wasn't your fault, don't be so hard on yourself...") Which makes it all the more ... interesting ... that so many Christians have been involved in both the making of this film and its current reception.

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Steve Sailer:

Teddy Roosevelt’s daughter Alice said of her spotlight-loving father, “He wants to be the bride at every wedding, the corpse at every funeral, and the baby at every christening.” In this same spirit, the illiterate Tennessee codger Felix Bushaloo Breazeale decided to enjoy hearing his own eulogy.

Breazeale’s whim captured the fancy of the nation. Soon, he had a publicity agent and newspapers were treating the faux funeral like the biggest news in Tennessee since the Scopes Monkey Trial. About ten thousand people from 14 states swarmed the festivities. A two-mile long traffic jam left Uncle Bush late for his own funeral.

The “living corpse” savored every moment of the “doin’s and goin’s on,” chuckling “Folks, I’m tellin’ ya, this business of having your funeral before you die beats sparkin’ in a buggy.” Afterwards, he autographed fans’ programs with his “X.” The 74-year-old backwoodsman then went to New York and appeared on Ripley’s Believe It Or Not Radio Show, but reported back that big city “victuals weren’t worth a dern.” He lived on another half decade, entertaining his numerous visitors by having his mule (named “Mule”) perform tricks.

The one thing you shouldn’t do in filming this tale is leave out all the Appalachian absurdity to render it tasteful, subdued, bittersweet, quasi-tragic Oscar-bait. Unfortunately, that’s exactly what first time director Aaron Schneider and the various screenwriters attempt. . . .

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Sailer is right that the film very much changes the spirit of the historical event. And I agree that more of the spirit of the historical event -- the "Appalachian absurdity" Sailer describes -- would have improved the film.

But it's still one of the year's best films in my book. From my review:

In Hollywood hands, such material would almost inevitably lead to a story about a larger-than-life sage, a colorfully unconventional outsider with a higher perspective who teaches life lessons to others. One of the pleasures of first-time feature director Aaron Schneider’s spare, offbeat
Get Low
is the consciously human-scaled stature of Robert Duvall’s fictionalized Felix Bush. I say “consciously” because Duvall’s Felix is aware of his own larger-than-life status in Roane County as a local boogeyman, perhaps even amused by it, but never makes the mistake of believing his own myth.

Many readers have written to me to express their appreciation for another recent film starring a septuagenarian Hollywood icon in a valedictory turn as a shotgun-toting, taciturn recluse facing death with only an animal for a companion while butting heads with clergy as he seeks redemption before dying: Clint Eastwood’s
Gran Torino
. I hope they all see
Get Low
. It’s as much a crowd-pleaser, or more, but a better and more spiritual film in virtually every way.

Subtle, quirky and low-key where
Gran Torino
is obvious and conventional,
Get Low
doesn’t make its hero the most self-aware character in the film or subordinate everyone else’s story to his. Where
Gran Torino
gleefully sticks it to Walt Kowalski’s superficial, annoying family members (to say nothing of the predatory villains),
Get Low
extends empathy to nearly every character.

Though a wily, crusty character, Felix isn’t any wiser, ultimately, than anyone else. He’s a genuinely flawed man — even a crippled one, both emotionally and spiritually — living under the shadow of something in his past for which he has punished himself for decades without finding peace. Unlike Eastwood’s Walt, Felix contends with a number of formidable characters who are essentially his match ...

Amid the tangled narrative that Felix has made of his life is a startlingly countercultural notion, almost foreign to Hollywood cinema: Love, by itself, is not enough. Just because you love someone does not mean you can or should have them in this lifetime — not even if they love you back. Love may bear and forgive all things, but it does not justify or excuse all things.

Edited by SDG

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...NPR...

Duvall's character wants absolution. But when he goes to a minister to ask him to speak at his funeral, the minister asks him if he's "made peace with God." Felix is silent.

"Mr. Bush, you can't buy forgiveness. It's free, but you do have to ask for it," the minister says.

But Felix won't ask. Why should he beg God for mercy when "I never did nothing to Him."

Ultimately, this story is about rejecting cheap, religious grace and seeking the forgiveness of the people you have loved — and hurt.

Wow. I don't think that's a persuasive reading of the film at all.

(Vague spoiler warning.)

Felix's claim that he "never did nothing" to Jesus and his refusal to ask God for forgiveness are of a piece with his belief that he has "paid" for his sins and his forty-year refusal to confess to "those he has hurt" -- a stubborn, uncontrite stance that the movie patently rejects. Whether religious or secular, clearly Felix is in need of some sort of conversion at that point in the film.

The message of both of the film's pastors, Rev. Charlie Jackson as well as the white pastor in the episode alluded by by NPR -- the message Felix has to learn by the end -- is that Felix can't pay for his own sins; he must ask for forgiveness.

It's true that Rev. Jackson and the other pastor bring different angles to this message. Partly that's because Jackson knows Felix and what he has done, and the other pastor doesn't -- but it's also because the filmmakers allow the other pastor, who speaks with less authority, to be more explicitly Christian, while Jackson, whose authority in the film can hardly be doubted, doesn't necessarily say anything that would make an unbeliever uncomfortable. It may be thus argued that the filmmakers are primarily interested in a secular point (human forgiveness) that they put explicitly on the lips of Jackson, rather than in the religious point (divine forgiveness) that they put explicitly on the lips of the white pastor.

Nevertheless, the convergence of the two pastors' counsel, and of Felix's response to them both, is too obvious to be overlooked. We can easily imagine that Felix, having rejected Jackson's counsel in the past, comes to the white pastor hoping for a different reception. But no, the same old thing, even from this stranger. And so he eventually goes back to the one who knows him, still resisting what he knows he has to do, but hoping that Jackson may do it for him, or at least help get him through it.

Certainly to pit one pastor against the other, as the NPR piece seems to do, to the extent of making out that they represent two different and even opposed points of view, one to be "rejected" and the other not, is unconvincing in the extreme. It can hardly be argued that Rev. Jackson would agree with Felix, against the other pastor, that Felix has done nothing to Jesus and has no need of divine forgiveness. Rather, it seems more plausible to suppose, even if it's never made explicit, that Rev. Jackson would say if asked that divine forgiveness depends in part on confessing to those he has hurt.

Edited by SDG

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SDG wrote:

: Whether religious or secular, clearly Felix is in need of some sort of conversion at that point in the film.

True. But I think NPR, the Journal of Religion and Film, and others are on to something when they say that the film basically rejects the religious option.

: It's true that Rev. Jackson and the other pastor bring different angles to this message. Partly that's because Jackson knows Felix and what he has done, and the other pastor doesn't -- but it's also because the filmmakers allow the other pastor, who speaks with less authority, to be more explicitly Christian, while Jackson, whose authority in the film can hardly be doubted, doesn't necessarily say anything that would make an unbeliever uncomfortable. It may be thus argued that the filmmakers are primarily interested in a secular point (human forgiveness) that they put explicitly on the lips of Jackson, rather than in the religious point (divine forgiveness) that they put explicitly on the lips of the white pastor.

Yes, and note also how the white pastor, in his only other significant scene, expresses concern that Felix might do something bad to the people who show up at the party; the white pastor, i.e. the pastor who is more explicitly Christian, is also one of the fearmongers, in his own way.

The black pastor, on the other hand, tells Felix to confess to (or ask forgiveness from) three different people (or sets of people), including God, and by the end of the film... well, whoever Felix confesses to (or asks forgiveness from), God isn't one of them.

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(Vague spoiler warning.)

If Jackson tells Felix to confess to God, among others, and Felix does confess to others, but not to God, then it seems one of the following must be true:

  1. Felix rejects Jackson's counsel as regards confession to God, and the movie thinks that Felix is right, and rejects Jackson's counsel on that score.
  2. Felix rejects Jackson's counsel, but the movie does not necessarily agree with Felix; it may be Felix who is wrong.
  3. Felix does not necessarily reject Jackson's counsel, but carries it out imperfectly, confessing in a way that approximates Jackson's counsel as best he can. On this score also the movie does not necessarily reject Jackson's counsel.

Either 2 or 3 seems to me a more plausible reading than 1. Whatever Felix does or doesn't do, the movie doesn't reject Jackson's counsel. Jackson is the man who points Felix to the road to redemption; he is the movie's voice of moral authority. He is not wrong about what Felix has to do.

And I think Felix knows it. That's why he wants Jackson to speak at his funeral: because he knows Jackson speaks with moral authority, that he is not wrong. It's why

Felix confesses in the way he does, not e.g. privately to one particular person, but as it were to the universe. It's not an explicitly religious confession to God, but it's a general attempt to settle his tab, as it were.

Again, it seems clear to me the movie means us to see Felix's rejection of the requirement that he seek forgiveness from God as of a piece with his failure to seek human forgiveness. The movie does not mean for us to think that Felix is wrong when he says "I paid ... isn't that enough?" but right when he says "What did I ever do to Him?" It's a subtle movie, but that is the sort of subtlety more beloved of film analysts than filmmakers.

Edited by SDG

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FWIW, I think Roger Ebert gets it right here:

All of this is just plain enjoyable. I liked it, but please don't make me say it's deeply moving or redemptive and uplifting. It's a genre piece for character actors is what it is, and that's an honorable thing for it to be.

When he linked to this on his Facebook wall, Ebert added: "Robert Duvall is being promoted for an Oscar nomination for 'Get Low.' He's good, but for an actor like him, this role is so easily within his range."

*** SPOILERS, NATCH. ***

SDG wrote:

: Either 2 or 3 seems to me a more plausible reading than 1.

I see no salient difference between 1 and 2, beyond how the viewer interprets the actions depicted onscreen. I would also note that, in addition to depicting Felix as one who refuses to confess to God, the movie also depicts Jackson as someone who somewhat surrenders his "moral authority" by participating in the funeral party at the urging of others (thus allowing Felix to get what he wants without doing what Jackson has told him to do), and the movie also caps everything off by giving Felix a quasi-reunion with his lover after he has confessed to the world that he has spent the past 40 years feeling guilty about something that someone ELSE did to her.

I find myself also wondering if something that Bill Murray says to Lucas Black could be applied to Felix's story somehow. I quote from memory: "If you don't do it, you'll never know how good you are, and you'll never BE good if you don't know how good you are."

Fundamentally, this movie seems to be about a man's need to forgive HIMSELF, and yes, he finds this self-forgiveness partly by opening up to other people; his isolation and his self-punishment go hand-in-hand (as he himself puts it, he has put himself "in jail" for 40 years), and therefore his self-forgiveness and his reconnection with the community go hand-in-hand. But ultimately, it's about forgiving himself for something that he really wasn't all that much to blame for anyway. (Yeah, yeah, he shouldn't have fallen in love with someone else's wife, but [a] the heart wants what it wants and the husband in question was evidently a murderous psychotic, so you can hardly blame his wife for wanting to get away from him.)

Edited by Peter T Chattaway

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Spoiler alert

I see no salient difference between 1 and 2, beyond how the viewer interprets the actions depicted onscreen.

I am at a loss regarding the intended sense of the word "interpret" in this sentence. To put it another way, I see no salient difference between 1, 2 or 3, or any other interpretations of any other movies, beyond how the viewer interprets the actions depicted onscreen. It is hard to know how to differentiate between interpretations, beyond how the viewer interprets things.

I would also note that, in addition to depicting Felix as one who refuses to confess to God, the movie also depicts Jackson as someone who somewhat surrenders his "moral authority" by participating in the funeral party at the urging of others (thus allowing Felix to get what he wants without doing what Jackson has told him to do)

Yes and no. Felix originally wants Jackson to come to the funeral and tell his story FOR him. Jackson ultimately comes -- and even that's ambiguous; at one point it looks like he may to walk away without participating at all, even after he's come -- in response to a sort of compromise plea from Felix, that Felix intends to tell the story himself, and only wants Jackson there for backup in case he can't get through it. Jackson comes, but does not really speak, as Felix wanted him to; he says about a paragraph and then leaves Felix to sink or swim on his own.

and the movie also caps everything off by giving Felix a quasi-reunion with his lover after he has confessed to the world that he has spent the past 40 years feeling guilty about something that someone ELSE did to her.

Which he feels so ashamed about, because although he couldn't help falling in love with her, it was his decision what to do about that. He didn't have to talk to her, or use someone else as a means of access to her. That's his take on his actions at the end, and it's my take too, your "yeah, yeah" mitigations notwithstanding. That's how this viewer interprets the action onscreen, at any rate.

I find myself also wondering if something that Bill Murray says to Lucas Black could be applied to Felix's story somehow. I quote from memory: "If you don't do it, you'll never know how good you are, and you'll never BE good if you don't know how good you are."

That was one of the funniest bits of straight-faced BS in the whole movie. I can't imagine what deeper meaning you might be angling for there.

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SDG wrote:

: I am at a loss regarding the intended sense of the word "interpret" in this sentence.

What I am saying is that 1 and 2 are agreed on what the movie actually shows Felix doing; the only difference between them is whether "the movie" agrees with what Felix is doing or not. And since movies are always the work of multiple authors, I am not sure that we can say "the movie" agrees with Felix one way or the other; all we can do, as viewers, is say that the movie skews things one way or another, and of course I might see the skewing differently from how you see it. In any case, I don't care much whether "the movie" agrees with what Felix is doing here (nor, for that matter, do I think "the movie" cares all that much); it is enough for me to note that the movie shows Felix doing certain things and not other things.

: Jackson ultimately comes . . . in response to a sort of compromise plea from Felix . . .

He does? I thought Jackson backed down and came to Georgia (or wherever this movie takes place) because of a plea from one of the OTHER characters.

: He didn't have to talk to her, or use someone else as a means of access to her. That's his take on his actions at the end, and it's my take too, your "yeah, yeah" mitigations notwithstanding.

Sure, and "the movie" didn't have to reunite him with her, in a sort of expressionistic fashion, after he had finally shared his secret. But it did. So what's our take on THAT? To my eyes, it seems that Felix, after consistently rejecting the forgiveness of God, finally finds forgiveness in the memory of the lover who was killed by her psychotic husband -- which might be a way of saying that he has finally forgiven HIMSELF.

: That was one of the funniest bits of straight-faced BS in the whole movie. I can't imagine what deeper meaning you might be angling for there.

Really? You see no parallels at all to the notion that e.g. most people aren't as bad as they think they are, and if only we could overcome our guilt or similar hang-ups then we would be free to be the good people that we are deep down inside?

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In any case, I don't care much whether "the movie" agrees with what Felix is doing here (nor, for that matter, do I think "the movie" cares all that much); it is enough for me to note that the movie shows Felix doing certain things and not other things.

Movies are not about what they are about, but how they are about it. Granted the collaborative nature of cinema, etc., etc., the bare facts of what characters or doesn't do, by themselves, are not very interesting or important. A man kills another man in revenge. So what? Does the movie present this as, say, a righteous act, or as a horrifying one? Are we meant to cheer with vicarious bloodlust or recoil from the destructive nature of vengeance? Or does it merely present it without commentary, as a kind of Rorschach test to the viewer, along with (perhaps) a commentary on the role of violence and vengeance in popular culture? Without some attempt to grapple with those questions, merely "noting that the movie shows characters doing certain things and not others" doesn't get us very far.

Does Felix's self-assessment, in the middle of the film, that he never did anything to God and has no need to reconcile with him a statement express "reality" in the film, or Felix's stubborn resistance to the path of redemption to which Jackson has always pointed him?

He does? I thought Jackson backed down and came to Georgia (or wherever this movie takes place) because of a plea from one of the OTHER characters.

The movie takes place in Tennessee. Yes, it's one of the other characters who ultimately persuades Jackson to reconsider his hard line refusal to come, but the argument that wins this reconsideration is that Felix wants to come clean, and may not be able to do it on his own without support.

Sure, and "the movie" didn't have to reunite him with her, in a sort of expressionistic fashion, after he had finally shared his secret. But it did. So what's our take on THAT? To my eyes, it seems that Felix, after consistently rejecting the forgiveness of God, finally finds forgiveness in the memory of the lover who was killed by her psychotic husband -- which might be a way of saying that he has finally forgiven HIMSELF.

I see it differently. As I see it, after decades of consistently wrongly rejecting the need to confess and ask forgiveness of both God and men, Felix has finally broken down and confessed and asked forgiveness before all as best he could, and the shot you refer to -- which is immediately followed by Felix's actual burial -- is a hint that Felix is now, as it were, set for the next life; that his acknowledgment of wrongdoing and wish for forgiveness has been accepted by a higher power.

Felix may not have prayed the sinner's prayer or anything like it, but it was important to him that Jackson be there to witness, and support if necessary, his attempt to come clean. He wanted Jackson to speak at his "funeral," not just offer a sort of introduction and leave the rest to Felix. That suggests he wanted, or was willing to accept, some sort of religious message from someone who knew what he had done on the occasion of his public confession, even if he didn't actually get it. If all Felix wanted was forgiveness from one person, he could have done that in private. I think he was trying to settle his tab with the universe, as it were, and the universe accepted.

: That was one of the funniest bits of straight-faced BS in the whole movie. I can't imagine what deeper meaning you might be angling for there.

Really? You see no parallels at all to the notion that e.g. most people aren't as bad as they think they are, and if only we could overcome our guilt or similar hang-ups then we would be free to be the good people that we are deep down inside?

No. For one thing, there's also Felix's line to Buddy, "I reckon for every one like me, there's one like you. I'd just about forgot that." Buddy's goodness isn't typical of everyone's, and is specifically contrasted with Felix's not-good-ness. In fact, Buddy's goodness helps to put Felix back on the road to seeking redemption.

Also, if there were such a parallel, wouldn't the BS nature of what Frank is selling Buddy in that scene undermine it? Or are we not supposed to think about what "the movie" thinks of its characters' ideas, or the other ideas they may suggest to us, since it's enough to note that they say certain things that suggest other things to us?

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*** SPOILERS ***

SDG wrote:

: Movies are not about what they are about, but how they are about it.

Exactly: the "how" question is tied up in my emphasis on what the movie actually DOES.

: A man kills another man in revenge. So what? Does the movie present this as, say, a righteous act, or as a horrifying one?

First you would have to convince me that the movie presents it. It doesn't. Duvall's character is quite explicit about the fact that the psycho husband set the house on fire WITH HIMSELF STILL IN IT and that he doesn't recall exactly WHAT he did to the psycho husband before he fell or got thrown out of the building. So the psycho husband was in the midst of a murder-suicide, and Duvall may or may not have helped the psycho husband along. Duvall might have done nothing to him at all. But if he DID do anything, then it would arguably fall under the category of self-defense, and even if it didn't, the fact remains that everything is eclipsed by the psycho husband's own suicidal actions.

: Yes, it's one of the other characters who ultimately persuades Jackson to reconsider his hard line refusal to come, but the argument that wins this reconsideration is that Felix wants to come clean, and may not be able to do it on his own without support.

So Jackson basically gives in because he figures one out of three ain't bad.

: . . . the shot you refer to -- which is immediately followed by Felix's actual burial -- is a hint that Felix is now, as it were, set for the next life; that his acknowledgment of wrongdoing and wish for forgiveness has been accepted by a higher power.

Wow, that's certainly bringing something to the movie that the movie itself never requires. But yes, definitely, Felix is ready to be reunited with his lover in the next life, no question (assuming there IS a next life, of course). Her marriage to that psycho will no longer be an obstacle to their love, etc.

: He wanted Jackson to speak at his "funeral," not just offer a sort of introduction and leave the rest to Felix. That suggests he wanted, or was willing to accept, some sort of religious message from someone who knew what he had done on the occasion of his public confession, even if he didn't actually get it.

That's a valid inference, at least.

: Also, if there were such a parallel, wouldn't the BS nature of what Frank is selling Buddy in that scene undermine it?

In a film so full of subtleties, not necessarily. :)

And now I'm getting flashbacks to how, pre-sequels, you once insisted that Cypher did NOT somehow embody or represent the secret message of The Matrix.

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: A man kills another man in revenge. So what? Does the movie present this as, say, a righteous act, or as a horrifying one?

First you would have to convince me that the movie presents it.

Sorry for being unclear. That was an illustration; it wasn't meant to describe this particular film.

: Yes, it's one of the other characters who ultimately persuades Jackson to reconsider his hard line refusal to come, but the argument that wins this reconsideration is that Felix wants to come clean, and may not be able to do it on his own without support.

So Jackson basically gives in because he figures one out of three ain't bad.

Or maybe because he doesn't necessarily conclude, as you do, that Felix's belated wish to come clean is so clearly a "one out of three" deal. It's a very public confession. He's not exactly hiding from the law any more at that point. Nor do I think we can necessarily judge him of still hiding from God, as it were. Like Jackson, I'm willing to extend hope that his confession and wish for forgiveness was enough.

And now I'm getting flashbacks to how, pre-sequels, you once insisted that Cypher did NOT somehow embody or represent the secret message of The Matrix.

And now I'm getting flashbacks to you recently dismissing Obi-Wan Kenobi's portentous "more powerful than you can possibly imagine" speech as mere spooky-sounding bluffery, just because Lucas was unable to develop a world in which the implication of those words was borne out. I still say that in The Matrix Cypher's worldview is clearly wrong, regardless what the sequels do. What you call the "secret message" is clean contrary to the world of meaning evoked by the Oracle and the real-world evidence (not just in-the-Matrix evidence) of Neo's chosenness (Trinity falling in love with him; Cypher's failure to kill Neo by way of the very "miracle" he defied the universe to produce; Neo coming back to life because Trinity loves him -- and returning from the Matrix just in time to save the Nebuchadnezzar from destruction). That these clear harbingers of meaning became metaphysical orphans in the world of the sequels, like Obi-Wan's portentous last words, does not justify concluding that there was never any there there in the original setting.

: He wanted Jackson to speak at his "funeral," not just offer a sort of introduction and leave the rest to Felix. That suggests he wanted, or was willing to accept, some sort of religious message from someone who knew what he had done on the occasion of his public confession, even if he didn't actually get it.

That's a valid inference, at least.

Thanks, I appreciate the concession. FWIW, I front-loaded my first response above with my concessions regarding the film's secular interests and the absence of overtly religious redemption, so it's not like I don't recognize that there is at least a case to be made in that direction.

Ooh, P.S. What about the church Felix builds? That's a pretty significant thing in the film. Why does Felix build that church? It seems to suggest, first, that he does have some sort of use for God and religion, and secondly that he may be trying to do something for God -- as if he were aware of being in debt to God and were trying to pay it back, which would certainly go along with his whole attempt to punish himself and "pay" and hope that that would be enough. (FWIW, there's a long history of church building as a means of trying to get right with God and atone for one's sins.)

Edited by SDG

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SDG wrote:

: He's not exactly hiding from the law any more at that point.

True, though I wonder what difference living in another state might make in this case, combined with the fact that the incident in question was over 40 years ago (statutes of limitations, etc.; and in any case, it seems Felix didn't actually do anything illegal in the first place).

: Nor do I think we can necessarily judge him of still hiding from God, as it were.

Well, "judge" is a loaded word, obviously. All I'm saying is that there's no evidence for it, and a notable bit of evidence against it.

: And now I'm getting flashbacks to you recently dismissing Obi-Wan Kenobi's portentous "more powerful than you can possibly imagine" speech as mere spooky-sounding bluffery . . .

I don't recall saying it was "mere" bluffery. I do, however, recall that when bowen asked how it was possible to reconcile the grandiose claims that both Obi-Wan and Vader made in Episode IV with what we see in the rest of the series, I replied that pomp, arrogance and deceit are recurring features of their behaviour in the prequels, so one could certainly make a plausible ad hoc explanation that the pomp, arrogance and deceit had continued into their later years. (Here's a link for anyone who wants to see my comment in context.)

But, see, this just shows how the Star Wars discussion isn't really parallel to the Matrix discussion or the Get Low discussion at all. In the case of Star Wars, I offered certain ad hoc explanations as a way to smooth over some of the potential continuity issues raised by the sequels and prequels. In the case of The Matrix and Get Low, on the other hand, I entertained certain arguments purely on the basis of the films themselves, at a time when there were no sequels to inform my interpretations.

: I still say that in The Matrix Cypher's worldview is clearly wrong, regardless what the sequels do.

I think the easy answer to this argument is that the Wachowskis had a clearer sense of the world they were creating than Lucas did. And I think the fact that the sequels confirmed the interpretations and suspicions of people who had paid close attention to the original film's philosophical reference points (and not just its plot twists) lends weight to those who said Cypher was on to something.

At any rate, I would say it's unnecessarily prejudicial, for lack of a better word, to insist that a movie can never speak its truths through dodgier characters like Cypher or the Bill Murray character in Get Low. Which isn't to say that I always assume the dodgy characters are the ones the filmmakers mean to speak through. But when a line catches my ear, I don't dismiss it just because of who said it, or even because of the immediate circumstance in which the line was spoken.

: Thanks, I appreciate the concession.

Next time we see a movie together, the popcorn's on me. (Okay, bad pun, bad pun. But I do mean it.)

: Why does Felix build that church?

Present-tense? I thought it was something he had built "back in the day".

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Oh, and another point (Hat tip: Suz)!

Spoiler warning

When Felix first begins his confession, Maddie isn't even there. She wasn't even going to come. He had no reason, initially, to think she would come. Yet he began his confession anyway. So not only is he not confessing just to her, he is specifically confessing to whoever is there, to whomever will hear, whether that includes Maddie or not.

If his confession is connected, as it seems to be, to his wish for forgiveness, then he doesn't just want forgiveness from "those he loves and hurt." He wants forgiveness on some larger scale. And he wants Rev. Jackson to hear and witness his confession and wish for forgiveness. The man who knew what he did, the man whom he built the church for -- the man who told him and continues to tell him that what he has done, including his self-imprisonment, isn't enough.

Felix has reached the point where he knows it's not enough. He wants it to be enough. He wants to do what is necessary. He doesn't know how; he is trying his best. Why didn't he confess before? Why doesn't he offer a prayer of forgiveness at the end? Is it because he won't? Or can't? Or won't? Or can't? In the end, he wants to confess whoever is out there, to whomever will hear, and he wants forgiveness. That is what the film does. To couch the film as a "rejection" of "cheap religious grace," or as "rejecting the religious option," strikes me as deeply misjudging what Felix is trying to do, and has been trying to do.

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Spoilers continuing

: Why does Felix build that church?

Present-tense? I thought it was something he had built "back in the day".

Before his self-appointed internment to the woods, yes, but after the cardinal event from the movie's opening flashback, I think.

Rev. Jackson's church is apparently quite a hike from where Felix and Maddie, etc. lived. As I read it, after the flackback event, Felix runs away -- and keeps running. During this time, he meets and gets to know Jackson, and winds up building him a church (in an effort to atone for what he's done). Eventually, he confesses to Jackson, and is told that he must go back and confess to man and to God. And so Felix goes back to where he came from, more or less, but instead of confessing and asking forgiveness he continues to try to pay for atonement on his own terms, imprisoning himself in the woods.

That's certainly neater than some alternative reading in which Felix for no particular reason leaves town before meeting a certain person, happens to meet Rev. Jackson, builds him a church for no particular reason, wanders back home also for no particular reason, and then after the events of the flashback flees back to Jackson, etc.

Your Matrix arguments I will refute later. Time to go clean the garage. :)

Edited by SDG

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But, see, this just shows how the Star Wars discussion isn't really parallel to the Matrix discussion or the Get Low discussion at all. In the case of Star Wars, I offered certain ad hoc explanations as a way to smooth over some of the potential continuity issues raised by the sequels and prequels. In the case of The Matrix and Get Low, on the other hand, I entertained certain arguments purely on the basis of the films themselves, at a time when there were no sequels to inform my interpretations.

Fair enough.

: I still say that in The Matrix Cypher's worldview is clearly wrong, regardless what the sequels do.

I think the easy answer to this argument is that the Wachowskis had a clearer sense of the world they were creating than Lucas did. And I think the fact that the sequels confirmed the interpretations and suspicions of people who had paid close attention to the original film's philosophical reference points (and not just its plot twists) lends weight to those who said Cypher was on to something.

And I say that it is the material plot twists that speak to "what sort of world" the story takes place in, and the kinds of clues and reference points (Baudrillard, etc.) that may point in a countervailing direction indicate the filmmakers' interests and sympathies, but don't change the rules of the world of the story. So one can argue that the Wachowskis sympathized with Cypher's point of view, and to that extent didn't really believe in the rules of the world of the story they themselves told, but that doesn't change the fact that they still told that story in that world.

Cypher throws down the gauntlet when he challenges Trinity, "If Morpheus was right, then there's no way I can pull this plug. I mean, if Neo's the One, then there'd have to be some kind of a miracle to stop me. Right? I mean, how can he be the One if he's dead? ... Look into his eyes, those big pretty blue eyes, and tell me: yes or no." Trinity makes an act of faith, based on the Oracle's prophecy and her love for Neo ... and the universe backs her up. Cypher's last words are: "No. I don't believe it." Cypher is wrong. The movie has spelled it out as explicitly as possible -- and it confirms it again and again with the fulfillment of the Oracle's second prophecy, Neo's successful rescue of Morpheus, and his resurrection and return to the Nebuchadnezzar in time to save the ship and crew -- none of which makes sense in a world in which the phenomenon of "the One" is all part of the meta-Matrix ecosystem and the Oracle is (gah) a computer program. (Go ahead, give me some ad hoc harmonization in which all that makes sense -- an easy task, presumably, if the Wachowskis knew all along what they were doing and did it with more consistency than Lucas.)

Clues like the title of a book in Neo's apartment might be taken to suggest that the Wachowskis regard the meaning-indicators of the original film with a wink or even an eye roll -- and in the sequels that element of skepticism might actually take over the narrative in a way that it doesn't in the first film -- but the story of the first film is still the story.

At any rate, I would say it's unnecessarily prejudicial, for lack of a better word, to insist that a movie can never speak its truths through dodgier characters like Cypher or the Bill Murray character in Get Low. Which isn't to say that I always assume the dodgy characters are the ones the filmmakers mean to speak through. But when a line catches my ear, I don't dismiss it just because of who said it, or even because of the immediate circumstance in which the line was spoken.

I would never say that. But with the Cypher line at least Cypher is actually saying, and really means, what you're proposing is the movie's "hidden message." With the Frank Quinn line, even Quinn isn't saying the thing you want to try to get out of it. All he's saying is "You really need to tackle this yourself without my support, just so you know you can, and knowing you can will give you the confidence to do it next time."

Now, if you wanted to try to apply that message to Felix in some way -- say, since he too has to tackle the task of confessing his sins himself, without Jackson's help, since only this will give him the catharsis of knowing that he has truly confessed and expressed his wish for forgiveness -- then I might think you have a point. But equivocating on the meaning of the word "good" (how "good" or effective a salesman you are vs. how morally good a person you are), and suggesting that the film is somehow implying that we are really better persons than we think, seems to me a shell game.

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SDG wrote:

: Before his self-appointed internment to the woods, yes, but after the cardinal event from the movie's opening flashback, I think.

Hmmm. I'd have to see the movie again to see if it supports your reconstruction of the back-story here. But if your interpretation IS correct, then it's interesting that Duvall would have sought a religious form of atonement UNTIL Jackson encouraged one, at which point Duvall stopped (and, as far as we can tell, never resumed).

: . . . equivocating on the meaning of the word "good" (how "good" or effective a salesman you are vs. how morally good a person you are), and suggesting that the film is somehow implying that we are really better persons than we think, seems to me a shell game.

Well, quite frankly, it felt to me like the film was playing a bit of a shell game in the first place by going into all this stuff about "forgiveness" etc. and then finally revealing that Duvall didn't really have all that much to be forgiven for.

I've answered the Matrix stuff in the thread on that film.

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Ongoing spoilers...

: Before his self-appointed internment to the woods, yes, but after the cardinal event from the movie's opening flashback, I think.

Hmmm. I'd have to see the movie again to see if it supports your reconstruction of the back-story here. But if your interpretation IS correct, then it's interesting that Duvall would have sought a religious form of atonement UNTIL Jackson encouraged one, at which point Duvall stopped (and, as far as we can tell, never resumed).

Well, once again, I don't think that's the right way to describe it. Rather, Felix initially attempts a religious form of atonement that is based on his own efforts, at paying for what he did. When Jackson explains to him that this is inadequate, that he must confess and ask forgiveness, he turns away from Jackson and continues his efforts to pay for what he did in another form.

Incidentally, when he refers to having "paid" in connection with his exile in the woods -- his lack of wife, children, grandchildren -- what's the implication there? Obviously his self-denial in this regard is no consolation or recompense to Maddie. Rather, although he expressly disavows having done anything to Jesus, it does seem as if he's trying to satisfy some larger debt -- a debt of justice, or something. When he says "I paid," that doesn't mean "Maddie should be satisfied." Minimally, it has to mean something more like "Justice should be satisfied," which isn't that far from "God should be satisfied." And, again, whose forgiveness does he want in the final scene when he begins his confession and Maddie isn't even there? Why does he want Jackson there? Etc.

Beyond that, the larger problem with your whole approach, and that of the NPR piece, etc., is that you impose on the film a paradigm of religious redemption versus social redemption that not one character in the movie makes. In the movie, the key paradigm is atonement by self-punishment versus atonement by confession and asking forgiveness. Jackson tells Felix he must confess to God and to man, but there's nothing in the film like "Confessing to man and not to God isn't enough" or "I'll confess to men, but not to God." All the indications you cite regarding Felix's unwillingness to confess to God belong to the same period when he has refused to confess to men as well. Nothing indicates that Jackson considers Felix's confession clearly inadequate, or that he considers Felix to have ultimately rejected the counsel he gave him. If there's no evidence that Jackson feels that way, why should we?

: . . . equivocating on the meaning of the word "good" (how "good" or effective a salesman you are vs. how morally good a person you are), and suggesting that the film is somehow implying that we are really better persons than we think, seems to me a shell game.

Well, quite frankly, it felt to me like the film was playing a bit of a shell game in the first place by going into all this stuff about "forgiveness" etc. and then finally revealing that Duvall didn't really have all that much to be forgiven for.

Except for courting a married woman under false pretenses while cruelly leading on and deceiving her sister, causing Maddie the anguish of having been deceived by her own sister both about the sister's secret life and about Maddie's own false courting by Felix, etc.

I find it curious that you seem to find such significance in lines like "What did I ever do to him?" and even "You'll never know how good you are unless you do it," over against lines like "For every one like me, there's one like you."

Edited by SDG

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P.S. Oh hey, just thought of another minor hint that Felix hasn't necessarily written off the religious implications or consequences of what he considers his compromised moral condition: When he meets (I think) Buddy in his new suit with his beard shaved, and Buddy says, "I wouldn't have recognized you," Felix's laconic reply is, "Well, maybe the devil won't either."

Even if it's only a joke, the ostensible implication is that the devil might be expecting or looking out for Felix: that he has something on him, as it were. The joke suggests that Felix feels that if he gets past the devil, it will be in spite of some aspect of his moral condition. And this is not a matter of indifference to Felix: He wants to get past the devil. And in a way this is all part of his present effort to change his condition through the whole funeral party scheme. He wants to go to his grave, as it were, a different person than he has been -- someone that the devil wouldn't recognize for the same person whom he might have claimed.

Felix may bristle at the idea that he needs to ask forgiveness of Jesus. But he isn't necessarily unwilling to acknowledge that his debt has a spiritual dimension for which he might be held responsible in the next life -- and that he would like not to be.

Edited by SDG

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SDG wrote:

: Minimally, it has to mean something more like "Justice should be satisfied," which isn't that far from "God should be satisfied."

Perhaps not, but those are still two separate statements. And when the person who says "I made my own prison" also says "I don't have to ask God for forgiveness because I didn't do anything to him", I would refrain from suggesting that God and justice were the same things in his mind.

: Beyond that, the larger problem with your whole approach, and that of the NPR piece, etc., is that you impose on the film a paradigm of religious redemption versus social redemption that not one character in the movie makes.

Except, of course, for its protagonist, who is clearly concerned about the social side of things but consistently denies the religious side of things.

: In the movie, the key paradigm is atonement by self-punishment versus atonement by confession and asking forgiveness.

Since you've been pointing to Felix's big speech as an act of confession, I must ask: does he ask anyone for forgiveness in that scene?

: All the indications you cite regarding Felix's unwillingness to confess to God belong to the same period when he has refused to confess to men as well.

Ah, so you think he WASN'T planning to confess to his fellow man when he started that whole "funeral party" business; the idea came to him later after he had already gotten the ball rolling? (I suppose your answer here may be affected by where in the process that new-suit-and-shaved-beard scene takes place.)

: Nothing indicates that Jackson considers Felix's confession clearly inadequate, or that he considers Felix to have ultimately rejected the counsel he gave him. If there's no evidence that Jackson feels that way, why should we?

You seem to be suggesting that Jackson feels his standard has been met. I am suggesting that Jackson, in response to the pleading of Felix's friends, has lowered his standard (for lack of a better way of putting it).

: Except for courting a married woman under false pretenses while cruelly leading on and deceiving her sister, causing Maddie the anguish of having been deceived by her own sister both about the sister's secret life and about Maddie's own false courting by Felix, etc.

Well, yes, there's that, but Felix had already made some headway on that score before the "funeral party" and the big speech therein, had he not? What's more, if we're going to talk about Felix's relationship with the legal authorities etc., I'm not sure that he actually DID anything illegal on any of those points -- nor do I think he would have put himself in a 40-year prison because of those things. It is only because his actions on those points attracted the attention of some OTHER man -- a very psychotic man, at that -- that he felt the guilt and the shame, etc. (And the fact that his actions attracted the attention of a psychotic man kind of puts his remark about the devil in a certain light, too.)

: I find it curious that you seem to find such significance in lines like "What did I ever do to him?" and even "You'll never know how good you are unless you do it," over against lines like "For every one like me, there's one like you."

To be honest, I don't even remember that line, apart from your quoting it.

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...spoilers spoilers spoilers...

: Minimally, it has to mean something more like "Justice should be satisfied," which isn't that far from "God should be satisfied."

Perhaps not, but those are still two separate statements. And when the person who says "I made my own prison" also says "I don't have to ask God for forgiveness because I didn't do anything to him", I would refrain from suggesting that God and justice were the same things in his mind.

: Beyond that, the larger problem with your whole approach, and that of the NPR piece, etc., is that you impose on the film a paradigm of religious redemption versus social redemption that not one character in the movie makes.

Except, of course, for its protagonist, who is clearly concerned about the social side of things but consistently denies the religious side of things.

There is a difference between indignantly asking "Ask Jesus for forgiveness? What did I ever do to Him?" and the factual statement you substitute. I don't think Felix's mental state yields to the lucid philosophical stance you seem to want from him. On the one hand, he insists that he's "paid"; on the other hand, he knows he's not finished yet. He knows he needs to confess and he resents Jackson for telling him so.

: In the movie, the key paradigm is atonement by self-punishment versus atonement by confession and asking forgiveness.

Since you've been pointing to Felix's big speech as an act of confession, I must ask: does he ask anyone for forgiveness in that scene?

: All the indications you cite regarding Felix's unwillingness to confess to God belong to the same period when he has refused to confess to men as well.

Ah, so you think he WASN'T planning to confess to his fellow man when he started that whole "funeral party" business; the idea came to him later after he had already gotten the ball rolling? (I suppose your answer here may be affected by where in the process that new-suit-and-shaved-beard scene takes place.)

I think Felix's initial hope was that he would either get out of the task of confessing, or else be forced into it, by the plethora of "stories" about him others were supposed to come and tell. He wanted it to just come out; he wanted someone else to force his hand.

I think he does express a wish for forgiveness. I don't remember exactly how it's phrased, or whether it is clearly addressed to anyone.

: Nothing indicates that Jackson considers Felix's confession clearly inadequate, or that he considers Felix to have ultimately rejected the counsel he gave him. If there's no evidence that Jackson feels that way, why should we?

You seem to be suggesting that Jackson feels his standard has been met. I am suggesting that Jackson, in response to the pleading of Felix's friends, has lowered his standard (for lack of a better way of putting it).

Jackson reconsiders coming when Frank suggests to him that Felix wants to get the story out, but can't -- in other words, that Felix is making an effort to meet the standard. However, even after coming, he still seems to reserve the right to hive off and leave if he wants to -- and, crucially, he doesn't do what Felix was hoping for, confess for him. That was essentially the request that Jackson refused.

: Except for courting a married woman under false pretenses while cruelly leading on and deceiving her sister, causing Maddie the anguish of having been deceived by her own sister both about the sister's secret life and about Maddie's own false courting by Felix, etc.

Well, yes, there's that, but Felix had already made some headway on that score before the "funeral party" and the big speech therein, had he not?

As regards confessing to Maddie, yes. That's kind of my point: Confessing to Maddie wasn't the whole point of the big funeral party speech. In fact, he was going to do it whether Maddie was there or not. So the idea that it's all about "the ones we love and hurt" doesn't really wash.

What's more, if we're going to talk about Felix's relationship with the legal authorities etc., I'm not sure that he actually DID anything illegal on any of those points -- nor do I think he would have put himself in a 40-year prison because of those things. It is only because his actions on those points attracted the attention of some OTHER man -- a very psychotic man, at that -- that he felt the guilt and the shame, etc. (And the fact that his actions attracted the attention of a psychotic man kind of puts his remark about the devil in a certain light, too.)

Adultery and conspiracy to abandonment may well have been incarcerable offenses in 1880s Tennessee -- and, perhaps more pointedly, it would only be Felix's word what actually happened in that house (and even he doesn't 100 percent know what happened).

As for why Felix feels shame, I think he points to the reason: He couldn't help falling in love, but he could have walked away without speaking to her.

: I find it curious that you seem to find such significance in lines like "What did I ever do to him?" and even "You'll never know how good you are unless you do it," over against lines like "For every one like me, there's one like you."

To be honest, I don't even remember that line, apart from your quoting it.

It stands out. It marks a kind of turning point for Felix. I think it occurs at the point where the impetus to go ahead with the living funeral has fallen to Buddy. Frank is gone, possibly absconded with the money, and Felix has pulled out, though (I think) Buddy doesn't know it. Buddy goes to Felix and says he wants to go ahead with the funeral -- which has already cost him a nasty knock on the head, and in spite of the difficulties about the missing money, etc. Felix, moved by Buddy's goodness, agrees to go forward. It may be at that moment that Felix finally decides to confess, whether or not Jackson is there to help him get through it or Maddie is there to hear it. That's when he says to Buddy, "For every one like me, there's one like you."

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Uncle! uncle! I've got a kidney stone and I don't want to argue any more. But seriously, this conversation has waded into nuances and plot elements that I either don't remember at all or remember so vaguely that I'd have to see the film a second time before I could grapple with them one way or the other. And since I'm not likely to see the film a second time, at least not at any point in the near future... I will simply close by noting that NPR, the Journal of Religion and Film, and the colleagues I talked to in the lobby immediately after seeing the film all seemed to have the same first impression of the film that I did. So I do think there is SOMETHING worth noting or addressing there.

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