Monday, May 2, 2011

Get Low -- premature funerals and overdue forgiveness

Director: Aaron Schneider, 2009. (PG-13)

Have you ever done something that you are so ashamed of that you just can't forgive yourself? What did you do as a result? Felix Bush (Robert Duvall) separated himself from society and lived as a hermit in the Tennessee woods, in an isolated one-room log cabin.

It is the depression-era 1930s. When the local town preacher pays Bush a visit to let him know of another elderly person’s death, Bush gets the idea of holding his own funeral . . . while he is still alive! He comes into town to put this idea to the reverend. “It’s time to get low,” he says. But the reverend wants to know if he is ready to meet his maker. Has he gotten himself right with God. Has he experienced the forgiveness of Jesus? Bush’s response: “They keep talking about forgiveness. ‘Ask Jesus for forgiveness.’ I never did nothing to him.” And he picks up his wad of money and walks out of the church.

The preacher has the right questions. When we approach our own death, we should consider if we have made our peace with God. To avoid this is to ignore the eternal destiny that awaits us the other side of mortality. But peace with God comes only through Jesus (Rom. 5:1). He carried our sins on the cross (1 Pet. 2:24), and offers forgiveness to us freely by grace (Eph. 1:7). But Bush has it wrong. We all have done something to Jesus. When we sin, we violate God’s moral law and we further separate ourselves from him (Isa. 59:2). These sins were the nails that we ourselves figuratively drove into Jesus’ hands and feet. We absolutely need the forgiveness of Jesus.

Taking his cash, Bush walks into the funeral home run by Frank Quinn (Bill Murray), with the help of his young assistant Buddy (Lucas Black). At first disbelieving Bush’s request, when he sees the money Quinn suggests he can do anything his customer wants. If that means throwing a funeral party, he is the man. The catch, though, is that Bush wants everyone to come and tell stories about him. The man who has been the bogeyman to most of the youngsters now grown up, wants people to relate back what they think.

Into this mix comes Mattie (Sissy Spacek), an old friend and flame that Bush once knew. She seems to be the only person who can see a glint of the good side of the crusty old man. There is also Rev. Charlie Jackson (Bill Cobbs), another old friend who ministers in a distant Illinois church.

Get Low is the debut film from Schneider whose previous movie career was as a cinematographer. As such, he brings a keen eye to the imagery, crafting a beautifully shot film. More than this, he extracts great performances out of his two leads, Duvall, who interacts in gruff mumbling monosyllables, and Murray, playing against type as a slightly shady character.

Despite the low budget and the shallowness of the characters, the marvelous acting makes the film a success, a sparkingly redemptive one at that.

Though Bush asks for people, not friends, to come to his party and tell stories about him, what he really wants is to tell his own story to them. He is after redemption and forgiveness. Though he decries Jesus’ forgiveness, he wants the townsfolk, who have no real relationship with him, to forgive him. And he really wants to forgive himself. If the people grant him grace he could perhaps find it within himself to do likewise.

Such effects of guilt hit home. When we know we have done something wrong, we often berate ourselves, punishing in ways that exceed the sin. Bush’s forty years with little to no interaction with others, surely went beyond the extra mile. But we find it so hard to practice self-forgiveness. We may accept the forgiveness of others, perhaps even Jesus, and still hold this back from ourselves. The truth is, we have hurt God more than anyone. If he can forgive us, we should be willing to forgive ourselves.

Forgiveness is a gift. It allows us to expose the painful past, experience release from the cells of self-imprisonment, and re-establish relationships: with ourselves, with those around us, and with our forgiving God. Are you ready to taste this? Discard your hermit clothes, and clothe yourself in Christ (Gal. 3:27)!

Copyright ©2011, Martin Baggs

No comments:

Post a Comment