Ignatius at the Movies: “The Road” and “Brothers”

“The Road” is an Advent movie.  It is about a child who carries the flame from an old world into a possible new world.  It is about a child who is the word of his father, and his Father, if indeed there is a Father in a world that seems orphaned. As the father says early in the film: “If he is not the word of God, God never spoke.” Spoken about his son.  And what father would not say the same?  Yet we say it too as we prepare for Christmas, for this is what makes Christianity unique.

For anyone who has read Cormac McCarthy, the movie does not capture the book. McCarthy’s prose is too dense to be captured.  Sometimes words can say more than images, to reverse the common cliche.  But that being said, the movie captures much of the book, particuarly by retaining its iconography.  

For example: Food.  Food is sacramental.  The boy sips a coke which he has never tasted before.  His face alights: he remembers a world present to him that he has never seen.  It is a moment from the Meno, and from the Mass.  Father and son stumble upon an underground food cellar.  They open a can of peaches and their beings light up.  Even the cellar in the movie looks a bit like a church.  The two of them consume a meal from another world, just as the taste of the eucharist opens a glimpse of a parallel reality, ready to break through, but not yet here.

Part of what makes McCarthy’s world so compelling is the absence of grays.  That is odd: how can a black and white world be compelling when it is a world that none of us knows?  Maybe that is the reason: in his post-apocalyptic world, we long for the same clarity of thought that the father and his son know.  They are the good guys and others are the bad guys.  The challenge is to be able to recognize them.  Some of the gray in the movie comes from the father’s inability sometimes to recognize other Good Guys because of fear.  The son has better eyes.

Another ambiguity is presented by the problem of cannibalism.  The father will not let his son be eaten.  He teaches his son to kill himself rather than be captured, and he will kill him first too to save him. I have always tended to think that I would do the same thing, so this presents itself to me as a difficult problem.  Gray still exists, even in a world so stark.

Has God gone out of this world?  It is unclear.  It seems God does not want this world, that he has left it to die.  But there are still good guys, and good guys carry the flame.  They do not eat one another.  They show kindness.  These are the marks of the good guys.  McCarthy’s world is one stripped down to the barest bones.  There is a son. Humans are not to be eaten but loved.  And there is a coast where all hope is not lost.  It is an Advent movie.

***

I was skeptical of “Brothers.”  Could Toby Maguire play an adult role?  I was not sure, but now I am.  I won’t tell you the story here.  Go see it for yourself.  It is a movie that struck me deeply.  Perhaps I was in the right mood for it.  Recently I spoke with a psychiatrist who works in a veterans hospital.  The hopelessness he faces on a day to day level is almost more than he can deal with.  Men cannot readjust to society.  They don’t know how to live.

At one point, Maguire’s character Sam tells his brother Tommy (Gyllenhal) that he is drowning.  He did something in Afghanistan that he cannot live with, and he is drowning.  Maybe that is why this movie struck me.  I see our culture drowning all around me.  Especially in this season of Christmas, the drowning is most clear to me.  Cannibalism exists on all sides.  The Child is not the word of God, but things have become the word, sold to children, at the price of their souls.  Fathers do not protect their sons, but sell them out for profit, more concerned about their physical lives than their spiritual souls.

Archbishop Romero once preached: “No one wants to have a sore spot touched, and therefore a society with so many sores twitches when someone has the courage to touch it and say: ‘You have to treat that.  You have to get rid of that.'”

That is what “Brothers” says.  Obama cannot offer true hope.  He just sent 30,000 soldiers into Afghanistan.  So much for a presidency of peace.  Nor can our culture save us. We are drowning, but unless we own up to what we have done, we cannot be saved.  That is what I learned from “Brothers.”  Both “The Road” and “Brothers” touch on sores in present day America.  I think it is perfect that they came out during Advent.  It is not despite their bleakness, but because of it that they are Advent movies.  It is time for America to go out into the desert and face its maker.  Or else we drown.

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3 Responses to Ignatius at the Movies: “The Road” and “Brothers”

  1. crystal says:

    I’ve read the novel The Road, which I thought was really good, but haven’t seen the movie yet. When the father is dying and tells the boy he can still talk with him after he’s gone, using his imagination, it reminded me of the Ignatian colloquy kind of prayer.

  2. We need more such great reflective writing to raise
    movie goer’s sights on the reality of mere
    sense entertainment at the cinema and lived reality
    outside the cinema in the Urban Monk environment
    of solitary life while immersed in cultural community!

    Kostner’s “The Postman” is a secularly under-rated
    movie that speaks to massive theological symbolism
    throughout (especially the theme of hope!)as well as
    a sleeper existential one, “Don’t Come Knocking”
    that in future films studies will come home
    to roost as classics, thematically at least!

    Would that you in future add more at the end
    theologically, to challenge our collective
    spiritual imaginations even more! Xmas Peace!

  3. From a Jesuit friend Fr. Fitzgerald:

    I saw The Road yesterday evening. I was impressed, by its grimness as much as by its more religious overtones. I’d agree with your assessment that it’s a perfect–well, a very good, since it’s hardly for everybody–Advent piece. Certainly a perfect Advent piece for someone like me. There was a Messianic quality about the boy, who is one of the first–maybe even the first boys–to have been born into this brave new world. Thus, the boy is something of a “new Adam,” placed, though, in a kind of anti-Eden. I likewise found interesting the recurring theme from the [non-cannibalistic] characters that they encountered was “Listen to the boy.” In a way that puts his life at risk [not unlike Jesus], the boy’s instinct is to favor life, even in the case of the phantom [?] boy he saw, even in the case the man who robbed them. The boy also seems to have a de facto connection with such animals as they encounter [of which I encountered two, the weevil and the dog] and thus offers to us the hope that all of nature, not just man, will be restored. This to my mind harkens to the hope that we have as Christians for a “new heavens and a new earth,” in which the natural order is brought to the end for which God intended it.

    The father seemed to be a St. Joseph figure; but–and Freud would nod knowingly–he has to die and leave the scene so that his son can get on with his mission. He is a man from a different world, as he pointed out to the boy; and it is the son, who has no memeory of the former workd, will have to do the work of “salvation” in this new world. The father also struck me very forcefully as one who is a fundamentally decent and almost heroically hopeful man [by tragic contrast with his wife who can see nothing but horror in the future] yet one who is in a position of having to do rough and even heartless things to survive and to ensure his son’s survival. Having done so, he dies.

    At the point of the father’s death, I expected the boy to turn the gun on himself and “join his father.” Again, though, and against the lessons his father taught on how to commit suicide, his instinct is for life–his own certainly, and then that of the man whose family takes him in at the end. The family, note, is taking Hope personified. There’s also an open-to-life figure in that the boy is being introduced into a new society in which there is a slightly younger girl, whom one could easily see as his future wife [among other things, the options for both of them not being exactly plentiful]. Thus, again, in the anti-Eden, we do have our new Adam meeting his new Eve.

    One last note: the classicist in me very much appreciated the allusion to Xenophon’s Anabasis in terms of getting to the sea. When they got to the water, I was tempted to stand up in the theatre and shout, “Thalassa! Thalassa!” but you will be pleased to hear that wiser counsels prevailed.

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