Reconciliation on Screen: Recent Films Explore Conflict, Retaliation, and Peacemaking
DURING AN ALTAR call, nobody expects a churchgoer
to pull out a gun and start firing.
But that’s exactly what happens
in the opening sequence of “Woman, Thou Art Loosed,” set in a
worship service at Bishop T.D. Jakes’ church in Dallas, Texas.
Michelle, a victim of sexual molestation who has survived drug
abuse, prostitution, and prison time, stands on the threshold
of redemption when she suddenly realizes the full extent of God’s
grace: that God may indeed truly love the one who ruined her
life. Horrified to imagine her enemy’s redemption, she violently
objects. Everything that follows deepens the audience’s sympathy
for Michelle, and we experience with her how painful, and how
liberating, it is to apprehend and to imitate God’s forgiving
“Woman, Thou Art Loosed” enjoyed some rave reviews during
its recent theatrical release. It moved not only Christian moviegoers,
many of whom were familiar with Jakes’ sometimes controversial
ministry, but also inspired general audiences. The filmmakers
won the Best American Film award at the Santa Barbara International
Film Festival and Best Film at the American Black Film Festival.
the film has drawn criticism as a “T.D. Jakes vanity project” — Jakes
plays himself, and there are lingering scenes spotlighting his ability to stir
up his congregation — he handles his first performance as a screen actor with
restraint, communicating tenderness and wisdom. “Woman, Thou Art Loosed” is a
fictional composite based on Jakes’ counseling
experience. It began as a nonfiction bestseller — Woman,
Thou Art Loosed: Healing the Wounds of the Past (Treasure House, 1994) — which he published with his own
money. Its phenomenal success led to variations as a conference, a workbook,
a gospel CD, and a script written for the stage.
The compelling performance of
Kimberley Elise, Michael Schultz’s confident direction,
and Stan Foster’s soul-searching screenplay help the film avoid any sentimentality
that would have dulled its edge. Instead of indulging revenge fantasies, “Loosed”
challenges us to consider the ultimate emptiness
of violent retaliation, and the liberation the forgiveness of God can bring,
and it favors unflinchingly honest (and R-rated) portrayals of struggle rather
than saccharine, simplistic solutions. The audience enjoys more art than agenda.
Schultz’s film arrives alongside other worthwhile films that emphasize reconciliation.
For adults who enjoy exploring spiritual themes in cinema, here are four recent movies that emphasize the rewards of overcoming the thoughts, feelings, and histories that keep individuals, communities, and nations apart.
“Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” is a comical sci-fi story about how badly we need each other, even in those times when togetherness disrupts happiness. When two self-centered lovers give up on their exasperating
relationship, they try to “erase” their painful memories through memory-altering surgery. Ultimately, they learn that accepting and forgiving each others’ faults is an essential of true love — quite an alternative to Hollywood’s
usual emphasis on merely “following our hearts.” (Available on DVD.)
“Mean Creek” follows egotistical (and foul-mouthed) young boys who lure the local playground bully out on a boating trip to take revenge on him for his brutality. But the more time they spend with him, the more they feel pangs of conscience and pity. This painfully realistic account culminates in a clash between a desire to make peace and one boy’s determination
to make the troubled youngster pay. (Available on DVD in January.)
“Hero” is an astonishingly beautiful martial
arts epic about the “warring states” period of Chinese history, in which a conquering king dodges the assassination attempts of those who resist his oppression. While the film tends to glorify Chinese imperialism, it also explores timeless questions about the consequences of violent dispute and the need to overcome grudges and differences with grace. As Beijing and Taiwan currently suffer a bitter division, this is a timely, and controversial,
tale. (Available on DVD.)
“The Story of the Weeping Camel” focuses on a Mongolian family who suffer a crisis while raising livestock in the Gobi Desert. When a camel rejects her own newborn calf, viewers feel the little one’s despair. But the Mongols know a secret solution — so they summon a music teacher from the city. What transpires is nearly miraculous, and it speaks volumes about the mysterious power of beauty and art to re-orient us toward what is right. In a movie for the whole family, we’re reminded that those who dwell on “whatever is excellent, whatever is worthy of praise,” open themselves to the reconciling influence of the Creator who can bring together what has been torn in two. (Available on DVD in January.)
— BY JEFFREY OVERSTREET,
FILM CRITIC AND RESPONSE STAFF WRITER
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