I had a good time at my dad’s memorial service. I know that might sound strange, but most people there enjoyed the service. There were good stories, laughter and plenty of food afterward. It was a party. Really, the only thing missing was my Dad. I wish he could have been there.
In recently released film, “Get Low”, the character Felix Bush (Robert Duvall) wants to attend his own funeral. He wants to throw a “funeral party.” He says he wants to give people an opportunity to tell their stories about him. But Bush does not expect the stories to be humorous or heartwarming. He has lived for forty years as a hermit with a reputation as a violent lunatic.
Bush first goes to the local pastor and asks if he can buy himself a funeral, but the pastor (Gerald McRaney) astutely observes that Bush is trying to buy forgiveness. He tells Bush that forgiveness can not be purchased but is a free gift of God. We must confess our sin and receive the free gift through Christ’s sacrifice. Bush leaves and finds a funeral home director (Bill Murray) who is more than happy to take his money for a “funeral party”.
As the film follows the preparations for the funeral, we begin to learn more of Bush’s story in bits and pieces. We learn about his sin and his ultimate failure to atone for it on his own, but forgiveness and restoration is found.
“Get Low” is based on a true story, set in Tennessee of the 1930’s. Told at a leisurely pace, the story does not offer summer distractions of CGI effects and explosions (okay, there is a fire at the beginning of the film), but it does offer its own pleasures.
Bill Murray offers his dry wit within a character of that time and place. Murray has been funny for over thirty years now, while many other comedians have worn out their welcome.
In fact, one of the real joys of the film is seeing old faces. Hollywood has always celebrated youth and “physical perfection”. But there is a special pleasure in seeing the aged faces of Duvall and Sissy Spacek. Celebrated actors when they were making films decades ago in classics like “The Godfather” and “Apocalypse Now”, “Carrie” and “Coal Miner’s Daughter” respectively, neither was known primarily for looks. But now there is a definite pleasure in seeing the lines and spots of age in faces of such fully lived lives.
“Get Low” can be seen as the third film in Duvall’s faith trilogy, the first two being “Tender Mercies” and “The Apostle”.
“Tender Mercies” won Duvall the Oscar for Best Actor and earned another Oscar for screen writer Horton Foote. (It is probably not a coincidence that Gerald McRaney’s character in “Get Low” is Pastor Horton.) “Tender Mercies” features one of the most realistic and moving depictions of a man’s gradual conversion to Christianity in any film.
“The Apostle” was written and directed by Duvall himself. There is no shortage in American media of depictions of clergy who fall into sin and hypocrisy. But this film does so with even more powerful depictions of God’s love and grace.
Each of these films is like a true Christian funeral. There is pain and tears, but joy and hope overcome.