I had not originally planned to watch Jackie. But Bishop Barron said it was worthwhile, for reasons I will get into in a moment.
Unless you have been going out of your way to avoid American History your entire life, you will be familiar with what happened on November 22, 1963. Then sitting U.S. President, John F Kennedy, was shot in the head in Dallas while riding in the back of a car waving to a throng of citizens. His wife Jacqueline was sitting next to him when it happened. Spattered with his blood and brains she rode to the hospital cradling his dead body in her lap. This movie is an unrelenting agony of expositional grief endured by a young wife with two small children who has to endure these horrors under the televisual eye of several billion people around the world. It would have been excruciatingly unwatchable….except this is not really what the movie was about.
The devastating personal and national tragedy we watch unfold, told mostly in a yo-yo of flashbacks which jump all over the time line of Jacqueline Kennedy’s life with John, is merely a backdrop to the real and starkly simple story of a priest walking and talking with a widow, which is part confession and part grief counseling.
John Hurt, in one of his last performances, gives an appropriately clear and brilliant final act to his amazing career, as the unnamed and unforgettable priest. Under the circumstances, given the subject matter, it may be inappropriate to say that Hurt’s portrayal of the priest “steals the show”. But…well, he does. What happened to Jackie and her family and the nation was horrible and seared like a scar into our national consciousness, impacting the way we view and carry out security as surely as did the 9/11 attacks. But watching it unfold in all its gory details – and yes, we do see JFK get the back of his head blown off, up close near the end of the movie – would be pointless were it not for the perspective-rich counsel of the aged Father.
Jackie asks the priest questions which might occur to any of us were we in her shoes (and I paraphrase): Is God cruel? Why did he make my children fatherless? Why did he take two of my children in infancy? And the Father unflinchingly answers her with unwavering faith in our God: that we were never created to fully understand Him but that He loves us and we must trust Him, even and especially in our pain and suffering. He advises the Catholic Jackie with the story of the blind man who Jesus assures his disciples was not allowed to be blind because of any sin he or his parents committed, but to be a vehicle to show God’s glory. He then explains to Jackie that, suffer as she may, she was chosen by God for His purposes.
Hurt is only on screen for roughly 7 minutes and 50 seconds total, over 5 scenes (I know because I tallied them up). He doesn’t even make his first appearance until 50 minutes into this 100 minute movie. Granted the context of the enormity of her suffering helps give context to his conversation with her. But his presence is the purpose for the entire movie. The rest is background that could have been replaced with any number of individual catastrophes: the counseling of a lone survivor of a family lost in a hurricane, speaking to the widower of a suicide, on the sudden loss of a child, to a terminally ill patient. But choosing this very public event gives every person on Earth an avenue with which to connect to this ultimately very private tale of grief and loss. And the vehicle for the story affords the opportunity for every person on Earth to be the beneficiary of this wise and gentle priest’s open, matter of fact and even blunt words of faith gifted to our protagonist, Jackie – who really is only our representative to the spectacle of the pain required of the human condition.
You know the terrible tale of the assassination of John F Kennedy. Jackie’s ordeal of pain is easy, albeit unpleasant, to imagine. But the scenes with John Hurt are worth the price of admission. Thankfully, with the technology today it would be simple to just get the DVD or stream it through Amazon and scan for the 5 scenes with John Hurt. The treasure is buried in those moments, like the Easter eggs on Easter morning, which iconically represent the emerging of Jesus from the tomb on the Day of His Resurrection. The wise counsel of this unnamed, and therefore representative, priest is purpose enough to find and seek out those moments in the film as the resurrection of Jackie’s broken, tormented and doubtful soul.
Thank you John Hurt for this last gift of priceless and faith-filled talent – and may God bless you and give you rest.
Just returned from a sneak peek at most of the first act dress rehearsal of McNeese’s production of Kiss me Kate! And it promises to be fabulous.
I didn’t get to hear everyone sing, but I was very pleased to hear the four leads and they were great. Strong clear voices which carried to the back of the theater and easy to understand. This last important because the lyrics are by the brilliantly witty Cole Porter and every syllable carries humor, great rhythm and occasionally pathos.
For those of you unfamiliar with the story, Kiss me Kate is a play within a play – kind of a play-ception if you will. A troupe of actors are bringing to Broadway their musical version of Taming of the Shrew. Faithful to both story and the Bard’s words during the play within the play, Shakespeare is enlivened with songs such as “I Hate Men” and “I’ve Come to Wive it Wealthily in Padua”. The portion of the play dealing with the antics of the actors putting on the musical Shakespeare includes the catchy and famous “Another Op’ning, Another Show”, “Wonder-bar”, and “Brush up Your Shakespeare”. For those of you too young to recognize the names Bob Fosse (who made his first film appearance and his film choreography debut in the 1953 movie version) or Cole Porter – rest assured I know you’ve heard these tunes….probably in the elevator. But you have NEVER heard them the way they are brought to life on stage at McNeese.
Taming of the Shrew is about a beautiful and rich but bullying Kate and the young man, Petruchio, who is determined to marry her. Taming is being put on by a troupe of actors who have their own problems. The leading man, Fred, and lady, Lilli, are going through a bitter divorce and the supporting cast have a variety of love lorning issues. And to complicate things, Fred’s friend has placed his name on a marker for $10,000 worth of gambling debt so two henchmen pursue the confused actors humorously on and off throughout the play.
The costuming is great. The staging features variety, a balcony and the occasional cagey reference to other Shakespeare plays. The direction by Walter Kiser and choreographed by Damien Thibodeaux makes best use of all the energy and broad comedy these talented college thespians can bring to stage.
Kiss me Kate will only play this week so DO NOT MISS – Kiss me Kate, running from Wednesday, April 5 through April 9. You can buy tickets at:
Now if you know anything about the background of Polycarp, the Christian Church father and martyr of the second century, then that might seem self evident. His patient faithfulness to Christ in the face of brutal persecution, his tutorship under Saint John, the documentation of the New Testament, his correction of heretics, the survival of Polycarp’s Letter to the Philippians, the flames which would not touch him as he stood tied to the stake. And that is all true. But I refer here not to the man, but to the faithful and faith filled movie about this incredible man’s life.
Polycarp is a wonderful movie – seen from the point of view of Anna, a pagan little girl – movingly portrayed by Eliyan Hurt, saved from slavery by a Christian family. We are given a vision of the early Christian persecutions by the Romans from the unusual perspective of the every day life of the citizens of Smyrna. Christianity is the center about which the family of Elias and Melina and their friends move and find their purpose, and Polycarp is their leader, mentor, teacher, and friend.
All the performances are quite good:
Ilse Apestegui portrays Melina, Anna’s adopted mother. An opera singer she has transitioned to the big screen with wonderful sensitivity. Elias is played by Curt Cloninger – who brings a fresh hominess as the patriarch of the family.
Germanicus is portrayed by Rusty Martin (previously seen in Courageous) Anna’s adopted brother and a teenager who must, fittingly enough, be, himself, courageous in the face of the entire force of Roman authority in Smyrna.
The portrayal of Polycarp is, of course, the essential key to the successful conveyance of this ministerial movie. As portrayed by Garry Nation, Polycarp is an every man brought to a higher calling. And Garry Nation does more than just bring Polycarp to life, he imbues him with a vulnerable relatability not often seen in the portrayal of Christian saints. The words from Scripture seem to come as naturally to him as Shakespeare does to Kenneth Branagh. It’s not easy to express lines so well known in a way which implies that you heard them recently from the mouths of the authors. But Mr. Nation manages this incredible task with apparent ease.
And it would only be logical that Polycarp would be so familiar with the Gospels as there are long beautifully lit shots of him in the scriptorium, lovingly transcribing the teachings of Jesus’ apostles. He tells his friends and neighbors – and even his enemies – the Good News of the Scriptures not as though they are distant proclamations to which we should stiffly obey, but as friends which we want to embrace and take into our hearts and souls. And not surprisingly Mr. Nation can recite this dialogue with such heartfelt conviction as he started out as a conventional minister – coming recently to the decision that his ministerial could best be served by expanding into film and authorship.
While all of this is amazing enough for an indie film on a constrained budget – NOW for the truly miraculous aspect of this film. The dialogue is sensitively and artfully crafted – conveying the history and scriptures in a natural way. There is humor and drama – every day living of Christians at a momentous time in both history and faith – the script would have challenged even an experienced writer with a number of similar scripts under their belt. But this script was written by Jerica Henline – only 18 years old when she wrote the script. And even more striking – the director was her brother, Joe Henline, only 20 at the time of filming. Ms. Apestegui mentions in the “Making of” documentary, a bonus to the DVD Polycarp, (which can be purchased at Amazon), that when she arrived for her audition she took one look at the two young people and thought she had gone to the wrong place! – only to quickly discover these two youthful artists had complete command over the situation.
I watched the documentary on how this labor of Agape (highest love of God for man and man for God) came to be and I was immediately struck by the organization and professionalism exercised by the Henline siblings – way beyond their years.
Further almost the entire film was done Old School – on a back lot created in the back yard of their incredibly supportive parents’ manufacturing business. Using movable walls they managed about 30 sets – from the vast expanse of a Roman coliseum to the intimacy of the previously mentioned scriptorium. There were fights and palaces, massive crowds and shots along rivers. While CGI was used a good deal, it was quite clever and often difficult to tell where reality ended and CGI began.
Joe Henline commanded a cast of about 30 and a crew of 50 – mostly also young adults – with the confidence of a young Spielberg. I have had the pleasure and fortune to interview both the Henlines and Garry Nation and will be putting the interview segments on a subsequent blog. The Henlines are delightful, personable and eminently confident young people with a true gift for faith filled film making.
I look forward with great anticipation to what their future in movies holds. As our country in particular and Christianity worldwide faces new waves of persecution – politically, legislatively, culturally, educationally, and physically – the Henlines have placed themselves squarely on the front line of a new force, to fight back, to be the light with film ministry – to guide our country and the world to Judeo-Christian philosophy.