Confession and Forgiveness in Get Low
June 11, 2011 § 1 Comment
It’s not often that you encounter a film that deals so explicitly with matters of forgiveness and confession as does Get Low. Surely there are plenty of cinematic explorations of guilt, shame, forgiveness and confession, but they tend to be buried deep under psychological subtexts, only unearthed through a vague symbol or in the waning moments of the script. And to be honest, that is normally the best way to deal with these issues in the cinema, otherwise the film often takes on a moralizing tone, rendering its message (no matter how good intentioned or true) largely ineffective. Get Low, however, is right up front with Felix Bush’s (Robert Duvall) guilt over a past sin and the second half of the film is preoccupied with almost nothing else.
In Bush, we find a man who is well aware of his wrongdoing, and has decided to live with it for the past 40 years, partly in a self-imposed attempt at penance, but also due to his inability to confess to those who he has hurt the most. As he approaches the end of his life he plans his own “funeral party” so he can tell his story to the world and ask forgiveness. Within this context, it’s interesting to note the stance the film seems to take on forgiveness, specifically that of the divine variety.
Bush’s reverend friend, Charlie Jackson (Bill Cobbs), urges him to not just confess to his fellow mankind, but also to God. This suggestion is taken, both in the filmic time and earlier in Bush’s life, with a certain sense of disdain by Felix. According to Bush (and viewed somewhat humorously in the film’s context) he didn’t do anything to Jesus, so he doesn’t need to ask him for forgiveness. It’s somewhat clear that this drive comes from Bush’s unwillingness to forgive himself and accept God’s forgiveness without having paid his earthly price first. It appears that the film is asserting that being able to ask and accept God’s forgiveness entails being forgiven by your fellow humans and being able to stop living in a state of perpetual self-loathing.
Incapable of forgiving himself, Felix cannot accept anyone else’s forgiveness until, as the film draws to a close, he is able to tell his story to those gathered to hear it. In this telling, he manages to finally find peace with others, and ultimately, I believe, with God. The film handles all of these proceedings with tenderness and grace, thanks to a fantastic script that is cognizant of the challenge it is to speak of forgiveness and grace without turning the film into a kitsch-fest. The films shows us that peace is found through confession and an acceptance of the forgiveness offered by others. Without either one, true peace may be hard to come by. This is but one facet of a magnificent film that I implore you to see if you get the chance.