In Surviving the Loss of a Loved One, Dr. Harold Bloomfield writes, "Every day you don't forgive, it's as if you are ingesting tiny bits of poison. This poison slowly robs us of our desired future. Whether we need forgiveness for ourselves or for others, it is imperative to give ourselves permission to participate in this sacred process." The longer we hold off forgiving ourselves or others, the longer we remain in a prison of our own construction.
Get Low is a Depression-era folktale that has been told again and again in the Tennessee backwoods about a cantankerous hermit and his startling and unconventional funeral plans. It is a quirky drama inhabited by characters who trigger our feelings of sadness, humor, and reverence for life and its ample mysteries. Depicting the spiritual practice of forgiveness on the screen is fraught with many dangers and thankfully Aaron Schneider, the director, and screenwriters Chris Provenzano and C. Gaby Mitchell avoid melodramatic flourishes and deliver a cathartic finale that is both authentic and telling in its poignancy.
The film opens with a young boy courageously leaving his buddies in the woods and pitching a rock at the window of Felix Bush (Robert Duvall in an Academy Award-caliber performance), a hermit who is the subject of gossip and ridicule in the Southern town. The adults have convinced their children that this odd fellow is a scary monster who, after doing dreadful things, decided to separate himself from the community of normal people. In order to keep intruders away, the recluse puts up a new sign at the entry to his property: "No damn trespassing. Beware of mule."
Bush rides into town with a gun and a fat wad of cash. His errand: to see the preacher, who is startled by his bizarre request for his own "living funeral" which he will attend so he can hear the same stories that the guests have heard about him during the past 40 years. However, as soon as the minister launches into traditional Christian piety, Bush takes his money and leaves.
Buddy Robinson (Lucas Black), an ardent young man who works for Frank Quinn (Bill Murray), the town's funeral home owner, happens to hear Bush's request and tells his boss about it. They visit Bush at his home and offer their services. When Bush accepts, Quinn unsuccessfully tries to sell this outsider a coffin and then takes him to a photographer to have a picture taken for a flyer that will be distributed to the townsfolk inviting them to his big "funeral party." The deal is sweetened when they decide to sell raffle tickets for the deed to Felix's 300 acres of wooded property.
One of the things that sets Get Low apart from so many recent spiritual movies is the top-drawer cast and the attention given to small epiphanies which shed light on the characters and their inner lives. For instance, when Quinn takes Bush to the photographer, and he asks, "Do you want him to smile?" the funeral director answers, "That is his smile."
As the funeral party looms on the horizon, the loner reconnects with two people from his mysterious past: Mattie Darrow (Sissy Spacek), a woman he dated years ago, and the Rev. Charlie Jackson (Bill Cobbs) who knows the nature of Felix's tormenting secret. These two extraordinary actors invest these peripheral characters with nuance and emotional vibrancy.
The soul-stirring final sequences in Get Low reveal that there is both intimacy and allure in apology and forgiveness. These two spiritual acts have the power to break down barriers between people and draw them closer to one another. "Forgiveness is the final form of love," the Protestant theologian Reinhold Niebuhr once wrote. It is a choice and everyone can experience its liberating and healing balm.
After screening Get Low, we came home and found a quotation by spiritual teacher Jack Kornfield that says it all: "If only we could help each other build temples of forgiveness instead of prisons. We can. In our own hearts."
Special Features on the DVD include Cast & Crew Q&A; The Deep South: Buried Secrets; Getting Low: Getting Into Character; A Screenwriter's Point of View; On the Red Carpet; and Commentary with Robert Duvall, Sissy Spacek, Director Aaron Schneider and Producer Dean Zanuck.