Jesus of Nazareth spent a lot of time on the road. He once characterized himself as having no place to lay his head. Many of his contemporary sons and daughters have traveled this same journey as vagabonds, drifters, bums, alcoholics, drug-addicts, and thieves. Alienated and cut off from the rest of society, these lost souls share a common yearning to find a safe, quiet place of love and acceptance. Or as Annie Lamott, one of the finest writers about the experience of being down-and-out, put it: "Grace is the light or electricity or juice or breeze that takes you from that isolated place and puts you with others who are as startled and embarrassed and eventually grateful as you are to be there."
In her funky and deeply spiritual screen adaptation of a book of short stories by Denis Johnson, Alison Maclean (Crush) presents the rambling, chaotic, and dizzy journey of a good-hearted loser who has been saddled with the nickname "Fuckhead" (FH). In 1971, he (Billy Crudup) hitches a ride in a car and has a premonition it will crash. It does. He saves a baby from the wreck but remains adrift in his own strange world of drug-induced hallucinations.
In a series of flashbacks, we learn of FH's turbulent relationship with Michelle (Samantha Morton), a junkie. Their love relationship is a rocky road that plunges to a low after she gets an abortion. FH is sprinkled with holy water outside the clinic but it doesn't take effect right away. In another scene he steals a jacket from a car but leaves a guitar there after he sees a crucifix hanging on the dashboard. Then in a subway train, FH notices a man who looks lucky. He follows him to a laundromat and sees the sacred heart on his chest.
After adventures with Wayne (Denis Leary), a heroin addict, and Georgie (Jack Black), an orderly in a hospital emergency room, FH eventually winds up at a rehab center and takes a job writing a newsletter at an Arizona convalescent home filled with society's castoffs. He feels right at home. His spirits are lifted by a Mennonite woman whose singing of a hymn touches his heart. FH brings some grace into the lonely life of Mira (Holly Hunter), a woman whose husbands and boyfriends have all died.
Jesus' Son is one of those films that meanders here and there and everywhere. At first, that is bothersome until one realizes that oftentimes grace is like that — zigzagging back and forth in our lives. FH stays the course despite his drug addiction, thievery, humiliations, and frequent encounters with death. And in the end, he is — to use a favorite phrase of C. S. Lewis — surprised by grace. Believe me, it is worth the wait and it is rendered so sweetly that the only response is — well, I won't spoil it for you. You have to experience this grace of God for yourself.