Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Get Low. (2010) Aaron Schneider

Get Low, a reference to a person going six feet under, is built partially from an event in the 1930s where a backwoods codger planned his own living funeral, mythologized in Schneider's film to probe the meaning of being redeemed.

And what does it mean to be redeemed?

I use the term purely in the Christian sense, because the film so closely aligns itself with that worldview. Many films have plots and characters which draw on themes of "redemption". While misguided about redemption from the standpoint of southern faith, the crotchety old man played by Robert Duvall in Get Low is still looking, in the Christian sense, to be redeemed.

For forty years Felix Bush (Duvall) has hidden himself away in his cabin deep in the woods in Tennessee, a mysterious geezer-hermit with all kinds of legends that the locals just love to chew on. He's like the neighbor lady I saw as a kid who used the hose to water her driveway and gave away soup on Halloween. We were never quite sure what her story was, but man, could we make some up.

Stylin' on a stagecoach, Bush heads into town one day, shotgun in hand, to visit the fellows at the funeral home. He tells them (one of which is Bill Murray and his oh-so-30s moustache) that he wants to plan a funeral. His funeral. Right now, while he's still alive. He wants to invite all the townspeople to tell a few of the tales about him, live it up, party on, and celebrate his demise. He's putting his land in a lottery to be collected at the time of his death, the raffle winner being announced at the funeral.

After Mr. Bush gets a decent haircut and makes the announcement over the radio, the event turns into the talk of the town. In such a remote setting, it will surely be the event of the year. Maybe the event of a quite a few years.

But it is apparently more than a fun get-together for nutty old Mr. Bush. It seems he's got something he wants to talk about at the big show. Something deep and dark that he's buried in those woods, hidden away for the past forty years. Rumors around town are that he killed a man, maybe two or three. We meet Sissy Spacek as an old flame: "We had a go," he wryly tells the funeral guys. There's something about this relationship that is a mystery. The two come from a place where grunts and glances are as good as any words. The spaces between their words are filled with a background we can only guess at.

This is one of those stories where this is about that. We might be looking at the tall tale of a kooky backwoods flea scratcher, but the film is actually about preparing your heart for what's later by clearing your schedule and making amends now -- and if you can't make amends, at least setting some stories straight. The heart of Get Low is as good as anything in the story, and it's a reason I look forward to seeing it again very soon. (If I had seen it before the end of last year, it would have given me serious pause in trying to pick a Top Ten without it being somewhere on the list.)

Since I've borrowed the idea of this being about that from Rob Bell, I might as well go ahead and say that I just finished reading "Love Wins" (soon twice, and I'll most likely blog the book here soon), and that the timing on reading the book and seeing the film together is about as satisfying an arts experience as one can get. The two would make a great double billing. First read "Love Wins," and then see Get Low. Then ask yourself:

Did Mr. Bush repent to God? Has he atoned for his sins? Is repenting to your fellow man enough? Isn't it enough in some Christian circles? Are words really EVER enough? Is the action of the words in confession to a thousand townsfolk any better than the action of building a house of worship years ago? If someone somehow stumbles on truth and amazingly gets the actions right, coming from a pure and contrite heart, but doesn't actually get their words to the right source, has that person really made atonement for their sin? Did King David have a Jesus to repent to? Did Cain get to pray the "sinner's prayer"?

We have a character in Mr. Bush that's desperate to make peace in the world before he moves on to the next one, whatever that is. The question is more about having God's peace correct a long standing situation here and now then it is worrying about the fires of hell. Guilt has eaten away at the crotchety old man for forty years, and he needs to out this thing now, and not just for himself. It's a character doing the right human thing, the right, honorable Christian thing, while not necessarily in the confines of Christianity. That said, there seems to be an understanding that what he is doing, he is doing for peace, for reconciliation. He lives surrounded by God's beauty all the time. These backwoods types breathe God's air every day. He has watched the land around him every day for forty years and knows that the corrections he needs to make in the flesh have vast, earth shattering, heavenly implications.

This is a gorgeous film, with a wonderful, subdued soundtrack. Gosh, that bluegrass music lingering quietly in the background is fun. My grandpa was a bluegrass player in Mississippi. This stuff gets to me on a personal basis as a part of the family tree I've always enjoyed. I was a musician on the rock road for many years, but the roots of bluegrass must be where it all started for me. Somewhere inside this boy who loves the big cities and crowded night life is a backwoods red dirt finger-picker just longing for a banjo at heart.

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