- compiled by Jeffrey Overstreet Copyright Christianity Today International
- 2002 1 Jan
Three of last week's Oscar nominations for acting went to a film that had not even opened in wide release:
The film tells the story of Iris Murdoch (Dench), a beloved British novelist who published 12 acclaimed volumes and inspired many to a greater appreciation of intellectual freedom. Murdoch suffered severly late in life from Alzheimer's disease, but her devoted husband, Bayley (Broadbent), stayed with her through it all. The movie jumps back and forth from their courtship, during which Bayley struggled with Murdoch's promiscuity, to Murdoch's final days, as he strove to comfort her.
Critics in the mainstream press praised it, especially Stanley Kauffmann (The New Republic): "The film is self-evidently grave, but it is not lachrymose. Almost every moment in both time strands is thoroughly realized, as if that moment of life and living were being saved, not filmed. Eyre … is an expert and graceful director."
In The Vancouver Courier, Peter T. Chattaway (sometime critic for
But Roger Ebert (
I actually find Bayley's "fond old fool" to be a compelling demonstration that godliness can be seen not in words, but in actions. Although frustrated with the weight of his sacrifice, he endures Iris's unfaithfulness with a steadfastness that recalls the story of Hosea. Should we reject the story because the beloved is flawed? In this kind of devotion, we can see a beautiful picture of Christlike love, as God remains faithful to us though we all fall short of his glory.
Phil Boatwright fundamentally disagrees with the film's implications: "Certainly freedoms are extremely important, but the film suggests that they are all that's important. Indeed, the film, unbeknownst to its participants, shows how shortsighted we are when we place our hopes and dreams on human understanding, alone."
I believe the film speaks truth in spite of the filmmakers' intentions. While the script attempts to champion the life of the mind as the way of salvation, the story itself shows the mind is flawed and failing, while the action of love transcends physical frailty and provides comfort, hope, forgiveness, and grace. Sometimes a story's greatest truth can come as a surprise even to the one telling it.