Preaching to the Choir

Just saw a movie yesterday, Hubby and I, that–despite gaining 4 and 5 stars from well respected movie critics–is probably destined to be a box office failure. I’m not afraid to be wrong, however, and in this case I hope that I am!

To appreciate the movie and its theme even more, it may be pertinent to revisit the scriptures of the old testament a little bit, and especially note the interesting comparisons of King Saul with our current King President Dubya which actually have nothing at all to do with the movie, or does it? (It seems some Israelites questioned the annointment of Saul as being the true appointee of God, but he was made king anyhow by the political pundits of the day.)

The title, “In the Valley of Elah,” comes from the setting of the biblical story of David and Goliath in the time period of approximately 886 BCE. The Phillistine armies were encamped on the south side of the Valley of Elah (so called after the oak or terebinth tree growing in the area), and King Saul’s forces occupied the hill on the nothern side. This is where young David was camping in the Cave of Adullam with a nearby brook and the customary rocks along its banks.

If you’re familiar with the Bible or the stories from its old testament, you remember that David took a stone from a nearby brook and decided he would take on the Phillistine giant, Goliath, with no other instrument than a slingshot with which he had a quite good aim. Some say he took not one, but five stones, just in case any brothers of Goliath might want and come for revenge. Well, his aim was further aided by God who already knows all things anyhow, and the precise and well-aimed rock hit Goliath at the strategic spot between the eyes, his skull split open, and he fell to the ground deader than a doornail.

David, as the lowly little flute player, the little guy who accompanied King Saul and played the flute to soothe his temperamental outbursts, went to war for the king who believed himself appointed by God as the leader of the Israelites.

Enough backgroud. The movie opens with an older couple, Joan and Hank Deerfield (played by Susan Sarandon and Tommy Lee Jones) of Munro, Tennessee and an early morning telephone call from officials at Fort Rudd where their son, recently returned from a tour of duty in Iraq, had been reassigned and has been designated as AWOL. Hank himself was an MP in his own military background and, trying to add things up, he convinces himself and his wife that something just isn’t right. He soon leaves Joan behind in Tennessee while he takes his truck and drives to Fort Rudd to find his son.

As the audience we’re along for the ride and the search for the rest of the movie. There are no heroes, no beautiful jiggly and bouncy starlets, no foreshadowing other than what we see slowly unfold on the screen before us as we watch Mike Deerfield’s video-taped experiences in Iraq.

We see every line and every nuance of pain and struggle in Tommy Lee Jones’s face, and in Susan Sarandon’s as well. And the detective assigned to the case (Charleze Theron) doesn’t sail through the movie sheathed in glamour. As the lone female in the investigative crime unit of the local police, she fights her own quiet battle with sexism. 

To say the movie leaves you feeling a little bit unsettled would be an understatement. Immediately upon exiting the tiny little theatre, an older lady waiting on a leather bench to be seated for the next showing asked us, “Was that a good movie? Did you enjoy it?” She must have been worried that the stonelike faces of those exiting before us meant she had chosen the wrong movie to see.

At matinee prices, no waste of money to be sure, but the question turned out to be one asked too soon, and one that neither of us knew quite how to answer. We knew she probably wanted to be reassured that she hadn’t wasted her money, and wouldn’t be wasting her time as well, but I needed to let some time pass before I could talk about it.

“Yes . . . it was a good movie,” Hubby finally managed to say. I could see by her puzzled look she wasn’t yet convinced. I managed to add, “Well, there’s no action to speak of, it’s a little slowly paced, there’re great character studies, and it really gives you a lot to think about,” knowing fully well those words didn’t do the movie justice. As we walked away, she remarked, “I’m afraid I already do too much thinking!” Another member of the choir, I thought, and walked on.

Having watched an episode or two on public television of the newly filmed The War, about WW II, by Ken Burns, and noting the difference in public awareness and personal vestment in that war and the wars in the middle east today, I believe that this movie will eventually prove timeless in theme. It is one that needed to be made as a political statement if for no other reason. 

One thing I believ I know for sure, especially looking back on the history of soldiers returned from the Vietnam fiasco, which is surely what the current situation in the Middle East is destined to become, we must be committed to taking care of the men and women “who fight for our freedom”. Too bad the director, Paul Haggis, is probably only preaching to the choir with this movie. Most Americans may be too uninformed and too personally uninvolved to care about the impact of war on our soldiers, period.

1 thought on “Preaching to the Choir

  1. I am so hoping that the lessons learned from Vietnam will be remembered for this war. “Support the troups” needs to be a rallying cry. Yes too, the Ken Burns epic is a classic. There was some objection to the lack of film that encluded Hispanics, and I believe he tacked on a bit about their participation. It didn’t please everyone.

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