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Robert Duvall as Felix Bush in the film Get Low

The movie Get Low is set in rural East Tennessee in the 1930s and is loosely based on the true story of a Roane County hermit who planned a massive “funeral party” for himself while he was still alive.  Though Kim and I are not big moviegoers anymore, I was intrigued enough by a review of the film in the Tulsa World last August that we made a special effort to see it at the cinema.  Maybe it was because the review’s description of the setting reminded me of the place and time in which my Dad grew up in Tennessee.  Maybe it is because from childhood I remembered an old man near Dad’s home community named Floyd Haislip, the proprietor of the small, country store in Beech Hill who kept his casket prominently displayed on top of the center aisle.  More about that in another post!  Anyway, Kim and I were riveted by Get Low at the theater and bought the DVD when it was released last month.    

Get Low contains superb acting by Robert Duvall, Sissy Spacek, Bill Murray, Lucas Black, Gerald McRaney, and Bill Cobbs.  Duvall portrays the protagonist Felix Bush, a character inspired by the real life Tennessee hermit, Felix “Bush” Breazeale.  Though the movie contains more profanity than necessary (it is rated PG-13), Get Low grapples very dramatically with issues of isolation, loneliness, a haunting past, repentance, and forgiveness.  Christianity Today ranked the film number three in its list of The Most Redeeming Films of 2010.

While I won’t give away the entire plot or details of the ending for the sake of those who still haven’t seen the movie, there were several scenes that dealt directly with spiritual issues.

When approached by Felix Bush about the possibility of having a “funeral party,” Rev. Gus Horton (McRaney) asked, “Are you sick?”  Bush replied, “Everybody dies.”  Horton: “What matters is, that, when you come to the end of your life, that you’re ready for the next one.  Now, have you made peace with God, sir?”  Bush: “I’ve paid.”  Horton: “Mr. Bush, you can’t buy forgiveness; it’s free, but you do have to ask for it.”  God indeed freely offers to mankind the gift of His grace and salvation through Jesus Christ, but it must be humbly accepted and received through obedient faith and spiritual washing in the blood of the Lamb.    

Bush then sought assistance with his “living funeral” from an old friend and African-American minister, Rev. Charlie Jackson (Cobbs), whom he had met 40 years earlier.  Jackson to Bush: “After you left here, did you do the right thing?”  Bush: “I felt that I did the right thing.”  Jackson: “Confessed?  Asked forgiveness?”  Bush then objected that he had built his own prison and lived in it for 40 years with no wife, no children, and no friends.  Bush muttered, “If that’s not enough…,” and then walked away.  We know from Scripture that it isn’t enough; no amount of self-punishment is sufficient to take away the guilt of our sin.  “Nothing, but the blood of Jesus.”  “Nothing in my hand I bring; simply to Thy cross I cling.” 

As Bush wrestles alone with his inner conflict, he says, “They keep talking about forgiveness.  ‘Ask Jesus for forgiveness.’  I never did nothing to Him.”  If only that were true!  “But He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities;  The chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, and by His scourging we are healed.  All of us like sheep have gone astray, each of us has turned to His own way; but the Lord has caused the iniquity of us all to fall on Him,”  (Isaiah 53:5-6).

When Jackson ultimately spoke at Bush’s funeral party, he began by saying, “We like to imagine that good and bad, right and wrong, are miles apart.  But, the truth is, very often they are all tangled up with each other.”  It reminded me of the apostle Paul’s statement in Romans 7:19, “For the good that I want, I do not do; but I practice the very evil that I do not want.”  It also reminded me of the tenet of conventional wisdom which says, “There is so much good in the worst of us, and so much bad in the best of us, that it behooves all of us not to talk about the rest of us.” 

In his climactic speech, a weary and worn Felix Bush says, “I did something I was ashamed of; something I couldn’t ever fix.  But, I didn’t want forgiveness; I needed to hold on to what I did, to be sick from it every day of my life… This was all my fault … I’m so ashamed… I would like forgiveness now, if possible… and then I don’t mind dying for real next time, but please forgive me.”

If you haven’t seen Get Low, I would highly recommend it to you.  If you have seen it, please feel free to comment with your thoughts about the film.

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March 2011