Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Kindness to Repentance

One of the reasons I love movies so much is because of their ability to hold a magnifying glass up to my own heart. To make me feel … to make me think … to challenge me mentally, spiritually, and personally.

Such was my experience last night when I popped in a movie from HBO Films entitled Longford into our DVD player here at home.

Longford (2006, ***1/2) is the story of Frank Pakenham, a British Lord known for his visits to prisoners. Lord Longford has been a Christian all his life and lives by the philosophy that "no human being is beyond forgiveness.”

When a convicted child murderer and sexual deviant named Myra Hindley requests a visit from Lord Longford, he has no qualms about looking in on her at the local prison. Despite the worries of his wife and many others who call Hindley a “monster” of the worst sort, Lord Longford goes in to visit the prisoner and develops a relationship with her. What follows is a very intriguing web of mystery, betrayal, and human drama almost catapulted to greatness by the performances of Jim Broadbent and Andy Serkis.

While watching Longford, I was struck by Pakenham’s faithfulness to his cause, the convict he was visiting, and his God. Here was a man of unwavering faith who believed so strongly that everyone should be offered a chance to receive grace and forgiveness, no matter what the crime that he was not discouraged, even after losing his job and a certain amount of public respect.

Near the end of the film, Pakenham makes a very bold statement (SPOILERS follow, if you plan on watching the film):
Forgiveness is the very cornerstone of my faith and the struggle to deepen my faith is my life’s journey. In that respect, [the prisoner that has taken all I have done for her and thrown it in my face] has enriched my spiritual life beyond measure, and for that I will always be grateful to her. If people think that makes me weak, or mad, so be it. That is the path I am committed to. To love the sinner, but hate the sin. To assume the best in people, but not the worst. To believe that anyone, no matter how evil, can be redeemed … eventually.
I lost sleep last night thinking about those words. They made me think about all the people whom I have ever hated; all the people I’ve been unable to forgive. It made me realize that instead of cleaving to the childish, infantile desires of my deceptively wicked heart, I should conform my feelings to the attitude that Lord Longford had toward Myra Hindley (which is, by the way, the same attitude that Christ has toward all we wayward sinners).

It is so hard to forgive sometimes, especially those people who are blatantly unrepentant of their wrongdoing. But, as the Word of God says, the kindness of God leads people to repentance (Romans 2:4). Perhaps our kindness toward those who have wronged us will be enough to soften even the hardest of hearts and lead them to full reconciliation … with us and with God.
Therefore you have no excuse, everyone of you who passes judgment, for in that which you judge another, you condemn yourself; for you who judge practice the same things. And we know that the judgment of God rightly falls upon those who practice such things.

But do you suppose this, O man, when you pass judgment on those who practice such things and do the same yourself, that you will escape the judgment of God? Or do you think lightly of the riches of His kindness and tolerance and patience, not knowing that the kindness of God leads you to repentance?

But because of your stubbornness and unrepentant heart you are storing up wrath for yourself in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God, who WILL RENDER TO EACH PERSON ACCORDING TO HIS DEEDS: to those who by perseverance in doing good seek for glory and honor and immortality, eternal life; but to those who are selfishly ambitious and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, wrath and indignation.

Romans 2:1-8 (NASB)


Nate said...

Watched Longford tonight on your (& Steven Greydanus's) recommendation. I got so caught up in the short, intimate scenes that form the foundation of the movie I hardly realized I was witnessing something like the building of a cathedral. The film's total emotional impact doesn't sink in until after the fact, when you realize just how much you've been made to care for this funny little man and his humble ministry. This is not a bloated, self-important biography of a cultural or religious hero, but a modest, restrained (perhaps even a tad mundane?) story about a long, twisty journey toward grace.

Broadbent gives another master class characterization (nothing new for him, really), but Serkis floored me with his totally unnerving portrait of a confirmed sociopath. Gad, what absolute control he has over every muscle in his face! And what blank, emotionless eyes! This is certainly one of the juiciest roles in what's turning out to be a formidable career for this fine English actor.

Thanks for writing about this one, Phillip.

Phillip said...

I found Serkis' performance quite terrifying as well.

And I loved the fact that it was not "bloated" and "self-important." I think one of the major problems with biographical pieces is that characters are made too much like heroes, therefore the common man cannot relate. I didn't feel that way with Longford ... I think thats why I liked it so much.