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Redemption without a redeemer
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Some movies are guaranteed to generate controversy.  Any director undertaking a sensitive plot -  especially one that strikes home to our most deeply felt anxieties, our collective wounds, or issues of   faith and conviction - has to walk with a great deal of caution.  At the same time, the movie falls flat if it  hides behind platitudes and skips smoothly toward happily-ever-after.

With this in mind, I prepared myself for “My Sister’s Keeper.”  Having first seen its preview a month ago,  felt certain that the generating motive for such a difficult story must have been a Christian commitment  to human dignity and the sacredness of all life.  Surely we’d witness a girl conceived as a warehouse for  spare parts and cancer-fighting agents awakening to her own intrinsic value.  Certainly, there would be a  parallel conversion on the part of her family.  No doubt somehow, somewhere, God would be part of  the process.  And yet all this would have to avoid the predictable and trite.

Go online and you’ll discover how complex the movie finally became, and how diverse are the reactions.  Last night, I found these two blog entries:

Writes “Kerplunk”, “i haven’t seen it but i do want to i’m gonna wait for it to go to dvd though cuz its  gonna be an emotional movie so i would rather watch it at home instead of a crowded theater with  possibly ignorant ***** making rude or inappropriate comments since there are a lot of them going  around these days.”  In other words, just watching it will be tough enough.

Responded HI-DE, “I understand what you mean but when I saw it in the theater most of the people  were crying and everyone was very respectful, it was kinda cute to see some of the older couples crying  together…”

From there, the reactions differ so radically - at times almost violently - that I prefer not to spoil the  show for those who haven’t yet attended.  However, Christians need to be forewarned, this time, not to  get their hopes too high. Nick Cassavetes works skillfully with a challenging plot and makes some choices that, in my opinion,  redeem the movie from almost certain despair.

The acting is excellent, the cinematography sophisticated and professional.

The medical ethics dilemmas are presented well and argued thoroughly.

The brutality of cancer and of its remedies is presented in Technicolor.

The characters are thoroughly developed.  For once a dad is a truly heroic person.   True to his  profession as a fireman, he’s willing to lay down his life to save another’s, yet is also able to accept the  ultimate reality of death.
A host of other notable characters play an essential role, as the film moves steadily deeper and draws in  more dimensions of human pain and suffering.

But what’s missing is the most obvious ingredient.  Faced with the absolute darkness of death, with life  hanging in the balance, and one lone younger sister pressured to give her kidney in a risky last resort for  the dying girl, one would expect - one would hope - that someone, somewhere, might just mention God  in a positive way, offering a word of consolation or a prayer.

Suspended before the big screen for an hour and a half, as Kate steadily weakens, and whitens, waning  and withering away toward oblivion, one would justifiably entertain - even if apologetically - the humble  expectation that somebody in St. Joseph’s Medical Center might offer the services of a chaplain, or even  dare themselves to mention the name of Jesus.  As it is, even though we do see a cross, and we do see a  minister, God is absent.

Perhaps the director wished to be true to the existential atheism of many Caucasian families in Southern California.  Maybe he wanted to cut us off from the easy escape religion offers from the  looming specter of death.  I understand and appreciate the importance of meditating on one’s mortality.

But what I don’t understand and appreciate are the escape mechanisms that the movie does, in the end,  offer.  Watch it for yourself and evaluate which values are being promoted as highest of all, as solutions  to the Unsolvable.

I’m not referring to the many advertisements so visible in the film.  These kinds of “accidental” promos  are commonplace in this expensive industry.

I’m not even referring to the positive press Planned Parenthood and the ACLU receive, in spite of the  significant damage they’ve done to innocent human life or, in the latter case, to the free exercise of  religion in the USA.

I am referring to something both these organizations have pushed: the free and open exercise of sex,  even among young minors, as a supposed path to adulthood and a kind of initiation into a higher level of  existence.  Look at the Christian commentaries, and you’ll find this complaint.  Kate’s mother is ecstatic to know that her dying daughter has a boyfriend, but neither she nor her husband seem to care at all about precautions.  In fact, watching a boy who appears to be eighteen kissing at length a girl who looks  thirteen at best, then later having sex with her in the hospital (he rips through a thin membrane first to  gain access to the room for them both), looks a lot to me like soft child-pornography.  And yet the film  implies that young Kate can go in peace now, not because her eyes have seen a light of revelation for all peoples and the glory of God’s people Israel (see Luke 2:29-32), but because she has been raised to the  ranks of the elect who have had sex.

The absence of God becomes increasingly evident as the movie progresses (or, for some, unravels), and  the director must resort to heartthrob sound-tracks, beautiful ocean-side scenery, and the intense  drama of other lives which become intertwined in the complicated tapestry of this almost Greek  tragedy.  And even though the brilliant acting and the intelligent dialogue, together with the authenticity of the parallel stories, makes the movie truly human and, in the end, hopeful in something beyond this  life, there is no way to redeem the plot.  For the source of all hope, and the key to all that is fully human,  are in God.  Without faith in Him, we have no guarantee of life after death.  Without even the mention of Jesus Christ, the movie has little to offer, save that death is inevitable, and one day you have to let go.  

But here, and precisely here, comes the one ray of hope for the movie.  It occurs toward the end, as Kate’s mother clenches her lawyer’s teeth in the unflinching determination to get Anna’s kidney for  Kate.  Her sister, who by all appearances seems to be blessed with Christian faith, intervenes.

I’ve already written too much.  See the movie for yourself.  Make your own evaluation.  It has a lot to  say about the dying of religion in America.

Maybe, in its own bleak way, “My Sister’s Keeper” will help spark the desire for God in those who suffer  through the movie and leave unsatisfied.

Then, and only then, will the sun that breaks through in the end be the Light of Christ, and not just  another spotlight from behind the theater’s curtains.

Yes, this is the veil that we all want to see torn: the veil that covers the face and blinds the eyes of all the nations.  It will be destroyed forever, on that Day when the Lord of Life rises again in the midst of  our disbelief.

I hope that Kate is with Him now, resting eternally in His gentle embrace.
Fr. Dean McFalls, St. Mary’s Church, Stockton, CA