Thursday, December 01, 2005

'Walk the Line' and 'Pride & Prejudice'

His songwriting orbited around the universal human condition of sin and redemption, murder and grace, darkness and light. What you saw was what you got with Cash. When he sang, you could almost taste the hillbilly moonshine, smell the gunpowder of a smoking revolver, and feel the drops of blood off the thorny crown of a crucified Christ.

- Steve Beard

Big-time Oscar contender Walk the Line tells the story of Johnny Cash during his most difficult years. A powerful and remarkable film, it stars Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon in brilliant performances in which they do all their own singing.

Sadly, the film doesn't make clear what it was that saved Johnny Cash after years of being "the biggest sinner of them all" - Jesus Christ. Nor does it show his later years, when Johnny and wife June Carter "were widely known and respected as devout Christians, people of great strength, compassion, and integrity," according to Chuck Colson.

As Colson writes:
Unfortunately, this film ends before the full story of Cash's conversion to Christ and the good things he did thereafter could be told. That story would have been a great movie, but maybe that's too much to expect of Hollywood. Even so, as it is, in spite of portraying drug use and domestic violence, the film is appealing to nonbelievers, because it's the story of two seekers who, after a great deal of pain, start down the path to true healing. It does allude to God's plan, but stops there.

Indeed, reading this article on Cash's story of redemption, one realizes just how much incredible material was excluded from the film. Plugged In reports: "Johnny's story - the whole story, that is - is a hopeful one, because it's about redemption. Mangold [the director] hints at this in Walk the Line, but moviegoers are left thinking that salvation came not from Jesus, but rather from a hit record recorded live at Folsom Prison."

Still, though it could have done a lot more, it's definitely a film to see. Critic Megan Basham marvels:
By showing us the uncompromising logic of Cash's work, Walk the Line is an appropriate tribute for an artist who lives in our national memory not because he burned bright and flamed out young, but because he fought his inner darkness and won eternity. He was a man at home among the criminals of Folsom and a man at home with America's greatest living preacher, Billy Graham, and he knew that his God had no problem with that. As I once heard someone say of Johnny Cash, "I wager he's the only one in Heaven wearing black."

Also currently in theaters, and winning much critical praise, is the new film adaptation of Jane Austen's Pride & Prejudice. Those who have read the book (which, of course, I have not, as it would threaten or at least call into question my masculinity) or watched the 5-hour BBC miniseries will notice how rapidly this relatively-short film moves through the lengthy story, but it never feels rushed. Indeed, it's beautifully filmed, well acted and a lot of fun. The witty dialogue in this "comedy of manners" is refreshing, and like most all romances, the central plot conflict is misunderstanding (further emphasizing the importance of communication and truth) which, once resolved, opens the door for a happy ending.

Still, there is one drawback, for me, to this otherwise wonderful film: the very last scene. Apparently, the version of the film being shown here in America is something like 8 minutes longer than the initial British version (the "American" version has since been released in Britain, as well). Our version has a sugary, "romantic" scene added to the end, which the filmmakers felt would be more appealing to Americans, but which I utterly detest.

A former head of the Jane Austen Society of North America says that the final scene "has nothing at all of Jane Austen in it" and "insults the audience with its banality." The romance of Pride & Prejudice seems to be driven by subtlety and dialogue, yet the final scene deviates from the story's atmosphere by being physical in nature. It totally feels modernized.

Strangely, though, the British version also disappoints, because it doesn't even have a final kiss. A kiss is the best way to end the film, but it should be simple and modest like those in previous adaptations, not the modern, disgusting type shown in the new American version.

But it's still worth seeing for the majority of you whom I assume share a great deal of my personal preferences (that is, the preferences relevant to this film).

Worthwhile reviews here and here.

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