Yesterday I went to a screening of a really boring, unsuccessful documentary ostensibly and nominally about forgiveness. I say it that way because although the film--or rather, the first half of the four-hour film--claimed to explore forgiveness, it spent most of its time discussing the offenses and crimes that someone then did or didn't forgive. And there were some pretty horrific crimes: torture and murder in South Africa under Apartheid, the shooting of Amish school girls in Pennsylvania, two college girls out camping in Oregon and being run over by a truck before being attacked with an ax, the murder of a cop during a bank robbery.... there was so much attention to these crimes that the movie felt like some sort of investigative piece you'd see on the Discovery channel.
As for what it actually had to say about forgiveness, that was pretty trite and unsurprising. I didn't hear a single thing I hadn't encountered several times before in either a Sunday school class, a self-help book, or both. In fact, aside from grisly details about the crimes presented in the movie, the only truly memorable thing it contained was when a woman who had to forgive A) herself for being a drug addict and stealing from her daughter and B) her boyfriend for giving her HIV, told the camera that as a result of learning to forgive, she could sleep very well, and that at night her life was so peaceful "you can hear the ants pissing outside."
Unsuccessful and boring as the movie was, it did make me think that a thorough exploration of the topic is warranted--in some other forum. This project should not have been a movie but a book--a thorough, well-researched, well-documented, well-edited, scholarly exploration of the history of forgiveness and current ideas about it.
Helen Whitney, the documentarian, claimed in her remarks before the movie that today we are in an age of forgiveness, that it was previously unprecedented for rulers or leaders to apologize or ask forgiveness of those they ruled over, though I had to think of Henry II doing penance and wanting his subjects to forgive him for his murder of Thomas a Becket.
I also think that one reason politicians now apologize and ask forgiveness for having sex in airport bathrooms or getting blowjobs from interns and so forth is because we disseminate information well enough that we A) find out about various wrong-doings and then B) hold perpetrators accountable--at least for some things. Wouldn't it be great to get an apology from George Bush and Dick Cheney for the Iraq war? I would LOVE such an apology--but we're certainly not going to get it unless we demand it (and probably not even then).
Still, it would be interesting to see someone discuss and explore these ideas and situations, and consider what it all means. Frankly I thought the movie would try to do something like that--but instead, it just became this "history of a crime" thingy--and not an especially compelling one at that, because interviews went on too long and weren't well edited, and because the observations about forgiveness were trite and preachy.
It would also have been nice to see the movie acknowledge more complexity within the situations it discussed. The Amish were held up as these otherworldly models of forgiveness because they forgave the outsider who shot their children to death, but the film never acknowledged that the Amish are very slow to forgive their own, ostracizing them and forcing them to live as pariahs within the community. That deserves some attention.
Anyway. Only part one of the movie screened last night; the second half will screen in a few weeks, and I'm sure as hell not going to show up for it. I actually recommend that you AVOID THIS FILM. But I do want to mention one really weird pre-movie moment.
Whitney was introduced by one Marlin Jensen, who apparently is a member of the first quorum of the Seventy and serves as LDS Church historian. His remarks were so strange. He began by looking around the audience of about 200 people and saying, "It will be a good long while before I'm part of such a diverse crowd again."
Well. I knew a lot of people in the audience, and it consisted predominantly of middle-aged white Mormons. There were a few people under 30, and a few people of color. There were people whose "diversity" was not quite so obvious: gay people, or people who don't attend church regularly or at all. I couldn't help it: I turned to the friend on one side and said, "That's pathetic." Then I turned to the friend on the other side and said, "That really is pathetic."
Then Marlin Jensen said to Ms. Whitney, "We here in the audience are your friends. You don't have to be afraid of us."
First of all, this woman has been making documentaries for years and her work has been nominated for an Oscar (according to the bio read before the movie); she has probably gotten used to attending screenings of her work and is both professional and confident enough to maintain some poise even among an audience of complete strangers.
Second, if we were all her friends, why would anyone have to tell her not to be afraid of us? I can't help thinking that Jensen was trying to reassure himself, not Whitney, that the audience was friendly to him, that he's so unused to being among secular groups that he doesn't even know how to behave in a non-church setting. Which, again, is really pathetic.