Jesus' Son

Billy Crudup, Samantha Morton. Directed by Alison Maclean
Running Time: 99 mins
Rated: R

Jesus' Son tells a very bleak tale for most of its duration. Set in the drug subculture of the USA in the 1970's, FH (Billy Crudup) is a substance abuser. He lacks self-esteem, friends, family and employment. He is completely passive in regard to where his life is going. All he cares about is where he can find drugs. This depressing story is told in tragic detail for over 60 minutes in the film.For all the hopelessness of his existence (it is, initially, hardly a life), we also see that FH is, as well, an attractive, humours and good person. The real hope in his life is Samantha (Morton), with whom he falls in love. She is also a drug addict. They are not good for each other, but her death is the turning point for FH's life. It is what FH calls, "like an Easter thing".

It is worth persevering past the desolation of FH's world to the second half of the film. Here FH begins to piece his life back together. There are no Hollywood-style breakthroughs, no cheap grace in this film. Everything about his redemption is hard fought and hard won. Each breakthrough is so utterly simple and ordinary that most people could not grasp its significance in FH's life, like the importance to him of the Mennonite hymn, "Cheer up my brother, let in the sunshine, we'll understand it all by and by." Or when FH's dares to ask someone to dance or when he learns to gently touch the patients at the nursing home where he gets a job. Various people enter his life in the most commonplace ways and each teach him something about how to reclaim his dignity and focus.

Each of these events is so keenly observed that it makes this film arresting and real. Billy Crudup's performance is outstanding as the aimless FH. As one might expect, the style of the film throws the audience off balance so as to help us to enter FH's world. It employs disturbed narration, split screens, a sharp sound track and a grainy picture. It owes much to the poetic realists. Maclean's handling of these elements is assured and she underscores the mood of the work so well that Jesus' Son ends up a deeply moving experience.

Jesus' Son took out the International Catholic Cinema Organisation Prize at the Venice Film Festival. It was brave, but deserved, choice given that it clearly proclaims that there is no experience of human existence that is beyond hope and redemption.

Richard Leonard SJ

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