Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Grief and Loss: "Signs" and "Knowing"

rouletteImage by jasonsewell via Flickr

I've never played roulette. Truth be told, the closest I've come to the inside of a casino is a James Bond movie. Well, we could also include Oceans Eleven. I'm bringing this up because, in the films Signs and Knowing, the lead character (Mel Gibson and Nicholas Cage, respectively), determines at some point that life is kind of like existential roulette. People get lucky or they don't.

As the stories unfold, Gibson and Cage have lost their wives in auto accidents and neither one is handling his grief well. Gibson has left the ministry and withdrawn to his farm; Cage is drinking. Each has made up his mind that life is more or less the result of random events and neither is very happy about it. It's not that they've thought through the arguments and arrived at a conclusion -- this isn't about philosophy. Their wives have died unexpectedly, they felt helpless to do anything about it, and they're just plain angry.

Grief makes everyone angry -- or rather, everyone gets angry when they're grieving. Angry at themselves, angry over the circumstances, angry at whoever has died (or left, if that's the case), angry at God, or anyone who happens to be in the way. It's partly how we cope.

What I like about these two films is the manner in which resolution is depicted. There's nothing miraculous; no bright light, no heavenly choir, no overt sentimentality telling us they're going to be fine. Instead, each character is drawn out of his private hell by circumstances that lead him to rely on those he loves (who, incidentally also grieve to some extent). For whatever reason, both characters had been keeping their grief to themselves and it was killing the hope out of them. By sharing it, they found the resources to face life and whatever comes along with it. It's a good message, one well worth taking to heart.

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