Some films have tried to capture the essence of the Christian message. “The Passion of the Christ” did it openly, “The Chronicles of Narnia” did it clearly and “The Lord of the Rings” did it subtly. None of them can be compared to “The Banishment.”
Used to the trepidation of Hollywood standards, “The Banishment” is an extremely slow and long Russian film. It neither mentions God or religion, but it is subtly about the Christian concept of redemption. Perhaps the hardest topic to capture in film.
The first part of the movie deals with matters as they appear to be on the surface. A rather taciturn husband who worked hard to earn a living for his wife and two children while trying to keep in touch with his estranged brother. Unexpectedly, he learned about his wife’s pregnancy but she confessed it was not his child.
His internal struggle is translated into an even deeper silence that only breaks into a talk with his brother. The conversation with his brother inside the car spoke of the struggle of conscience to come up with the right decision. These two brothers represented the human condition. The practical side, the estranged brother, saw nothing ethically wrong as long as a solution was achieved. He told him where a gun is hidden in the house and put his puzzled brother straight in front of his freedom: “If you choose to kill, you can kill; if you choose to forgive, you can forgive.”
Ultimately, the husband chose to forgive under one condition: that his wife aborted the child. The wife submitted. A diptych shows both sides of the reality of the abortion. In the house, the mother was under the knife of two clandestine doctors in the precarious setting of her bedroom. The other side of the diptych shows, her two children, far away in a friend’s house, trying to assemble a puzzle of the Annunciation of Leonardo da Vinci. Before going to bed, the children then hear their friends read 1 Cor 13: “Love is always patient and kind; it is never jealous; … love is never rude or selfish… delights in the truth.”
A series of tragedies unleashed in what superficially seemed to be an unfortunate chain of events. It all seems to be the result of the wife’s weakness and the struggle of a husband to forgive. The truth is much deeper. The second part of the film deals with the underlying hidden plan: the one who seemed to be the victim turned out to be the victimizer; the one who seemed to be the sinner turned out to be the innocent lamb of sacrifice and he who thought he was doing justice found himself being judged when faced with the truth. I won’t tell you how that happens. You go and watch.
“The Passion of the Christ” was patently Catholic, had a predictable script and, to the secular audience, it was not more than a gory, graphic tale of a torture with an unbelievable ending. “The Chronicles of Narnia” was a fairy tale too similar to the real story to appeal to the secular audience. As Tolkien would reproach: too fantastic to resemble the real thing. “The Lord of the Rings” was perhaps so subtle that it failed to bring the audience beyond its fantasy world to the facts of our faith.
“The Banishment” does what the rest failed to do. It is subtle enough to appeal to the secular. Realistic enough to relate to all. And faithful enough to the mystery to unfold it in a manner that is both inspiring and revealing. If you even wonder what redemption is all about and how one’s condemnation can bring about redemption, this is a film you must watch.