by Bonnie Anderson and Dan Webster
What is it about psychological thrillers and shower scenes? Maybe there’s a vulnerable aspect to it that lends to the emotion of the moment. Music helps. So does the steam vapor on the glass shower stall.
But that’s just part of the mystery and emotional journey that is ‘The Gift.’ Joel Edgerton, Australian director, has scored with this nerve-wracking, edge of the chair, creepy thriller. Jason Bateman (Simon) and Rebecca Hall (Robyn) are superb and Joel Edgerton expertly carries the role of Gordo, an acquaintance of Simon’s past with a mysterious secret brought to light after 20 years.
Alfred Hitchcock fans need not worry their hero’s franchise is in any danger but there are some Hitchcock-esque qualities in this movie. The character development, and the surprises we witness, all make for an adrenalin rush and a few “I didn’t see that coming” moments.
We see a young couple move from Chicago to Los Angeles hoping for a new start. Simon grew up near LA and runs into his past early on in the story. Robyn slowly begins to see her husband in a different light. But you wonder if Gordo, Simon’s old schoolmate, is maniacal, a threat, or crazy. As the film progresses, there is a glimpse of short-lived tenderness in Robyn as she occasionally speaks up on behalf of Gordo early in the film. Overall, there is very little, if any, “love your neighbor” in this movie.
Robyn and movie-goers learn more about Simon as the film progresses. He displays adult behavior he learned as a child. So his past surfaces and threatens to bring down his well-crafted life he had been clearly choreographing.
The well-known teacher of centering prayer, Fr. Thomas Keating, describes the false self as the self we as human beings create beginning in childhood. It’s all about our perceived need for power and control, esteem and affection, and safety and security. We see those human qualities in Simon. Keating says centering prayer can help us dismantle that false self system. Unfortunately, that is not the path Simon took, and most likely would not increase the box office receipts.
‘The Gift’ begs the questions: How well do we really know each other? Are unresolved, unkind acts between people ever really forgotten or do they chip away at our goodness, slowly hardening our hearts as we unsuccessfully attempt to ignore the lost opportunities for reconciliation and seek revenge instead?
Bonnie Anderson is a very active lay leader in her parish, diocese and in the wider Episcopal Church. She is an experienced community organizer and lives in suburban Detroit. Dan Webster is an Episcopal priest in Baltimore, Maryland and a former broadcast news executive. But don’t expect only east coast urban perspectives here. As it turns out, they both grew up in Southern California. They blog about films and faith at Faith Reels.