General Orders No. 9

The Rabbit Will Mislead You

This past Saturday Fran, Rhiannon and I went to see General Orders No. 9, a new movie that was screening at Georgia State University’s Cinefeste Film Theater. We first learned about the movie because it was directed by Bob Persons, who is married to our friend Lisa whom we know through the Friends of L’Arche Atlanta. Bob grew up in the same town Fran did, and when we poked around online to learn a bit more about the film we discovered that parts of it were filmed in and around their home. So, our interest sufficiently piqued, off we went to check it out. And I’m glad we did.

This film has won several awards, particularly for its cinematography, and they’re well deserved: it’s simply gorgeous, luminous with color but also stark in its understated consideration of urbanization and alienation in the south. A dreamy voice-over muses on how order and chaos exist in uneasy tension in a world where an agrarian myth collides with the horror of its own past — and the glare of its own present. To call the film “contemplative” seems an understatement: Persons tried to make it a dreamlike experience, and he succeeded marvelously. It’s also deliciously ambiguous in its ending, thankfully avoiding any sort of apocalyptic posturing but finishing with a silent question mark. Here’s where we’ve been. Here’s where we are. Now, where we off to?

We were fortunate on the evening we saw the film in that Persons attended the screening and engaged in a Q&A with the audience for about twenty minutes. I asked him if he considered the film more “pagan” or “catholic” in its tone. He said it was a good question and pointed out that you can’t talk about the American south without talking about, as Flannery O’Connor put it, the “Christ-haunted” landscape. That just about summed it up. He also spoke rather at length about both the title (a reference to Robert E. Lee’s directives following the surrender at Appomattox) and the image of Br’er Rabbit on the movie poster. Neither Lee nor the Rabbit appear in the film, although the ghosts of the Civil War (and Joel Chandler Harris) can be felt if you know what to look for. Persons spoke eloquently about how these marketing markers connected with the film serve as a sort of “misdirection.” I liked that stage magic analogy, and given the kind of alpha state I was in after spending 75 minutes watching his dreamy film, I made some interesting connections that might show up in my next book. Stay tuned.

An image from "General Orders No. 9," from Macon GA

General Orders No. 9 remains at Cinefeste until August 21. We’re going to try to go see it again; if you live anywhere near Atlanta I hope you’ll make the effort to go see it as well. It’s also going to be screening in Athens and Savannah, GA, as well as Albuquerque and New York — and visit the website to see where else it might show up. The DVD, Blu-Ray, and downloadable versions will be available in November.

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About Carl McColman

Author of Befriending Silence, The Big Book of Christian Mysticism, Answering the Contemplative Call, and other books. Retreat leader. Speaker. Professed Lay Cistercian.