Paving Over Grace & Preparing a Place

Two must-reads for you, over at Patheos–well, three, actually!

If you are a fan of books and movies, and I know you are, check out Joseph Susanka’s excellent take on Paved Over Grace; The Road to Perdition, and how Hollywood deviated from the book in ways large and small, to essentially eliminate all the grace-notes, but manage to focus (with perhaps too much emphasis) on the message of “non-violence.” Including both, says Susanka, would be better:

The film’s final lines, delivered by the young son, Michael Sullivan, Jr., underscore the message he learned during those grueling days on the road to Perdition, Illinois — days spent crisscrossing the countryside with his father, one step ahead of the hired guns hell-bent on their destruction: “When people ask me if Michael Sullivan was a good man, or if there was just no good in him at all, I always give the same answer. I just tell them: ‘He was my father.’” Sadly, this answer seems to taint the film’s final moments with the insipid, toxic strains of moral relativism, and combines with Junior’s previous revelation — “I saw then that my father’s only fear was that his son would follow the same road. And that was the last time I ever held a gun.” — to deliver the film’s final warning: the way of violence will always end in violence. A tired message copied directly from Hollywood’s well-thumbed handbook, “Moralizing 101”? To be sure — but still, one that cannot be said to be entirely without value.

To someone familiar with Collin’s graphic novel, however, this ending cannot help but come as a disappointment. While the message of non-violence is present in the literary Road, it is clearly of much less importance to Collins and his characters than the themes of repentance and redemption that permeate the original work — themes so severely downplayed in the film version that they sometimes seem entirely absent. (Mendes, the director, acknowledged that he was drawn to the script because it had “no moral absolutes” — a claim that makes the film’s final lines a bit more understandable, but one that makes repentance and redemption undeniably tricky topics, if not downright irrational ones.)

You’ll want to read the whole column. I haven’t read The Road to Perdition, but now I mean to. It sounds wonderful, actually.

Secondly, take a gander at Marcia Morrissey’s piece, in which she shares her experiences on a recent trip she made to the Biloxi/Gulfport area with her husband, Ed Morrissey of Hot Air. While she and Ed were taking in the vast recoveries that have been made to that stricken area, Marcia sampled the seafood (I am jealous) and then writes of how people came together to Prepare a Place for Others, which ends up having a nice Advent theme:

[Mississippi Cares International was founded by Ellen Ratner and Cholene Espinoza within weeks of Katrina; the people who participated on this project worked very quietly, and without much public notice. They saw the need, and with many helping hands made it possible for the homeless to have a place to live, and a way to move from the woods to the indoors -- from dire straits to dignity with self-respect. Oregon Place is a 55-unit apartment complex of fourteen four-plex units of two bedrooms and an onsite laundry. The spacious 3.2-acre site has a stand of mature oaks and a playground for the children.

There are only a few simple requirements to live in Oregon Place: there cannot be a warrant outstanding for one’s arrest; no drugs or alcohol can be used on site, or by the residents; job/skill training is required under a self- improvement plan developed by case workers; and the residents are helped with social, health, and educational needs. A tenant organization oversees the daily activities and safety of the residents. People have been given a helping hand, and a chance to help themselves. Eventually, perhaps, they will be able to extend help to others, themselves.

You can read it all here

Finally, if you have been following the “condom controversy” that followed the release of The Light of the World, check the Catholic Portal Landing Page later in the afternoon, for a Symposium of writers discussing either the controversy or the book itself. Participants include Amy Welborn, Heather King, Mark Shea and “a host of others” as the saying goes!

About Elizabeth Scalia
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  • Dblade

    Thing about Road to Perdition is that it lifts its story shamelessly from Kazuo Koike’s manga Lone Wolf and Cub. Even to the title, which is a reference to Ogami saying he walks meifu mado: the dark road to hell. There is no nonviolence in it, and the grace notes are sparse if any: Ogami has no illusions about his life of revenge. His son Daigoro must deal with it too, the life of a masterless samurai hellbent on revenge.

    It’s much stronger, although the films based on it aren’t in my opinion.

  • Mooga

    I’m sure Susanka’s telling the truth when he writes that themes of depravity and redemption were written right out of the script. He’s probably also right that the movie suffered as a result. But really, I don’t think the boy’s closing lines were as facile as all that.

    When I heard him speak them, it never occurred to me that he was plugging relativism. When Mendes pronounced the story free of absolutes, he probably meant that neither of the two principal grown-up characters — neither Sullvan, Sr. nor his boss, Mr. Rooney — was all good or all bad. The story itself, on the other hand, is chockablock with tips on normative behavior. Loyalty and self-discipline: good. Egoism and envy: bad. Two other major figures, Connor Rooney and the Jude Law character, are so one-dimensionally bad they verge on caricature. No one who sits through the film will O.D. on nuance.

    When the kid refuses to take a stand on the question of his father’s goodness, I sense he’s just ducking the question — not because he hasn’t got an answer, but because he doubts most people would get it if he told them. We viewers get the sense this is the first time he’s told the whole story. By the time it’s over,we know enough about Michael Sullivan to have formed our own opinion; we don’t need to hear any more. Had the kid preached on, he would have made the film as drippy as A Bronx Tale.

    I have to say, though, that I’d have liked to see Sullivan played as a constantly backsliding, but sincerely believing, Catholic. I wonder whether Hanks could have pulled it off; he’s a little too bland to embody those kinds of contradictions so explicitly. But better him, I suppose, than a scenery-chewer in the Penn-Pacino mold. Russell Crowe or Mickey Rourke would have been perfect.

  • tim maguire

    I enjoyed the movie Road to Perdition, but always found the title strange–you have to stretch to make it fit the movie. Reading this piece about the book makes it make more sense–despite being a road movie, the the internal road was largely written out.

    As for “insipid”, Mooga makes a decent point, but I have to note that despite liking many Tom Hanks movies, every single one of them has an insipid, sickly sentimental scene.

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