“Get Low” (2009 production; 2010 release). Cast: Robert Duvall, Bill Murray, Sissy Spacek, Lucas Black, Bill Cobbs, Gerald McRaney, Scott Cooper, Lori Beth Edgeman. Director: Aaron Schneider. Screenplay: Chris Provenzano and C. Gaby Mitchell. Story: Chris Provenzano and Scott Seeke. www.sonyclassics.com/getlow/
As the end of life approaches, the time comes to wind up one’s affairs. It’s an opportunity to say the things left unsaid, to hear the things left unheard and to settle up all manner of outstanding accounts. But, most of all, it’s a time to get one’s beliefs in order, to assess what’s in one’s heart and mind, especially in preparation for what lies ahead—and what will carry over into the hereafter. That process can be particularly tricky if someone has lived the life of a recluse, with little or no chance to tackle these issues in the course of daily living. Such is the circumstance faced by the protagonist in the touching new comedy-drama, “Get Low.”
Based on a true story-turned-Depression Era folktale, the film chronicles the final days of Felix Bush (Robert Duvall), a hermit of the Tennessee backwoods who has lived in virtual isolation for 40 years. Felix is generally regarded as a mean old man who’s had many a tall tale attributed to him (most of them vile and grizzly). Most folks avoid him, but that’s just the way he likes it, because he’d rather avoid them, too. But, with his health failing and death hovering nearby, Felix decides to come out of the woods. His reason: To make arrangements for his funeral, an event that he fully intends to attend—while still alive.
To handle the logistics of the event—which the old curmudgeon ironically envisions as a party rather than a dour ritual—Felix contacts the local undertaker, Frank Quinn (Bill Murray), a shady businessman whose funeral home is on its own deathbed. Frank is a bit perplexed at Felix’s request, as is his idealistic young associate, Buddy (Lucas Black), who sees the request as inappropriate. But when Felix pulls a huge wad of cash out of his pocket, all apprehensions are suddenly assuaged, and plans for his funeral celebration begin in earnest.
The main reason Felix gives for wanting to attend his own funeral is that he wants to hear what others have to say about him. Given all the tales that have been told about him over the years, he invites everyone who has a story to share to attend the event. To entice guests, he even announces plans to hold a drawing for his land. But, as the time for the event draws near and his health failing further, Felix realizes that the most important story that needs to be told is his own, one that he finds difficult to tell. He seeks the support of others to help him out with this, most notably a woman from his past (Sissy Spacek) and a longtime friend and preacher (Bill Cobbs). But Felix soon realizes that telling his own story is a task that he alone must undertake, not only to set the record straight but also to get himself ready for a future that’s quickly impending.
With the end in sight, the need to “get low”—to get serious about one’s personal business, as Felix calls it—is important for a variety of reasons. Unburdening oneself of excess emotional baggage, by way of personal confession, is perhaps the most obvious purpose. Such acts generally ease the suffering of those who are about to be left behind, providing much needed closure. They also leave the one about to depart “lighter of heart,” a condition said to make one’s transition into the afterlife smoother, a notion that was considered so vital in ancient times that the Egyptians even ritualized it, literally, in the weighing of the heart ceremony after one’s death. To alleviate the anxiety of his own passing, Felix obviously needs to follow suit, even if only figuratively.
Getting one’s emotional and belief affairs in order is also important from a conscious creation/law of attraction perspective. Many who are well-versed in this subject, including some who have had near-death experiences, contend that the beliefs we hold at the time we pass on carry over into the afterlife, helping to frame the experiences we encounter once we arrive on the other side. It’s a concept that has been explored widely in sources as diverse as the writings of author Jane Roberts, the filmmaking of director Jay Weidner (particularly in his documentary “Infinity: The Ultimate Trip,” reviewed in this column earlier this year) and even the metaphysics of the ancient Egyptians, who believed that the main purpose of this life was to prepare for the next one. So, if Felix is to get what he wants after traversing the barrier between realities, he had better put the beliefs into place now that he wants to unfold later, advice that we’d all be wise to follow.
“Get Low” effectively evokes a wide range of emotions and reactions, from laughter to sadness to warmth and compassion. It features a stellar portrayal by Duvall, easily the best work he’s done in years and certainly worthy of serious consideration come awards season. Murray, Spacek, Black and Cobbs also turn in fine performances, successfully breathing life into supporting characters whose development gets a little shortchanged at times by an occasionally underwritten script (the overall strength of the story notwithstanding). Its period piece production values and soundtrack are top-notch, too, capably enhancing all of the film’s other fine attributes.
Reconciling one’s life is something we all have to face one day. Most of us would probably prefer to do so on our own terms, too, even if we don’t necessarily know how. Felix’s example, for what it’s worth, gives us some inspiration to draw upon, at least theoretically speaking. But it’s advice that could prove highly useful for the time when each of us must learn how to get low.
Author’s Note: This entry marks the beginning of a new feature, called “Extra Credits,” that will periodically accompany my film reviews. Its purpose is to present brief synopses of other current pictures of interest, especially those with themes related to the main review. Enjoy!
Extra Credits: Getting one’s heart and mind straight about life and the afterlife is the subject of another current release, “Charlie St. Cloud.” When the younger of two inseparable brothers is tragically killed in a car accident, the elder brother, who felt responsible for the incident, takes a job as a groundskeeper at the cemetery where his junior sibling is buried. The reason: The communication between the two hasn’t ended, despite their separation by death. But at what point should guilt be relinquished, especially when it gets in the way of living one’s life? That’s the question this film seeks to answer, a legitimate sentiment worthy of consideration. Unfortunately, this picture’s heavy-handed treatment of the subject gets old very quickly, a problem made all the worse by its relentless reliance on every cinematic cliché imaginable. This may be suitable viewing for Sunday school classes or for teenage girls looking to spend an afternoon at the movies with their bffs, but this one suffers gravely (pun intended) from so many issues that, sadly, even the most ambitious life support efforts couldn’t save it. (“Charlie St. Cloud” (2010). Cast: Zac Efron, Charlie Tahan, Amanda Crew, Augustus Prew, Donal Logue, Kim Basinger, Ray Liotta, Dave Franco, Jesse Wheeler, Matt Ward. Director: Burr Steers. Screenplay: Craig Pearce and Lewis Colick. Book: The Death and Life of Charlie St. Cloud, by Ben Sherwood. www.charliestcloud.com)
Copyright © 2010, by Brent Marchant. All rights reserved.