On Sunday afternoons, typically, the adrenaline of the morning's

activity crashes in, and I'm left with the stillness of a week's worth

of exhaustion. This past Sunday the house was especially quiet, with

everyone else napping (something I can't do well). Without the energy

to read or write, I slipped off to my neighborhood movie theater to,

like Walker Percy's Binx Bolling, just to "be" for a while. As the

closing credits of Get Low filed by, I realized I hadn't expected a near encounter with the gospel.

Get Low is the story of a mysterious hermit (played with

brilliance by Robert Duvall) who hires a funeral director (Bill Murray)

and his associate to carry out a "funeral party" for him. The catch is

that this memorial service is to be held before the hermit is actually

dead, in order that he would be there to hear all the stories folks

would tell about him.

I was first struck by the fact that this was one of the very few

contemporary films I've seen that portrays positively either the clergy

(two of them, in this movie) or funeral directors (well, at least one

of the two). But that was not the most impressive part of the movie. I

was jarred by the guilt that throbbed through the whole of it.

I'll try not to spoil the plot for you, except to say that the

hermit turns out to be a hermit for a reason. There is something wicked

back there in his past. And that's what the funeral party is about. He

wants to hear the stories others have of him (knowing they'll be awful)

because he is fearful of telling the story that only he knows about

himself.

Get Low is not a "Christian movie." The point of view is

decidedly non-Christian, as is most of the mode of discourse. And

that's just the point. The film portrays something the Christian

Scriptures insist to be true. Guilt isn't something society foists upon

us. There's something primal, something real, in the guilty conscience.

The apostolic preaching confirms what human experience already

affirms, a moral law is embedded in the human conscience. The

conscience is not simply a kind of internal prompt for good behavior.

It is instead a foretaste of judgment, of the Day when every secret is

unearthed.

"For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the

law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not

have the law," the Apostle Paul wrote to the church at Rome. "They show

that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their

conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or

even excuse them on the day when, according to my gospel, God judges

the secrets of men by Christ Jesus" (Rom. 2:14-16).

Get Low portrays where we all are, apart from Christ. Our

conscience shows us who we really are, cut off from our only source of

life and unable to get back to it past the watching angel's fiery

sword. That kind of guilt is enslaving. Like the protagonist in the

film, we want somehow to explain our actions, or to assemble a cloud of

witnesses who can explain it for us, without admitting our culpability.

We want to live through judgment (which is, after all, what a living

funeral is) so that we can reassure ourselves that the end result of

our choices isn't quite the horror we fear it to be.

Get Low ought to prompt us to sympathy for those around us,

in our neighborhoods and sometimes in our own homes. They are in

captivity, the gospel tells us, to "lifelong slavery" to the one who by

his accusation has the power of death, the devil (Heb. 2:14-15).

In the movie, the hermit exiles himself. In his forty year (forty

years? Was this accidental?) isolation, he sought to make up for his

past. He sacrificed family and friends; he did thankless good deeds,

even constructing a church. But, through it all, he denies himself what

the Christian preachers tell him he needs: confession of sin before

God. In fact, in a chilling scene, the hermit denies that he has

wronged God at all.

That's where Get Low leaves us just this side of Golgotha.

The hermit confesses his sin, but his confession is, it seems, just

short of repentance. His sin is unveiled. The context is explained.

Through forgiveness, human relationships are restored. And then,

finally, there's what the film portrays as the (atoning?) release of

death.

But the conscience won't leave us alone that easily. We know that

our death can't wipe away our sin. Our exile doesn't end there. It's

only just begun. Without the shedding of blood, of a blood we cannot

draw from our own guilty veins, there is no remission of sin. We need

more than explanation, confession, restoration. We need crucifixion,

burial, resurrection. We need to be born all over again.

Get Low isn't Christian, but it's Christ-haunted. In an often

animalistic culture, it reminds us that even the Gentiles know that

guilt is real, and that it burns. It also reminds us that, no matter

how deep the exile, where there is still a conscience there is still

the God who put it there.

That's not the good news, but its a step toward acknowledging the

bad. It's not the whole truth, but it's the truth, the (almost) gospel

truth.