Get Low: Story-Telling and Forgiveness

It styles itself as a film about an eccentric old man, planning his own funeral party so that he can participate. But the funeral is just an excuse.

In “Get Low,” the point is not the party. And the point is not the funeral. The point is the story. Not the story of the movie itself, but the story of the old man’s life. Well, the story of the old man’s past.

Robert Duvall plays Felix Bush, a hermit who has been holed up in his cabin in the woods for forty years.

When we first see him go to town, there’s an air of mystery about him–the hermit whom no one has seen, but whom everyone seems to know.

At first it seems that this is a point of umbrage for Bush, everyone thinking they know him. The people he meets allude to the “stories everyone’s heard,” and he keeps asking what stories those might be.

But as the film develops we realize that this is not a taunt, it’s his driving desire. He has a story, a dark and terrible story, that needs to be told. Funerals are places where stories of the dead are told. The funeral party is the invitation to come and tell–in hopes that someone else will reveal the truth.

Because Bush feels that he can’t do it himself. The pain is too much. The shame is too much. And he’s not all that sure that he could live with the forgiveness that might come if the truth were disclosed.

Recently I’ve been in several story-telling venues. In whatever context these occur, the telling of stories is powerful for both the speakers and the hearers. There is often a freedom that comes in the telling and in the hearing.

I wonder how much of a therapist’s, or a pastor’s, job might be framed as getting people to tell their stories and, perhaps, to reframe them in a way that enables them to continue participating in that narrative with a more healthful engagement?

Bush had to discover that no one else would tell his story for him. He needed to say to the others who were wounded on the terrible night in question what had really happened.

To his own surprise, it seems, he found peace.

While I would not say that “Get Low” itself does a great job with story-telling (I wasn’t happy with the characters, by and large), it does do a great job with telling us about stories. For that display, it’s worth the slot in your Netflix queue.

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