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Christmas—a perfect time of year to watch a film whose title means “destruction by fire” or “Scorched,” right? Where’s the “ho, ho, ho” and the holiday magic? How can a film like this say anything about love? That’s what I was thinking when I popped in the DVD of Incendies (a Canadian film—subtitled from French—that was nominated for an Oscar in 2011). I didn’t expect to watch the whole movie.
The story involves Canadian adult fraternal twins who are charged by their mother’s will with locating a brother, father, and family history they never knew—a task that rips open the nature of unending war and the immense burden of love. While this tale winds through the Middle East, it could happen in the wake of any war.
These past months, I’ve been forced to notice how we (meaning mainstream American culture) have become overly fond of escapist fare—going beyond an occasional need to let down and be childish to craving a steady diet of emotional dessert. (Texas went so far as to reframe the Civil War in their public school textbooks, choosing kindly descriptions for slavery and the genocide of Native Americans. Their whitewashing was the most extreme, but not the only textbooks skipping facts.) It’s easier and more pleasant when you don’t bother with reality. Why burden our children with ugly truth?
How many people have the courage to look life right in the eye and still function as good people, rising up to light the darkness? How can we learn to be those people if we never train or exercise that courage? If you’re one of those people who would prefer to keep your opinions pristine and happily unaffected by reality, then you would not enjoy Incendies or Scorched (the English version). While some found the plot to be contrived, I found it to echo the inevitable harsh entanglements of life. It was deeply touching. We are, after all, a single family of Humankind.
Some embrace Christmas as the birth of a “Get Out of Jail Free” card. But as I thought about the film, I realized Christmas is, instead, the beginning of an awareness that mandates personal responsibility. Jesus—or whatever spiritual leader you choose, if any—can lead only those who follow. Following means being there even when the going gets tough, when “love one another” (John 13:34) and “…do good to those who hate you” (Luke 6:27) isn’t easy and hatred boils all around. Love and hate wrestle eternally. Only the strongest and bravest can control hate with love. We live our choices.
I found the narrative structure of the film Incendies occasionally confusing (partially because initially I couldn’t distinguish between character’s names and the names of towns), but the film is not the kind of experience you forget by the next day. In these times of fear, anger, hatred, and confusion, it’s easy to surrender to knee-jerk reactions, blaming everyone we don’t understand, because we realize we don’t understand those committing the acts of violence. I want to step over the pit and find ways to “keep Christmas” (as Ebenezer Scrooge says) sharing good will all year as both a child and an adult—seeing clearly.
My best wishes that you will enjoy a fulfilling Christmas or whatever holiday you celebrate!