Monday, February 18, 2008

The Human Experience - Movie Review

I had the opportunity to see a screening of Grassroots Films newest production, The Human Experience. If you don't know about them, Grassroots Films is a small production company that put together the short film, Fishers of Men - which is about vocations - for the USCCB. It was extremely well-received and my own opinion is that it was very well-done. You can view Fishers of Men on YouTube.

Building on that success they decided to do a documentary about what it means to be a human. The story of the film revolves around a young man and his brother and their quest to find what it means to be human in light of their own experiences and struggles. They have three different life-transforming experiences in search of the answers to the questions about the meaning and purpose of life. What does it mean to be a human? Why do we have to suffer? Where is God? Where can we find hope?

The movie never gives an explicit answer to these questions and I believe that it achieves it's ends much more effectively because it doesn't provide the answer for us. It challenges us to do the same as the young men in the film - go and find what it means to be human. They never get preachy in the film, but rather witness to what makes us all human by experiencing those situations where hope seems distant.

In the first experience, they live life as homeless people on the streets of New York. They meet, talk to, and sleep near those people who are on the streets. They are very humbled by the experience (as anyone who has done an Urban Plunge experience has been). They spend a week on the streets during the coldest week of the winter. They have to ask for food and sleep in cardboard boxes, feeling very vulnerable. What struck me in this segment was the woman who told the story about the time three dogs were taken off the streets near her because it was so cold, but she was ignored. She is still hurt by others' reaction to her, and in her tears we see her humanity that we share. I was challenged most by this segment - because it is the one reality that I see frequently, the homeless.

The second experience was going to see the lost children of Peru. These are abandoned, disabled and abused children. They are taken into a clinic/home where they are treated and loved. The makers of the film immediately bonded with several of the children and laughed and cried with them. The joy of the kids was infectious, even in suffering, though the stories of abuse, neglect and times that seem hopeless are hard to hear.

The third experience was in Africa. It had two parts, the first was meeting with those suffering from HIV/AIDS. One young mother who was dying from AIDS was asked by a young American man (whose mother died from AIDS when he was a child) what she would want her children to know if she was to die soon. She replied - to follow God and his commands always, because you will always do well when you do this.

The second part of this experience was going into a leper colony. The most striking thing wasn't the shock of seeing the broken bodies and rotting flesh, it was the smiles and the joy. It was the old man who was excited to see people who weren't afraid to touch them and talk to them. It was the recognition that "we are brothers". It was the thankfulness that someone would come and shake the stub that used to be a hand.

The film ends when one of the brothers sets up a surprise meeting between his father and his younger brother, who haven't seen each other in ten years. His father is an addict and was abusive, but the love between them never left, though there is much pain. The scene is striking, because they recognize in each other the gift they haven't experienced in ten years. The gift of themselves.

This movie moved me because it tells us what humanity is all about. It put on film what it means to be a human and that our identity is tied up in our great dignity. This came a perfect time for me, because I have recently been thinking deeply about the issue of human identity and dignity.

The makers of this film have done us all a favor. They have made a pro-life film, without ever talking about abortion, euthanasia or other pro-life issues. It is pro-life because it is pro-human. They have made a pro-Christ film without explicitly talking about Him. This is the kind of movie that can move anyone who sees it.

The power of film and the art of being human was shown to me through this film as few films could ever do. I once said this:
Most movies just really don't excite me too much. I might enjoy a good movie, but I don't get too reactive one way or another.
I stand by my statement. But, there can always be exceptions. The Human Experience is one of them.


Leticia said...

I attended a screening of this film last fall and have been meaning to review this film. At the screening I attended, Fr. Benedict Groeschel gave it high praise by saying it was part of the "New Evangelization". At first I had trouble accepting this, as the previous films by Grassroots were explicitly Catholic and this wasn't. But Fr. Benedict went on to say that the New Evangelization must meet the Culture where it is, and, especially here in New York, they are very far from a true understanding the Church.
Films like, "The Human Experience" might be what's needed to help bring those in darkness about the meaning of life closer to the light of Christ. The Church can then complete the sale.

The TORCH said...

I enjoyed this film, I really did. The only criticism I have is that the ending was cut in a way to make you think the visit with the lead's father was after he'd had this world-traveling experience. The reality is, however, that it was not. It was the first thing shot. I know it's a minor quibble, but it felt like they were trying to manipulate me, emotionally speaking. It just felt REALLY forced. Apart from that, however, STUPENDOUS.