Faith and Film
Get Low is a surprisingly moving film about the power of confession and reconciliation. It stars Robert Duvall as Felix Bush, a mysterious, reclusive man who has lived for many years in a cabin outside a small Tennessee town in the 1930s. In the rare instances in which Bush comes into town, people keep their distance. Legend has it that he there is a dark secret in his past, dealing with a fire and a mysterious death. No one quite knows what happened, but they all believe there is something to fear about Bush.
One day Bush comes to town to announce that he wants to plan his own funeral (to “get low.”) He first speaks to a minister, who wants nothing to do with Bush. Then Bush approaches Frank Quinn (Bill Murray), the funeral home director. Frank tells Bush that it is indeed possible to make his funeral arrangements in advance. Bush lets Frank know that what he really wants is to throw a party before he dies so he can hear what people have to say about him. Desperate for business during the Depression, Frank agrees to Bush’s plan. In order to generate interest in the funeral, Frank comes up with the idea that Bush’s land will be raffled away at the funeral for $1 per chance. Frank’s idea is a huge success.
In the meantime, Mattie Darrow (Sissy Spacek), a widow who had known Bush in the past, returns to town. Mattie is the only person in town who has any real knowledge of Bush’s past. She wants to renew her friendship with him, so she pays him a visit, and a piece of Bush’s secret is revealed.
I thought that Get Low would conclude with a funeral party in which everyone would tell funny stories about the reclusive man, and decide that he wasn’t such a bad guy after all. I expected a real “feel good” movie. However, the story takes a different turn. Bush ends up confessing his sin (with the help of Charlie Jackson, an Illinois minister who had assisted him in the past) in front of the town. With his confession, he asks for forgiveness from his community.
Get Low begins slowly, and builds momentum along the way. As with any good character study, it requires patience. I admit that I was a little restless for the first 30 minutes or so. I thought the film would just be an opportunity for a great actor like Duvall to have fun playing some loveable old rascal with long hair and a beard. However, Bush is more complex than he appears at first, and Duvall slowly lets the audience see the heart of the reclusive man. Finally, at the big moment when Bush tells his story to the crowd, Duvall shows what a great actor he is. Bush is first fearful and anxious, but then, as he makes his confession, a sense of release and peace comes over him. It’s a wonderful scene.
Get Low is based on the story of Felix Bush, a mountain man from East Tennessee, who threw himself a funeral party before he died. Director Aaron Schneider and writers Chris Provenzano and C. Gaby Mitchell do Bush’s story justice. It has the feel of a story passed down for years at campfires and church socials. The film benefits greatly from a fine supporting cast, especially veteran actors Spacek and Murray. Young Lucas Black is also impressive as Buddy, Quinn’s assistant at the funeral home, who tries to learn Bush’s secret.
I’m sure I’ll be adding Get Low to my DVD collection of movies on forgiveness and reconciliation as soon as it’s available. I think it would be a great movie to show on a retreat, during Lent, or to an RCIA group.
Tom Condon, OP