Just finished watching Mike Leigh’s movie, Another Year, about Tom and Gerri, a lively, level-headed married couple and the dysfunctional (sorry, a real cliché word these days) friends and family members who they regularly welcome into their home. Lesley Manville, who plays the lonely Mary, described the movie as being ‘the ultimate film about human frailty’. Gerri and Tom are the heart at the centre of the story, grateful for the way their own lives have turned out, and therefore in no way judgemental of those around them whose lives have in some way come apart.
Tom’s best friend is Ken, overweight, lonely, rejected by others. Rejected actually by Mary, who is herself lonely, verging on alcoholic, desperate for love. But critical of Ken and fearful that he is after her. Late in the movie Tom and Gerri welcome Ronny into their home. Ronny, Tom’s brother, has just lost his wife and is verbally abused by his vindictive and angry son.
The film closes out with a scene around the dining table. Tom’s son Joe, and his girlfriend Katie, chat animatedly with Tom and Gerri, whilst opposite them, Mary and Ronny sit quietly watching it all. Like poor children pressing up against the window of someone else’s richer life.
In places this movie is somewhat slow, Die Hard it is not. And it will depend on who you are, when you are and where you are, as to whether you feel this is an optimistic or pessimistic story. But that’s what Mike Leigh wants. He wants to show you life and have you make up your own mind. What I’m left with is the memory of Tom and Gerri, the warm heart at the centre, like the father in the prodigal son story, welcoming, generous, non-judgemental, hopeful that their home will be a place of friendship and healing for their friends and family.
Jesus tells plenty of stories like Mike Leigh. We may often feel that the outcome is more predctible in Jesus’s stories, but maybe we need to revisit them. The prodigal story itself is totally open-ended, and like Another Year features a home where two dysfunctional (there it is again) sons bring their anger, loneliness, expectations, hopes and dreams. We must decide what becomes of them all. Another day Jesus meets a woman who is being judged by others, she has been caught sleeping with the wrong man. Jesus liberates her and encourages her to break off that relationship. But we must decide where to go with that. We don’t know if she has the strength to change things, if her life takes a new turn, if she comes acropper again. We hope that it’s the start of something better, but we don’t know. Likewise when a rich young guy wants to follow Jesus he goes away sad because his money is a big issue for him. We don’t know what he then does. Perhaps he rethinks his wealth. Maybe on another day he cheers up and does what he needs to do. Another open-ended story.
Our lives are like that, aren’t they? So many movies have neat endings and the credits roll, and the stirring pop song plays. And I love those. But life is different. We have a high moment, and it is followed by a low one. Or a mediocre one, or a catastrophic one. Life is inconclusive, which is probably why Jesus described Christianity as being a way of living. One day follows another, and we follow him through each one.
Another Day. Another Month. Another Year.