Film Friday: Can You Ever Forgive Me?

When biography author Lee Israel hits on hard times she resorts to selling a precious framed letter she owns. She is currently trying to write a biography of vaudeville comedian Fanny Bryce, and while doing some research she comes across a couple of letters tucked into a book. This puts an idea into her head…

Lee’s creativity has taken her into dark waters here, forging and selling the letters of the great and famous is more than a little frowned upon. It also creates mixed feelings within her when collectors read the letters she has authored and then say things like, ‘Oh, this is wonderful, no one could write like Dorothy Parker!’ When clearly Lee is perfectly capable of creating such brilliance. But on another level, as she sells more and more of her own work in this way, Lee is having the time of her life.

Jesus tells a strange tale of a servant who ends up in trouble when he is found to be stealing from his master. So, like Lee here, he slips into dark waters and visits all those who owe his master money and slashes their considerable debts in half. This news would quickly travel, and the master would be applauded for his generous debt-forgiveness. In this way the servant is cleverly making both himself and his master look good, and when his master discovers the plot he surprisingly applauds the servant’s creativity. When the servant finds himself adrift he now has lots of friends he can go to for new work. This story features in Luke chapter 16 and follows hot on the heels of the tale of the prodigal son and the forgiving, generous father, and seems to continue in the same vein. When the master first discovers his servant has been stealing from him he has every right to throw the man in jail. But he does not. Instead he just fires him without a fuss. (Reminds me a little of Christmas and Joseph planning to break off his engagement to Mary quietly, not wishing to publicly shame her, when he first discovers she is mysteriously pregnant.) At the end of this story, when the man’s creative double-dealing comes to light the master seems to understand his motives and needs. This a surprising master, one who bucks the trends and lives differently. A forgiving generous master, like the forgiving generous father in the prodigal son tale. Both stories tell of extraordinary grace. Both feature a wayward individual. Both have an unusual end. We live in an age of recrimination and blame. This tale flies in the face of that. We would expect the servant to pay for his wrongdoing, instead he is forgiven. And receives a new start in life. This prodigal servant finds unexpected grace. Something we all need.

More Film Friday...