CM . . .
. Volume XV Number 10. . . .January 9, 2009
Forgiveness: Stories for Our Time.
Johanna Lunn (Writer & Director). Johanna Lunn & Kent Martin (Producers).
Montreal, PQ: National Film Board of Canada, 2007.
52 min., 23 sec., DVD, $99.95.
Order Number: 153C 9107 124.
Grades 10 and up / Ages 15 and up.
Review by Frank Loreto.
I dislike hypothetical questions. What would you do if? The only honest answer would be, "I don't know. I'll tell you after it happens." The question,"If someone you loved was murdered, would you want revenge?" is not at all hypothetical in Forgiveness. Here, that question is put to four people who have gone through the worst tragedy each could imagine.
Leslie Parrott's 11-year-old daughter, Alison, was raped and murdered after being lured to what she thought was a track and field photo shoot. Adam McBride's wife was killed by an IRA bomb. Julie Nicholson's daughter was killed in the July 2004 London Subway terrorist attack. Ann Marie Hagan's father was hacked to death by a neighbour who had grown up next door. In each situation, the deaths are almost more than the survivors can endure. This film looks at how each has continued after their worlds crashed around them.
The murder of Alison Parrott was front page news at the time. Her body was not found for two days, and the murderer escaped capture for 10 years. When he killed Alison, he had been out on parole for the previous rape of two other girls. To date, he has shown no remorse. Leslie Parrott states that, when Alison did not come home, she knew something was terribly wrong.
Adam McBride explains that growing up in Belfast was a constant sniping and fighting with Catholics: "You never really thought of the people you threw stones at – they were just Catholics. That's what you did with them." On 23 October 1983, Sharon McBride went to help out at her father's fish shop. Two Catholics bombed the shop killing 10 and severely wounding 57. One of the bombers was also killed, but the other survived and went to jail. Adam states that when he arrived at the bomb site and saw what had happened, he only remembers screaming.
Julie Nicholson, an Anglican vicar, describes her daughter Jenny as "very loud and great. She loved music and literature." On 7 July 2004, Jenny was on her way to work when terrorists attacked busses and subway stations in London. Julie recalls the bell at Jenny's funeral: "the bell carried me along—the bell telling the awfulness of the event." She thought that Jenny would have been at the cathedral for her wedding, not her funeral.
When she was 19, Ann Marie Hagan watched in horror as her neighbour, Ron Ryan, plunged an axe into her father's back and then took it from there and hacked into her shoulder. She remembers her father turning to her and telling her to look after her younger sister. Ryan adored Tom Hagan as he had grown up next door and saw Tom as a father figure. An undiagnosed schizophrenic, Ryan was declared not guilty by reason of insanity. Ann Marie had to leave the house as the blood and the memories were too much for her. Because no one in her small community knew what to say to her, she felt alone and angry at God.
With the discovery of Alison Parrott's body, people began calling for the reinstatement of the death penalty. Leslie never wanted that. "I didn't believe in the death penalty last week, and I don't believe in it now." Once the murderer was caught, she has stayed true to her words. "He is a sick man and should not be loose in society. He needs forgiveness for himself so he can move forward. Unless we are able to let go, it defines our lives." We "have to move forward, albeit with a hole in our heart."
Adam McBride states that he dreaded Christmas that first year. He was angry at the bombers and those who helped them. He was disgusted to see Gerry Adams, "the guy who carried the coffin of the guy who killed my wife," on television. The bomber was being treated like a celebrity and "that wasn't right." He wrote Adams a letter asking what the killing of his wife proved. Adams responded sympathetically, but then stated, "but you have to understand." McBride angrily states that he does not have to understand anything. He wanted Adams to acknowledge what they did was wrong, but Adams did not. As a result, McBride's sorrow became coupled with rage.
Because Julie Nicholson was a vicar, people expected her to be forgiving of the killing of her daughter. She could not, and when she resigned her position in the church, she was branded "the vicar who couldn't forgive." She knows that she has preached forgiveness and that she has a duty to forgive and she should be able to, but she confesses that "I don't feel that. My daughter has been blown to pieces. To forgive, on one level is condoning." She still feels anger when she goes by the Tube station where the bombing took place. "I can get angry. And for goodness sake, why shouldn't I? This never should have happened."
In 1996, Ann Marie Hagan went to Ron Ryan's release hearing. She brought along her father's autopsy report, quite prepared to describe each cut of the axe as a way to humiliate Ryan for what he did to her and her family. Ryan stated that he had heard voices that day. "One minute I'm chopping wood, the next I slew a man. Happened just like that." Ann Marie had seen herself as a victim, but she realized that "Ryan has gone through his life knowing he killed the man who treated him like a son and who he loved like a father." At this revelation she wanted to hug him but was afraid of what her brother and sister would say. She did not want to offend them. However, when Ryan started to cry, they all moved in to comfort him. They agreed to not cause any interference as long as Ryan stayed on his medication. Ann Marie was shocked to see how much her anger had imprisoned her. By forgiving Ryan, she found that she had liberated herself. "It's possible for us to move on."
The killer of Sharon McBride was released as part of the peace process. Adam McBride bears him no animosity but has no intention of forgiving him. While he believes in reconciliation, he does not see a personal forgiveness as part of that. Plus, he admits that his family would never forgive him if he ever took part in a public forgiveness. He believes in a united Ireland and is working to end the cycle of violence by encouraging discussion with youth and engaging in dialogue. He understands that the paramilitary forces used the youth. The bombers were only 19 at the time.
The road to or towards forgiveness is different in each case. All are carrying around great losses, but each has managed to continue on with life despite what had happened. None of those featured in the film are showing how one should respond to such a tragedy, but there are many lessons embedded in the film without its being preachy or sickly sweet. In each case, ordinary people were thrown into unbelievably trying times. While life does go on, the struggle to continue is a challenge.
Forgiveness is a beautiful film. It pulls no punches, and each of the stories presented is gut-wrenching, especially as the circumstances could happen to anyone. The film would have applicability in many aspects of the curriculum-Law, Philosophy, Religion, Sociology, but should be viewed simply because it is so moving.
Frank Loreto is a teacher-librarian at St. Thomas Aquinas Secondary School in Brampton, ON.
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