NICK EICHER, HOST: Today is Friday, October 26th. Thank you for turning to WORLD Radio to help start your day. Good morning. I’m Nick Eicher.
MARY REICHARD, HOST: And I’m Mary Reichard. Coming next on The World and Everything in It: Megan Basham reviews a movie that shows how we might be in relationship with people who make it hard to love them.
MEGAN BASHAM, FILM CRITIC: It’s always fascinating when a non-Christian artist captures with almost perfect clarity a Christ-like quality believers often struggle to grasp. Such is the case with British director Mike Leigh’s 2010 movie, Another Year.
In its contemplative way, it’s one of the most gospel-reflective films to come from a non-believer in the last decade.
Tom and his wife Gerri have a peace that passes the understanding of their unhappy friends who are drawn to them like moths to a flame. They work hard at jobs they enjoy, they put away plenty of money, and they take pleasure in simple things—like a glass of wine or a rich Italian sauce, without overindulging.
Their marriage of 30 years has produced a caring, successful adult son who is clearly the result of responsible parenting. They are a portrait of what comes from doing life right.
AUDIO: It’s lovely the way you and Tom do everything together. We’re very lucky. You deserve it because you’re both such lovely people.
Forty-something, divorced, and living hand-to-mouth, Gerri’s co-worker Mary is a portrait of what comes from doing life wrong. Self-pitying and narcissistic, she drinks too much, talks about herself incessantly, and takes no blame for her problems. Even problems resulting from her affair with a married man.
AUDIO: You can’t go around wearing a sign that says don’t fall in love with me, I’m married. Some people wear a ring.
Most people would want to avoid Mary. But Tom and Gerri not only don’t avoid her, they often invite her into their home and try to include her in their lives.
Soon, we discover this is a pattern for them. Tom’s childhood friend Ken turns up drinking, smoking, and eating to such a degree it’s obvious one of the three will soon kill him. Tom tries to bear his friend’s burdens, pressing Ken to commit to a guys-only hiking trip.
AUDIO: How about it? Serious, we’ll go in the autumn. What are we gonna do with you then? You can’t go on like this, that’s for sure.
Tom also reaches out to people he seems to personally dislike. Early in the movie he describes his brother—accurately—as an alcoholic deadbeat who’s draining the life out of his hard-working wife. But when that wife dies, Tom is the first to offer comfort.
AUDIO: Tell you what, why don’t you come back with us? To London…Just for a few days, whatever it takes…think about it.
The sad and angry sacks who surround Tom and Gerri have earned their misery. And in another kind of movie we might relish seeing them receive their just desserts. But Another Year isn’t interested in justice. It’s interested in mercy.
As Christians in a nation where sowing and reaping are so noticeably connected, it’s easy to put qualifications on Christ’s charge to love the lost. We’re happy to give the charity of our money to the anonymous poor. But what about the charity of our compassion to the bum of a brother? What about the charity of our time to the socially graceless office-mate? Aren’t these the people who should be first in line for our love—the self-centered, annoying, and undeserving? The people we were—and sometimes still are?
Nothing Tom or Gerri says suggests any kind of personal faith, but their behavior speaks far louder than their few words. And it will look familiar to anyone who’s read the New Testament.
That said, reaching out is no guarantee of redemption—as the last, haunting scene shows. Some will confront the truth about their unhappiness and join the feast. Others will continue to gnash their teeth in bitterness over the blessings they missed out on. Director Mike Leigh is honest about this, too.
The movie’s slow movement and at times painful portrayal of human wretchedness includes some profanity from Tom and Gerri’s troubled friends. And in some ways, it would be hard to imagine a less fun film than Another Year. But it would also be hard to imagine a more worthwhile one.
For WORLD Radio, I’m Megan Basham.