Tuesday, July 1, 2008

amazing grace

We joined Netflix back in March, an excellent decision for movie lovers in-the-middle-of-nowhere. Since one pays a flat monthly fee, the more movies you see, the better deal it is. This has encouraged us to take a chance on a lot of things that we might have passed by when we not only had to pay for each movie, but also, because of the distances involved, often ended up paying late fees for each film, whether we watched it or not.

The movie Amazing Grace is one of those films that I didn't take a chance on before joining Netflix -- it had been out on DVD for quite some time before we joined. It went on my list, like three or four dozen other films that have come out in the past few years, but it wasn't high on my priorities. When it came, I set it aside for almost two weeks. Then Sunday afternoon John and I sat down to watch.

Amazing Grace is an amazing film. We learned so much from it that we previously had no idea about. I did know that England had outlawed the slave trade and then slavery itself decades before the U.S. Civil War. But I had no idea how that had come about, or who had been responsible. After seeing the movie, I found a review from the New York Times when it first came out, and I have to disagree with the reviewer on one point -- just because the movie doesn't show William Wilberforce kneeling and praying or going to church or reading the Bible doesn't mean that the film doesn't clearly convey the depth of his religious feeling or that his convictions about the evils of slavery were rooted in his evangelical Methodist religion. Although Wilberforce was the most public face of the movement as the member of Parliament responsible for presenting the laws -- over and over again, year after year, until he was succesful -- the film does an excellent job of showing that Wilberforce was part of a group of dedicated anti-slavery activists that included among others to Thomas Clarkson.

For those who do not know (as I did not) the title of the film comes from the hymn, which was written by John Newton, a former slave ship captain who experienced a religious rebirth, and became a minister, ultimately renouncing slavery. The movie depicts Newton as having formed Wilberforce's views on slavery, but a bit of research on the net suggests that the relationship may have been the reverse. That is was Wilberforce who helped draw Newton into his anti-slavery position.

In any case, the hymn Amazing Grace was informed by Newton's journey from sin (as a slave ship captain and all that life entailed) to redemption. No wonder it is one of the most beautiful hymns in the English language. I may not be a Christian, but I still find it to be one of the most moving, evocative pieces of music I've ever experienced -- especially when played on the bagpipes, as it is at the end of the film.

It doesn't matter whether you are religious or not, Christian or not, this is an intelligent and moving film that I highly recommend.

1 comment:

Jessica G said...

Last semester for my African American History class I went on a field trip to the Freedom Center across the river.

My favorite exhibit was lighted with watery blue effects coming from a cylinder shape in the middle of the room. The rooms walls were made of stone and in each brick was etched the name of the slaves ships. In the background, a version of Amazing Grace played in the background sung by a woman with a voice that no words can really describe. Hearing the hymn, seeing the ships names (the "Friendship" is one the sticks out) and imagining the horror that took place on those ships is very humbling.

I'll keep my eye out for the movie!