Not that I saw a lot of movies last year - I have a two year old. Trips to the movies now are about as rare as trips to Babies R Us were before I became a parent. These days, seeing a non-animated movie in the theater is an experience to savor. It used to be a way for me to pass the time. I can tell from the reviews I have read, the sheer force of my friends’ recommendations, and from the excellent films that I have seen that this has been a stellar year for cinema.
A couple months ago in this space, Pastor Sid wrote about 12 Years a Slave, which I saw. I think it will win Best Picture, and deservedly so (I do think Gravity should win the Oscar for Best Director for its innovative filmmaking. I owe a thank you to FCC high school student Eric Wen for recommending not just that I see it in the theater, but to splurge for IMAX 3D!). In this article, I want to talk about the effect that one particular movie from 2013 had on me. It‘s a movie that was ignored by the Golden Globes and Academy Award nominations. It is certainly not for everyone and it hits close to home for many of us. The movie is Fruitvale Station. It floored me.
We all know the story. In the first few hours of 2009, Oscar Grant was shot and killed by a BART officer after being involved in a scuffle on a train coming back from SF. We remember the sadness that followed. The confusion. The outrage. The trial. The protests.
The film shows what the final 24 hours in Grant’s life may have been like leading up to his death. He talks to his sister on the phone. He begs his former boss to give him his job back. He attends a birthday party for his mother. He contemplates a drug deal. He remembers being in prison. Some people familiar with Oscar’s life or the events that fatal night dispute some of the details presented in the film, which is not surprising. The director, Ryan Coogler, who was born and raised in Oakland and Hayward, said that after the shooting, “Oscar was either cast as a saint who had never done anything wrong in his life, or he was painted as a monster who got what he deserved that night.” He expressed a desire to restore Grant’s “humanity” through making the film.
Before I saw Fruitvale Station, all I could see were the differences between Oscar Grant and myself. He was black, I am white. He grew up in East Oakland, I grew up in Montclair. He was 22, I am pushing 40. He had a few run-ins with the law, I was a good church boy for most of my youth. Now I see more of our common ground. We both grew up in Oakland. We both spent time in church. We both were blessed with daughters who sometimes wake up in the middle of the night and want to crawl into mommy and daddy’s bed. We both were part of loving families with mothers and grandmothers and cousins and siblings. We both were made in the image of God and at times failed to live up to that calling.
After realizing how much I had in common with the man depicted in the film, I began to dread even more the ending that was coming. Scenes of everyday activities lingered long enough to suggest “this is the last time he will ever pick his daughter up from preschool.” The last time they will race to the car. The last time he will tell her to brush her teeth before bed.
Because of this movie, I will appreciate these everyday moments in my life more now.
However many years anyone may live, let them enjoy them all.
Life is a gift. Death can be as close as a wrongly spoken word or taking the train instead of driving. Last week in Dublin, a BART Police Sergeant was accidentally shot and killed by another officer, leaving behind his 6 year old daughter. Another tragedy for BART and the Bay Area to grieve.
What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.
Sometimes, it helps us to be reminded of our mortality, as unsettling as it is. By acknowledging our eventual deaths, perhaps we are able to enjoy life more. We live in a world that is fallen, where life is not perfect and where people make mistakes. God is in our midst, though. He mourns with us, laughs with us, and helps us.
…the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans.
My prayers go out for all who have lost loved ones too soon. The Spirit himself intercedes for you.