SPOILER ALERT! IF YOU ARE PLANNING ON SEEING THE FILM, LAWLESS, DON’T READ.
YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED.
“Jack, we’re survivors, we control the fear, without the fear, we are as good as dead.”
Of all the Wild West films I have seen in my life, the latest flick by the Weinstein brothers, Lawless, may have just made it to the top of my list. It follows the real life story of the three Bondurant brothers, famous moonshiners in the period of prohibition. In all of their dangerous exploits with the shadiest of characters, they always survive unscathed. Their hometown held the eldest of the brothers, Forrest, to be someone or something… different. Only in whispers would they confess their belief in his God-like indestructibility. And it’s not surprising! Forrest is played by Tom Hardy (remember Bane), a man built like an ox with fast reflexes and a deep deep voice. Brave men trembled when they crossed his path.
But one day he meets his match, in the slim and decked out, chilling Charley Rakes, special agent from Chicago.
Rakes had heard of the Bondurant brothers’ success and demanded a cut in their earnings. If they didn’t, then they would pay dearly.
Standing outside his bar, Forrest stood inches away from Rakes, stared deep into his beady little eyes, and whispered low,
“We don’t lay down for nobody.”
And so starts the incredible, and unnecessarily gruesome, war between Rakes and the Bondurants.
In the most dire moment of the movie, I watched, through the slits between my fingers, Forrest stepping out of his bar into the cold dark night. Things had been violent between the two camps lately; Rakes had killed many of the Bondurants allies and the Bondurants still resolved to stand their ground. Walking towards his vehicle, he suddenly stops in his tracks. Out of the hood of his car, he sees a few stray wires hanging out on the side. Naively, he bends down and drums his finger on his chin. At this point I am whisper-screaming “ruunnnn Forrrressst ruuuunnnnn!” Then in a flash, he is jumped by two of Charley’s men. One stands him up, grips his hair to hold back his head, as the other brandishes a knife and begins to saw open a huge gaping holein Forrest’s neck. He falls to ground, hands clenched on the severed skin as blood gushes out (too much? I thought so too.)
As if this scene isn’t enough to turn over your stomach, his girlfriend Maggie, arrives at the bar a bit later looking for him. Not noticing his writhing body beside his car, she enters the dim saloon and calls out his name. She thinks she sees him as a figure emerges from the shadows. She smiles. Until he is actually they and a hand extends out holding bloody knife. As they grab her the scene fades to black, and we are led to believe she is raped. (Thankfully, they do not show this part.)
Well, wouldn’t you know it, Forrest survives. In the following scenes, he lies in a hospital bed with a stitched up neck resembling a choker necklace and we hear the doctor say, “he just walked in!”. The hospital was 20 miles away from the bar. As expected, folks in Franklin no longer whispered about his invincibility, they had their proof.
As the movie comes to a close, we find Forrest in his bedroom, frantically suiting up for one final showdown with Rakes. Maggie rushes into the room, crying, pleading for Forrest to stay with her. She tells him that she cannot watch him die. Not again.
Forrest’s ears prick up.
Yes, not again. It was Maggie who found him outside, after she was raped by the two men, and it was Maggie who held her hand over his throat while she drove him to the hospital.
Taken aback, Forrest utters:
“I thought I walked.”
What the Bondurant brothers expose in this film is our absurd belief in our independence and invincibility. We have all these titles we take upon ourselves. Surnames like survivor, superman, and success story. But the reality is that behind these names is a community that gave us the boost. The God that gave us the boost.
And when we choose to move into our own islands, believing that we built this and that, we neglect Christ’s call to carry one another’s burdens. Our independence is completely antithetical to the gospel story. It actively stunts Kingdom Come. Today, It is so paradoxical, yet so prevalent, for Christians to boast in their own accomplishments as they look back at “how far they’ve come”. When they reread their personal history, they remember the things they learned, but they forget those that taught them. The pain that was felt clouds out the cushion that was provided. In essence, because of our worst days, we feel entitled to a title. We believe that we are the sole survivors.
But the fact remains, your success story, my journey, your climb, might be nothing more than imaginary.
If you really look back, thoroughly, you may be surprised to see the loved ones that prayed for you in secret, cried for you behind closed doors, supported you, loved you, and drove twenty miles with one hand on your artery and the other on the wheel.
When I saw this movie, it became clear that Maggie was the unsung hero of story. The Christ-figure if you will. She set aside her life, her rape, her pain in order to care for her love on life support. Even when Forrest was in the middle of his miraculous recovery, she didn’t say a word about what happened, her focus was Forrest.
Thinking about your own rise out of the rubble, do you often forget those that threw you the rope? The unsung heroes that patiently put off homework, their job, dinner, down time, so they could be a rock you could rely on, a provider of perspective, the holder of the Kleenex, the back rubber?
What I hope to grasp, and I hope all of you will grasp, is that we are here because of those between the lines. Those that placed all their bets on us even after we folded.
We are not the survivors
We are the rescued
The Maggie in my life (not in a romantic sense mind you) is my very best friend.
Every time I hit rock bottom she dried my tears with her encouraging words. Even though she was in the midst of her own dilemmas, she chose to bring all of herself- all of her energy, grace, know how, and love- and pull me out of my spiral. Even though she couldn’t possibly understand what it was like to be gay and Christian, she still showed me how hard she was trying. One time, she even said:
“Every time I leave our conversations, I pray for God to give me your pain. To let me feel what you feel.”
That is the definition of empathy folks. That is carrying one another’s burdens. That is walking two miles when you’re asked to walk one.
This one is for the unsung heroes.
Recognize your rescuers today.