“The Messenger” is one of those films that stays with you.
No super special effects. No
fancy CGI. No dramatic
battlefield scenes. No
explosions, chases, or shots fired in anger.
This is the grim-as-death aftermath:
when the official Army representatives, in full-dress uniform,
efficiently inform the next of kin.
Woody Harrelson plays Captain Tony Stone, who’s training an
apprentice, Sgt. Will Montgomery (Ben Foster).
They’re both kind of sad cases, themselves, as we get to know them:
neither really has a significant relationship.
Tony’s been married several times, and now he’s given up on that,
and is just interested in temporary conquests, which means that his emotional
development is stunted around late adolescence.
As for Will, he returned from
a decorated hero with nagging injuries, only to discover that his girl, Kelly
(Jena Malone) took up with somebody else in his absence.
There was a farewell fling when he returned, but that was it.
Right after that came the invitation to the wedding.
So it’s fitting that they’re the messengers of death, because
they’re both dead inside.
But that doesn’t mean they don’t have feelings.
Tony, for his part, encourages Will to be formal at all times.
Stick to the script, knock on the door, don’t ring the doorbell (a
personalized chirpy ring just wouldn’t set the right tone).
Never leave a message, never wait on anybody else to show up, only
speak to the next of kin, and not whoever answers the door.
Don’t answer questions you’re not asked.
Don’t elaborate on what little information you have.
Maintain eye contact. Don’t
touch them, or allow them to touch you. If
they strike you, do not hit back unless you feel your life is in danger.
Inform them that grief counselors will be available to them.
Do not attempt to answer the “why” questions.
Tell them what has happened, express your condolences, and leave.
That’s your job.
Of course, Tony does feel things, while pretending he doesn’t;
he just hides his emotions behind a façade of military toughness and a
haze of off-duty drinking (while claiming to be a recovering alcoholic).
Will, for his part, makes the one big mistake, to develop compassionate
feelings for a widow. Following
up is not only inappropriate, preying on the vulnerability of the grieving
will get you court-martialed. And
yet Will, void of intimacy himself, cannot help but feel something for the
widow Olivia (Samantha Morton), and she appreciates the attention, at the same
time repulsed by the idea of it going anywhere.
Yes, there are some emotionally searing moments, watching people find
out, suddenly, that a son or daughter or husband is dead. (Tony instructs Will
not to say passed on, no longer with us, gone to a better place, or any of
those euphemisms that might cause confusion or uncertainty; only say
“dead” or “killed”). Sure,
there are a lot of grim moments. But
the character development is superb, and the acting is first-rate.
You won’t forget this one quickly or easily.
Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, Pastor, Grace