Look for the light.
Tue, September 10, 2013
What John Travolta and Robert DeNiro Taught Me....
About 5 minutes into Killing Season, the movie I rented Saturday night, I felt that all too familiar letdown when I realized that this was probably going to be an expensive mistake. Starring Robert DeNiro and John Travolta, the movie was telling the story of two Bosnian war veterans hunting each other in an apparent "settle the score" plot. Being a Marine Corps, war veteran family, I thought we might enjoy it as a great way to lounge away a Saturday evening. 

John Travolta as a Serbian bad guy with an extremely fake beard and a heavy accent? Oh boy. DeNiro, playing a retired American colonel who apparently had shot and left for dead Travolta and his gang of "Scorpion" murderers, played the part of an older soldier with the pain, conflict and coping of years of multiple wars landing on his shoulders thoughtfully. Apart from the first five minutes of the film, the cinematography was beautiful and the film had an obvious internal conflict regarding what direction it wanted to take; action/thriller or abstract, artful and reflective. 

Once Travolta settled into the role (about halfway in) and I could get into his accent a little more comfortably, I was able to connect what the final five minutes of the movie wanted you to see-a story about forgiveness.

Travolta's character Emil, tracked DeNiro's Colonel Ford, to the majestic mountains of the US to hunt and kill him (after a confession) for shooting him and his team and leaving him to die; Ford essentially representing all of the pain and suffering Emil had to endure as a child in Serbia, watching his family raped, burned and murdered by the Bosnians-any American soldier coming to the rescue of these people immediately registering as an enemy. Throughout the film, the two take turns torturing and chasing each other until the final few minutes at which time Emil, bound and kneeling atop of beautiful mountain, part begs, part screams, part demands that Ford kill him. 

And here is the interesting part: I went from half cringing every time Travolta spoke to amazed at the absolute beauty and power of that scene. It was so perfectly played that I instantly saw how the purpose of his hunt was for his own absolution, that holding onto his hatred of one man for 18 years, searching for him and hunting after him was his own way of attempting to end what he deeply felt should have ended when Ford shot him and he somehow survived. He came to Ford to have him put an end to what he could not bear any longer. Himself. 

What happened next was just as good. Not only did Ford NOT shoot him, but in a way we could relate to as actually happening in real life, he wearily sits down casually next to Emil and starts to tell a joke. At the same moment, after trying to kill each other in the most brutal of ways indicative of old soldiers reverting back to old ways as if in some kind of muscle memory, the conflict is done. They absolve each other, they give each other another opportunity to forgive themselves. It is a powerful moment to me, because it is so real. Just sitting there, like old friends, the cat is out of the bag. The fight is over like it would be with two children in an explosive moment of emotional hostility who are unable to control or communicate their feelings, whom after a choatic, physical scuffle, lay stunned, exhausted next to each other pulling themselves together. 

It strikes me that forgiving ourselves is one of the most authentic, transformative and healing intentions we can do. But forgiving ourselves is not just a simple choice, it takes respect of the things and emotions that caused us to need forgiving in the first place. When we do the work and dig into the events and feelings that caused us to do things that we need forgiveness for, we see that in most cases, we need to forgive others-but we need not understand why they did it, we need to only understand why we did. 

Forgiving another person is about letting go of the pain or hurt that it caused us, it isn't really about them. Forgiving ourselves is about deeply understanding and honoring the pain within and approaching the next step with the healing in mind-approaching the next step with vengeance in mind or (a little less dramatically) harboring a grudge, we know that the only person we are really hurting in the end, is ourselves. 

Killing Season, specifically the last five minutes, spoke to me about the tremendous, debilitating loneliness that takes over our lives when we do not know how to cope with the pain of our actions. It also spoke to me about how when we forgive ourselves, we are simultaneously forgiving others and we are offered a light in the darkness, a beckoning at the end of the tunnel giving us permission to come through. 

I suspect that there is a kind of Emil or Colonel Ford that exists in all of us and it may not be easy for anyone else to see. Find the light in you and you will find it in others.

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