A most sensitive and profound portrayal
On rare occasions a work of art is produced that inspires an audience to recognise that human beings belong to one great family. This film made by Jane Harris and Jimmy Edmonds does exactly that as it examines the grief felt by a group of American families who have lost a child, usually a teenager who has died violently in a road accident or, as in one case, by the accidental shooting of a gun owned by the family. Jane and Jimmy meet these families as they cross the USA on a road trip the couple make in honour of their late son Joshua. It is generally accepted that the loss of a child is indeed the worst thing that can happen to a family: as one of the interviewed parents says, ‘It’s just about the messiest process you can go through.’ It has an unbearable ‘nightmare quality’ that the family wants to retreat from back to a time when their child was alive. The film brilliantly captures this feeling right at the start when it shows metaphorically and momentarily vehicles and people moving in reverse through a township.
The film, by two Brits, turns out to be a brilliant road movie in the best American tradition; it is, above all, an inspiring love story, which gives us a most sensitive and profound portrayal of family bereavement. It connects with all of us whether we want it or not, and audiences will come away having shared in many emotions – both positive and negative – that are felt by bereaved families.
The film reveals how to talk about family bereavement: they will learn that a mother’s grief can seem ‘sacred’; that parents want ‘to embrace their feelings’ not run away from them; and that their emotions are ‘natural’ and not to be ashamed of. At times a bereaved family can have a ‘real good laugh’ as well as shed ‘real good tears’. Above all, an audience will learn that, unlike losing a parent, losing a child means you have ‘lost their future’, and that’s what makes the death of a child so unacceptable.
The film also makes the point that the human spirit can shine through even the darkest moments: one we remember can be described as Shakespearian when a family decides to shed their child’s ashes over a cliff edge only for those ashes to be blown by the wind back into their faces. There is also anger in this film when Jimmy Edmonds attacks the media’s simplistic reliance upon the term ‘closure’, which, to the bereaved, is a nonsense because they do not want to forget, they do not want to ‘close the door’ to ‘leave behind’. Closure is something that other people, outsiders, want so that they can avoid embarrassment.
Jane Harris and Jimmy Edmonds are experienced film makers who, as bereaved parents themselves, have combined the inspiration of their own tragic loss of an adorable and beautiful son with their professional expertise. They have woven together a road movie that tells several stories of family loss and love, striking pictures of the American landscape, and their own autobiographical story of the loss of their son Joshua. All done with seamless editing, highly skilled camera work, and extraordinarily sensitive questioning. On this last point we’d like to say how much we admired Jane’s interviewing style: measured, sensitive, tactful – a quality of beauty about it! Yes, it needs saying that Jimmy and Jane’s rapt attention to the stories of the bereaved families brought out the best in everybody connected with this film.
- Reviewed by Barbara and Michael Wilson (whose daughter, Sarah, died in a white water rafting accident in Peru: she was never found)
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