Love and Mercy
Last night we went with friends to see the Brian Wilson movie. I’ve been wanting to see it since I heard about it in the spring, but was by now pretty certain that my first look at it would be on Netflix. We live in a very small market and the film didn’t have a single showing here on its release. I’d given up hope.
But my friend had found an ad in the paper listing “Love and Mercy” on one screen downtown this weekend and we jumped at the chance to see it.
I said to our friends in the lobby of the multiplex just before we went in that I would not be surprised if we were the only people in the theatre for the showing. We weren’t. I’m guessing there were around twenty people there; not packed, but in our market a better crowd than you might have imagined or bet on for an early Saturday evening showing of a non-blockbuster movie.
I wanted to see the movie not only because of the favorable reviews, the promising cast and tempting trailers; I wanted to see it because I am a fan. A lifetime fan, to be more precise. When the Andy character in the Doonesbury strip, upon hearing the CD of Pet Sounds on his deathbed says “Listen, that’s my life,” I know what he means.
So I went to the movie, hoping to hear an affectionate, understanding and appreciative treatment of this magic music and I went to the movie to perhaps gain a little more understanding of the messy life of this musical genius. I’d read bits and pieces here and there and listened to lots of talk about Brian, but I savored the idea of having the story laid out for me in images and dialogue.
I was not disappointed on that score. The film does a better job than I would have thought possible in getting across the essence of the Beach Boys’ magic. The passing treatment of the surf music is true enough to form to convey that electric excitement it had for all of us back in 1963. And the footage given to portray the recording of Pet Sounds and the creation of Good Vibrations is, well, affectionate, understanding and appreciative. I had heard before the stories of the weirdness, the amazing comprehension and mastery of every note and nuance, the slavish attention to detail, the final perfection of the idea. But to see it all dramatized in such a faithful, believable way was gratifying and nourishing.
Brain Wilson’s music is beautiful and the movie treats it with the respect it deserves.
So, I got what I came for, and I would have been satisfied with that, but “Love and Mercy” was, for me, one of those rare movies that actually exceeded my highest expectations. I got more than I bargained for, more than I expected and more than I had even hoped for.
This movie is a fine exposition of Brian Wilson’s musical genius. It is an informative exegesis of his messy life. But it is, above and beyond all of that, a love story of the very highest order.
I am a sucker for love stories, even corny ones. My wife and I have watched every romantic comedy that Hugh Grant or Julia Roberts or Meg Ryan have ever made. We have DVDs of every recent adaptation of every one of the Jane Austen novels and we seem to get through each of them at least one time every long winter. I think of romances as the only stories that have happy endings this side of Jordan, and I like happy endings.
But this love story is a real love story with a real happy ending. It is compellingly told in this film.
That is, there is no silliness or zaniness about the story. What we see is a man who is in the deepest need, indeed, a man who is a captive, who is literally saved – pulled out of a real hell – by love.
And that love, convincingly portrayed by Elizabeth Banks as Melinda Lebetter, is a beautiful thing. It is selfless love; the love that is patient and kind and “seeketh not its own.” It is that very kind of love that Saint Paul was talking about when he wrote that famous passage to the church in Corinth. Indeed, I have heard those verses a thousand times over my lifetime and I don’t know if I have ever seen them as profoundly enacted and portrayed as they are in this film.
In a way, this movie is an acting-out of the gospel. Jesus Christ is never mentioned in the movie, except in the violent swearing of the evil doctor, but, nonetheless, the story is one of liberation from bondage; a liberation from “the world, the flesh and the devil” and a return to flourishing, all accomplished through self-sacrificing love.
I was so entranced that I never moved in my seat.