It’s no secret that there is a shortage of films doing justice to fathers. Especially in sitcoms, men are frequently depicted as lazy, incompetent, developmentally stunted or stupid. They rarely give men something to aspire to: a noble vision of what they could be.
For the solemnity of the Holy Trinity, we remember that God has revealed himself to us as the Triune God of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Rather than holding the vocation of fatherhood in contempt, St John Paul II taught something more uplifting: that fathers have the noble vocation of ‘revealing and ... reliving on earth the very fatherhood of God’ (Familiaris Consortio §25).
In honour of this solemnity, we thought we might take a look at three depictions of fatherhood that truly stand out above the rest. One of the virtues of art (or one of its vices, depending on the character) is that it can give us models to imitate, ideals to pursue.
In a culture that denigrates the uniqueness of fathers, it’s important to celebrate good artistic depictions when they come along, whether fiction or non-fiction, in adaptations or original scripts.
There is no doubt that Harper Lee’s beloved novel has earned its place as a classic. Not least because of her character Atticus Finch, the father and lawyer who acts as the moral backbone of their town.
He sums up his approach to fatherhood with these words, in reference to his son: ‘Before Jem looks at anyone else he looks at me, and I’ve tried to live so I can look squarely back at him.’
The character of Atticus Finch manages to combine two important qualities: moral conviction and empathy. His moral conviction is on display in his willingness to stare down ‘the madness of crowds’ and to do what is right instead of what the mob demands.
Despite the difficulty his children experience at school because of his willingness to defend Tom Robinson, he also wants to teach them empathy. Being able to inhabit the skin of another person is crucial to being upright in a violent and unjust world:
First of all, if you learn a simple trick, Scout, you’ll get along a lot better with all kinds of folks. You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view ... until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.
As usual, Gregory Peck is in a class of his own, and his depiction of Atticus Finch in the 1962 adaption by Robert Mulligan is exceptional.
Terrence Malick has always been an oddball director. However, one of his recent films follows the story of a man who was beatified by Pope Benedict XVI in 2007: Franz Jägerstätter, an Austrian Catholic farmer who made the courageous decision to refuse the oath of allegiance to Hitler upon being conscripted.
There is an intensity that runs throughout the film as Franz suspects he will, at some point, be called upon to serve his country in the war. Despite the passionate arguments, and visceral disdain, of his compatriots, Franz realises that he cannot pledge himself to Hitler, recognising the evil of the ideology he represents. Even when people try to justify the oath by saying, ‘It’s just words,’ or by asking what practical benefit his defiance would achieve, Franz knows that his soul is at stake, and that defiance of evil is necessary no matter the practical outcome.
Many of the ‘popular’ martyrs throughout history have been clerics. Stories of martyrs who have families are less well known (even though they exist in abundance), which is part of what makes this story so interesting. Knowing he must defy evil, while recognising that his wife and children will lose him, is a terrible struggle you can feel the characters go through on screen. This is especially poignant because Franz grew up without a father: he knew what it was like not to have one.
At one point, Franz receives a piercing lesson from the artist painting the interior of their local church. The painter, referring to his artistic vocation, says, ‘We create admirers. We don’t create followers. Christ’s life is a demand.’
This choice, between being an admirer or follower of Christ, haunts the film, and it is a crucial choice fathers must come to terms with in passing the faith onto their children.
John Krasinski’s horror film A Quiet Place surprised a lot of people. Not simply because of the jumps in store throughout, but because of the tension that lies at the heart of the story: in a post-apocalyptic world where the slightest noise attracts monsters, a family has to work out how to have a baby quietly.
It’s also one of the rare modern depictions of a father who isn’t incompetent. He is loving, resourceful, intelligent, cautious and protective. He leads his family in a strangely monastic existence of prayer and work, not to mention survival, as they try to prepare for the baby who will soon be born.
The character of Lee Abbott is also a heroic father: despite living in constant danger from monsters that come hurtling out of nowhere, for the sake of his family he frequently puts himself in harm’s way, knowing this is his responsibility.
It’s rare for a horror film to also showcase something meaningful, like the irreplaceability of the father, or the necessity of protecting innocent, unborn life. This is one of the many things that make A Quiet Place a refreshing movie.
Proclaim: Office for Mission Renewal05 July 2022
Proclaim: Office for Mission Renewal05 July 2022