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Saturday, June 8

The Messenger

Sophocles said it first in Antigone and then Shakespeare, in Antony and Cleopatra, had the beautiful Egyptian queen threaten the life of the messenger who told her that Antony had married another. So it is both historical and unfortunate to be blaming and even taking revenge on the bearer of the bad news. According to Freud, this extreme gesture has everything to do with the receiver of the unpleasant news rather than the messenger, as it illustrates the former's denial and attempt to defence the initial state of affairs and a display of his absolute power over the latter. The Messenger (2009) is an intelligent drama about the multiple layers of the inconvenient job of officially informing the next of kin of the soldiers killed in the line of duty.
Sergent Will Montgomery (Ben Foster), home from Iraq, a hero with a medal, is assigned a new job in what the Army calls “bereavement notification”; he is to join captain Tony Stone (Woody Harrelson) in the dignified, yet unpleasant mission of knocking at the doors of spouses and parents and deliver the awful news. Captain Stone, a recovering alcoholic, sets very strict rules to follow in order to avoid emotional outbreaks and pleads for complete detachment; visibly affected by the fragile balance of things, Will shares a common bond with one widow whose husband has just got killed. He cannot seem to stay away from Olivia (Samantha Morton) with whom he starts a tender, quiet romance. But the families of the deceased aren't the only damaged parties in the movie; the two of them are also on the verge of despair and collapse. Stone has a relapse and starts contemplating his empty life, whereas Will suffers from post-traumatic stress and the emotional inability of leaving his past behind.  

People take bad news differently; some are more considerate to the messengers than others. A grief-stricken father, Steve Buscemi, spits Will in the face and calls him a coward; later on, he comes out of the dark night and apologises for his outburst. Family members need their space and time to come to terms with their losses and their genuine, sometimes violent reactions, are emblematic of our humane nature. But as it is in life, severe loss has its way of bringing people together and whether they are estranged relatives or the two messengers, they are all caught unprepared by the ugliness of war. 
The Messenger," whose director Oren Moverman co-wrote with Alessandro Camon, captures the fear of the surviving soldiers without turning them into hopeless martyrs. Tony and Will are themselves grieving, damaged human beings who have to deal with their personal losses and gracefully share the sad news to the bereaved. Both leading actors perform superbly, capturing the sensitivity and pain of their characters, whereas actresses Samantha Morton and Jena Malone are an embodiment of forbidden passion and every-day survival. On the whole, this is a movie about the healing compassion and kind humanity, the heroes within ourselves and the very demons that challenge our souls.