In November of 1991 the Oscar-nominated actor and activist Edward James Olmos, while addressing a forum on movie violence, solemnly declared, “Nothing that we can do will ever stop the damage that we’ve done.” While it’s certainly true that filmmakers have done their share of adding to the problems of society, there’s no reason why they can’t start contributing to the solutions.
The new film, Antwone Fisher, directed by, and starring Denzel Washington, is in this sense a landmark production, in that it raises the art of the motion picture to a new level: the level of effective counsellor. The film can actually be used to help solve people’s problems. I believe it can help people recover from the deep wounds to their spirit which cause so many outward problems like anger and violent behaviour. The day may even come when it’s shown in churches, in two or three instalments, and used as the basis for study to help us understand offences, consequences, forgiveness, recovery, and the need for a logical progression from conflict to full resolution.
My wife and I watched the film in two segments, because of our circumstances. We had rented the video but were tired the first night so we watched only the first hour. In the middle of the film I said to my wife, “Honey, this will be either another Hollywood true-life drama aimed at entertainment, or it will be a truly extraordinary film. “
“What do you mean?” asked my wife.
“It looks like the director is either going to let us down in a big way, or he’s going to actually deliver on what he seems to be promising.”
“What is he promising?”
“Well, by the conflict he has developed in this first half, he has opened up a can of worms which he will either resolve by sweeping the issues under the rug, or he will deliver on his unspoken promise and actually resolve the conflict with a real, lasting solution.”
Denzel Washington delivers on his unspoken promise.
And what is the conflict that is resolved?
A young man in the American Navy is constantly caught fighting with other crewmembers. He is brought before the Commandant who warns him he is in danger of a dishonourable discharge. He is confined to the ship and commanded to see the company psychiatrist.
When he goes to see the doctor for treatment a set of circumstances propel him to face the fact that his overflowing anger has a root cause ─and he realizes for the first time that there could be a solution to his problems.
“ If the second half of this film,” I told my wife that night, “delivers on its unspoken promise, it will actually document a case of where a root problem in a person’s life is solved by a real solution. If this fellow actually overcomes his anger problem on-screen, this film will be an absolute triumph.”
Fact is, the second half of the film resolves the conflict introduced in the first half. After we finished the film, I was overcome with emotion. Initially I was happy for the characters in the film. I went to bed, and the next morning when I awoke the implications of the story hit me right between the eyes─ or more exactly, in the heart.
I realized that I had just seen a monumental piece of group therapy. How so? Because it actually did a work on me that morning. What work? Well, I always write my thoughts in my diary, and that morning, as I was thinking over the film, I wrote this paragraph:
“All the anger that has welled up in me at various times during my life, and that overflowed especially during my recent burnout and recovery, has actually been my reaction to the deepest of unresolved conflicts.”
The next sentence in the diary is a precise, concise statement of my most painful unresolved conflict. I won’t share this with you yet. I’ll share it later, after you have seen the film. But I will tell you what my next sentence was:
“I don’t understand why it took so long for me to see this.”
I’m 54 years old. I’ve carried a burden of anger most of my life. In many instances it has been suppressed, but it has flared up at the most inappropriate times in my life, and caused me untold grief. A few years ago I actually went to several counsellors who tried to help me with this, and they did help in that they were able to lead me to understand that anger is the result of unreconciled conflict. In other words, offences, painful experiences, disappointments and traumas are conflicts which force themselves into our lives. They cause us great damage, but for the most part we are taught to ignore them. For instance, we are taught to “learn to live with it”. We are equipped with an endless list of cliché’s by which to deal with these conflicts:
“You’ll get over it.”
“These things happen to the best of us.”
And after we’re saved we can add some more Christianized clichés:
“Sometimes the ways of God are not meant to be understood.”
All this advice is hogwash.
No conflict can be resolved by denial, avoidance, or pat answers.
An unresolved conflict can only be resolved by identifying and reconciling it’s root cause.
Now personally, I can think of many reasons why it took me so long to see this. Here’s a few of them. Feel free to add a few of your own:
─I live in a culture where it is generally unprofitable to quickly solve another person’s unresolved conflicts. If the real truth about how to solve such problems were generally available it would put a lot of professionals out of business.
─I live in a culture where it is more fashionable to talk than to listen. Part and parcel of becoming educated is this myth that educated people talk more, use more educated words, have more educated opinions, when the truth of the matter is — really educated people have learned how to listen.
─I live in a culture where nobody really listens. I mean, think of the irony of the fact that we think it’s acceptable to pay a professional counsellor $75.00 an hour just to listen. What the heck is everybody else doing?
─I live in a culture where people cannot seem to untangle themselves from the morass of abstractism. By abstractism I’m talking about the teacher and the preacher and the politician who fills the air with doctrines and “points” and “teachings” without adequate illustration. Folks, illustration is everything. Nothing can be understood on the basis of a bunch of words of explanation alone ─ there have to be words of illustration. You know why so many professionals talk jargon and abstract lingo? Because they don’t really understand what they’re talking about, or they have no actual experience in the matter, that’s why they can’t come up with real-life, vivid illustrations.
Antwone Fisher is a real-life, vivid illustration of the process required to bring real healing to a person’s life. It is bereft of all the dry-as-dust psychological jargon so prevalent in our culture. It allows a viewer to see, in two hours, the entire process of how a man’s symptoms are the result of a conflict, or many conflicts, which build up in the course of a man’s lifetime if they are not resolved. And then, we see, graphically, on screen, how when a conflict is really resolved, it brings liberation, joy, and genuine relief.
Now, I can’t go any further with this analysis of Antwone Fisher until you’ve seen the film. But I have a lot more to say. I will say only, in closing, that the resolution of Antwone Fisher’s conflict reveals what is at the root of most of our society’s problems. What Antwone finds, in the end, is what our entire civilization needs to find.
Watch the film.
NEXT: ANTWONE FISHER,PART TWO
 Michael Medved,, Hollywood vs. America, (New York:Harper Collins Publishers,1992) Pg271