INDIVISIBLE, US, 2018. Starring Sarah Drew, Justin Bruening, Jason George, Tia Marie-Hardrict, Skye P.Marshall, Tanner Stine, Madeline Carroll, Michael O'Neill, Eric Close. Directed by David P.Grant. 119 minutes. Rated M (Violence).
We learn very early that the “indivisible” of the title refers to the United States and the Pledge of Allegiance.
In fact, this is a very patriotic film with some substantial sequences in Iraq, including some action from the American troops and rebels in villages.
However, it should be said very early in a review that this is an American faith-based film. For more than a decade now, the United States has produced quite a number of faith-based films, designed especially for religious audiences, church-going audiences. They are intended as inspirational.
Most reviewers and most audiences are not attracted to faith-based films, finding difficulty in the God-language, the sentiment, the touch of preaching. However, it should be noted that the inspirational film is in itself a particular film genre (like romance, thriller, action show) which has its own particular conventions as do the other genres. The faith-based film needs to be appreciated for its intentions and how the intentions are communicated on screen. The faith-based film is meant to be edifying.
Some years ago The Grace Card was an above-average faith-based film. The director, David P.Grant, has now directed Indivisible, also an above-average faith-based film.
It is based on a true story (with photos of the central characters and their family included in the final credits). It is a story of chaplains. Even to that extent, it offers interesting material, most audiences not pausing to think what the role of the military chaplain is, what demands are made, what is the overall effect of being in support in combat, that chaplains could be suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. Which is what happens in this film.
While the director and writers have a religious background and the film is supported by various Baptist churches, the cast are better known than usual, having featured in a lot of television work, television series. Justin Bruening is Darren, previously a college chaplain, with a Masters in Ministry degree, sent to Iraq and to a base there in 2007. Sarah Drew plays his wife, Heather, mother of three children, having shared in her husband’s Ministry. They live a happy and committed life.
However, across the street, Tonya and her two daughters are harassed by her angry and drinking husband. There is also a young unmarried woman with a son, criticised by her mother. And a young couple, she diffident and pregnant for the second time, fearful for her husband in action.
Darren, the angry man, Michael, Shonda, the unmarried mother, and the young man, Lance, find themselves together in Iraq. The commanding officer in Iraq, before the day’s work, or before going into action, advises Darren “to do what you do”. Darren is a scripture man, quoting the Psalms, especially, very aptly and briefly – though, interestingly, not referring to Gospel stories except for Jesus’ crucifixion. Michael, on the other hand, advises Darren not to mess with his life, thinking that that is what chaplains do. And, after a fateful mission with deaths, Lance is very angry, asking all the familiar questions about God, not intervening to save people, allowing them to suffer.
Intercut with all the Iraq scenes are sequences concerning the wives, bonding, doing support work for their husbands, comforting otherwise in distress, visiting after a wife has received the sad news of her husband’s death. There is a focus also on the children, Michael has teenage daughters, Darren’s three children are devoted to him, one an asthmatic who has some crises, Heather trying to do her best to raise the three children by herself. One consolation in contemporary warfare is communication by phone and, especially, communication by Skype.
Darren experiences vehicles under sniper attack, his hands begin to tremble, he writes a diary, records himself talking, tapes for Heather to look at should he die.
There are harrowing moments in the latter part of the film, especially with Darren’s reaction on return, distant, cold, even Heather telling him that he is mean. He does not cope well with the post-traumatic stress.
However, as we know, this is an inspirational film and there will be a positive ending. Almost needless to say, Darren and Heather have a continued ministry, Darren resuming his military chaplaincy, but their both working with soldiers, their wives, and stress.
Edifying and interesting.
Five Loaves Released November 1st
Peter Malone MSC is an Associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film and Broadcasting.