*Note: If you haven’t seen the movie and you want to, this post reveals the ending.
Anyone who tells you they have no regrets is a liar.
Anyone who says they are not lying about having no regrets, is a liar.
In the movie “Get Low”, starring Robert Duvall and Bill Murray, the themes of sin, regret and forgiveness are explored. When I picked up the DVD, the movie intrigued me because it was about a man, Felix Bush (Duvall’s character) who had lived as a hermit for forty years who wants to throw himself a “funeral party.” The idea is that he is a man about whom many stories have been told, most of them disreputable. He wants to invite people from all four local counties to “come and tell their stories” about him.
Enter Frank Quinn (Bill Murray’s character), who is the director of a local funeral home. Murray is a bit down and out because nobody in the town seems to want to die, so business is slow. When his assistant hears this reclusive old grouse wants to spend his cash on this party, Murray jumps on it. So the mug shot of the recluse is taken and the invitations sent out.
Meanwhile the hermit goes to visit an elderly African American pastor. He wants him to come to the funeral party so he can tell the man’s true story, because the pastor is the only one he has confessed it to. The pastor at first refuses, but then he relents and comes. The big day arrives and the whole town has converged at the “funeral party.” Instead of telling their stories about him, the man tells his own story and sets the record straight about his life.
It turns out that for forty years Felix has been living in self-imposed isolation as “penance” for his sin, which he now confesses to. Forty years earlier he had been having an affair with a married woman. One night he went to see her and when she answered the door she was covered in blood. Her husband had been beating her. Felix went in to the house to intervene. A fight ensued. The husband sets fire to the house. Felix attempts to get the woman he loves out, but he is not able to save her. He is not even sure how he himself gets out.
Felix had also dated the sister of the woman he was having an affair with. She did not know about the affair all these years, and being in the crowd she learns for the first time how her sister died. The crowd listens in stunned silence and leaves quietly at the end. Now they know the real story behind this mysterious figure about whom so much has been told.
The movie rather poignantly portrays several things about sin. First it exemplifies the weight of guilt people carry for the sins they commit. Even if no one knows, they know somewhere deep in their hearts the wrongs they have committed and they carry this weight like a pack on their back. It also showed that the consequences of sin affect many people. Sin is like throwing a stone in a pond. The ripples move out in concentric circles. Yet even those who are farthest from the center are still impacted.
The whole town, to some degree, was affected by Felix’s sin. He was so “notorious” that many stories had spread about him, some of which were untrue. The movie illustrates that sin and its effects are like a prison. In Proverbs 5:22 It states: “The evil deeds of a wicked man ensnare him; the cords of his sin hold him fast. He will die for lack of discipline, led astray by his own great folly.” Felix’s self-imprisonment was a physical illustration of what was already a spiritual reality. The irony of sin is that it seems like freedom and instead is a prison. Another facet of sin that it exemplifies is that sin leads to alienation. Sin alienates us from others and even from ourselves. In the movie the man’s affair was an attempt to escape his isolation, but the sin brought further alienation for him and death for her.
Interestingly Felix Bush is not interested in receiving forgiveness. He says “People say I need to ask Jesus for forgiveness, but I ain’t never done nothin’ to Him.” He feels that he has “done his penance” by choosing to live in self-imposed isolation to atone for his sins. The preacher tells him, “You know it isn’t enough.” There is no remedy for guilt other than forgiveness and there is no true forgiveness found in penance. The only true forgiveness to be found is by believing that Christ died for your sins and accepting his death as payment for yours.
This is a position of humility because it recognizes that there is nothing one can do to “pay” for their own sins. We certainly do experience earthly consequences for our actions. Yet these are not “payment” for our sins. They are consequences. The man’s statement that he “never did nothin’ to Jesus” is an untruth. Scripture makes clear that all sin is primarily against God. King David in his famous Psalm of penitence says “Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you are proved right when you speak and justified when you judge.” (Psalm 51:4) Sin is betrayal. We betray the one we are to love the most. We put another God in His place and worship it. This is the breaking of the first commandment: Thou shalt have no other God before me.” No one on earth will be able to say to God “I never did anything against you personally.” We all owe a debt to God. That is a non-negotiable truth. The negotiable part is how we handle the debt.
Felix Bush was able to tell his story and share the regret he had bottled up. It shows him at his death walking toward a figure dressed in white, presumably the woman he had an affair with who has now “forgiven him” and they now will presumably be reconciled in the hereafter. In reality all he had done was share the regret of his story. He did not relieve his guilt, nor did he receive forgiveness, because he did not make peace with God to whom he owed the debt.
Ironically the movie is entitled “Get Low.” Obviously we “get low” when we are laid in the earth for the last time. Yet if this man had really “got low” and humbled himself before God and asked for forgiveness, he wouldn’t have needed the communal confession which did him little good. Maybe it’s a good reminder for us all. It’s high time to get low before we are brought low.