I am well and truly amazed at how the works of Cormac McCarthy can strike me so deeply. He’s got a gift for asking real questions, and I admire his writing for it. The film The Sunset Limited is a great example of what I love about Cormac's stuff. To top it off you’ve got two master actors bringing it to life and that combination creates a masterpiece.
Based on McCarthy’s play, there are two men of very different backgrounds that end up having an intense conversation. The characters are named at the end of the film simply as “Black” (played by Samuel L Jackson) and “White” (played by Tommy Lee Jones). Samuel L’s character is a believer in God, a man of faith, and an ex-con who happened to be at the Sunset Limited platform when Tommy Lee’s character tried to take a suicidal leap in front of the train. White is a man that doesn’t believe in God and doesn’t see any reason for life itself; specifically his own. No medication or therapy has made any kind of difference in White's life, nor has he found enough of any kind of a connection with anyone to even claim as a friend. Black has a completely different viewpoint in life. He’s been in prison, been literally gutted by a man, and even committed murder himself. But he still finds life meaningful because of his faith and so he has taken it upon himself to try and save White from his fatal decision.
Now here’s where the meat of the film lies: the conversation between Black and White is a philosophical tennis match between the two men, one serving a dark theory and the other volleying it back with an equal and opposite strength of reason. The discourse is like a study in so many concepts of value! Like what value is life if you don’t believe God exists, but that all is left is suffering? How valuable are words? How valuable are the words of an ex-con? Are they any more or less valuable than a professor’s elegant words? How about the professor? Does his life matter even if you disagree with everything he says and thinks?
|Tommy Lee Jones and Samuel L Jackson|
And I love how the camerawork echoes the same sorts of themes too. The camera never leaves the constricted little tenement apartment and for me it felt the same as a distressed person (like White) never leaving their head, never coming outside himself and thus struggling even harder to get a fix on reality and “primacy” of what matters. I found myself wondering "how the hell is this gonna end so that I'm satisfied?!" and couldn't help stopping and reversing the movie when I my brain went off on tangents of its own accord to ponder some of Black & White's questions which definitely didn't have black & white answers. It’s an amazing film. If you like performances that make you think and brilliant cinema don't miss this one!
|Tommy Lee Jones (Director) and Cormac McCarthy (Writer)|