Harrowing Journeys

Imagine facing the man who killed someone you love, moments before his execution. What would you say to him? Director Charles Oliver poses this question in Take, a film that takes place over two days, several years apart. British actress Minnie Driver plays Ana, a wife and mother driving across the desert to speak for the first and final time to the man who destroyed her family. Jeremy Renner is Saul, the burdened offender preparing for his own death. Oliver intersperses scenes of their daily lives, deftly using episodes and single moments to craft parallel universes for both criminal and victim.

The film opens in the present time. For both Ana and Saul, life has become dry and quiet since the murder seven years ago. Saul’s empty cell is a dull, clinical white—the only sounds are his shuffling and the clinking of chains and handcuffs. Ana drives her dusty old car to the prison across a spare, sun-bleached desert. The sun seems to have baked all of the softness and health out of her. They both mutter to themselves as they get closer to the execution, reliving moments from the day of the crime up to the point of the murder. “I was born alone, and today I’ll die alone, and everything in between is my choice,” Saul tells the frustrated minister who visits him. “Don’t tell me about God’s plan.” Ana tells anybody who will listen that justice is “meted out slowly, continuously, year after year,” and that she’s one of the few people who will make sure it gets done. The film’s pace is slow and exact. There is no wasted word or scene.

Ana and Saul’s pasts are cast in opposing light—Saul’s world is shadows and secrets as he fumbles around in the dark and clutter of his life. Ana’s life and family are saturated in color, hues almost so gaudy that they belie the genuine struggle and frustration her small family is already facing. Saul and Ana’s problems, though exhausting, are achingly familiar and mundane, and Oliver’s crafting of these calm, measured scenes contrasts with the sudden and unpredictable jumps between past and future. By the end of the movie, viewers are drawn into such a lull that the portrayal of the actual crime is truly shocking. The only thing more surprising is the flood of remorse, forgiveness, acceptance, and release that fills the end of the film.

IT WASN’T UNTIL Oliver finished the first draft of his script that he found out about the Justice and Reconciliation Project. The nonprofit’s aim is to encourage and facilitate face-to-face conversations between offenders and their victims in order to humanize both sides and bring about healing and a sense of self-empowerment. For­give­ness is not the expressed goal, but it happens.

When faced with criticism that his film’s treatment of Saul is too soft, Oliver explained in an interview on NPR that restitution means more than just being locked up. When the offender can deal face to face with the rage, healing, and forgiveness that survivors express, a stronger, difficult, and more complex understanding of accountability and debt presents itself. The pro­ject’s hope is that convicted felons will not evade the moral and emotional cost of their crimes. The conversations are also a way for victims and their loved ones to find answers, understanding, and peace with the past.

In the film, all of Saul’s bluster melts when he is confronted by Ana. “I have no real idea who you are, or what I’ve taken from you. And for that I’m so sorry,” he mumbles. Ana admits that her sense of vengeance was “better without your face.” Conversation is sparse, but only because of the breathtaking range of emotions that ripple across their faces. The gifts of grace and redemption are in abundance, but you’ll have to watch the film to experience how truly sublime they are.

Anna Almendrala is the marketing and circulation assistant at Sojourners.

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