A folk legend come to life – that’s Get Low starring Robert Duvall as Felix Bush. As the legend goes, in the 1930s in the mountains of TN, a man threw his own funeral so he could enjoy it before he died. Upon learning of the death of an old acquaintance, Felix decides that he will throw a funeral party on the condition that those who come tell a story about him. He’s hoping the truth will come out about his life, a truth that includes something in the past that has driven him into self-imposed isolation. The film is less about the revelation of that past event than it is the need for Felix to be the one to tell his own story—no easy task given his shame and confusion. But for 40 years, Felix has lived a detached life knowing that people have made up all sorts of horrible stories about what kind of a fearful and evil person he must be.
One of the beautiful metaphors in the film comes from Felix’s skill as a carpenter. He has built his home in the woods with remarkably well-crafted furniture. He built the small country church served by his long-time pastor-friend, Charlie Jackson. Now, he’s building his own funeral memorial. But what has he made with his skilled hands – has he made a prison or a sanctuary?
Duvall (79 when the movie was made in 2010) gives us another of his magnificent character studies, a hallmark of the latest chapter in his more-than-50-year career in film. He is supported winsomely by Bill Murray as Frank Quinn, who arranges Felix’s funeral party – Murray gives us a believable morally unsteady funeral director who will do just about anything to make a buck. Sissy Spacek gives us Mattie Darrow, a widow who has known Felix in their youth, and having survived her own sorrows, has her own suspicions of Felix’s past. Bill Cobbs is Rev. Charlie Jackson who says of Felix, “I talked to God a lot about you over the years. He said he broke the mold when he made you, said you sure were entertaining to watch—but way too much trouble.”
Get Low invites us to think about honesty and confession as it reflects on how Felix Bush has lived his life knowing that he has failed. It’s a simple morality tale told in rustic tones and elegant cinematography – the visual beauty contrasts with the hidden ugliness while the story muses about how that beauty would change were the ugliness to be revealed. Get Low speaks to the humility needed in death, admitting the inevitable and inescapable, while exploring all that must be done in the life… as long as we have this life to live. This deeply human tale touches on our very common impulse to cover what we do not like about our lives, our sin and failures. But does the gospel of Christ offer a better way, a way of hope?