Tag Archives: courtroom drama

In the Name of the Father (1993), directed by Jim Sheridan

 in the name of the father posterAs I look at my children from time to time, I wonder if I did my best as a parent. How much of who they are today is a result of my parenting? It is a tough question to answer and I am not sure whether the answer has any practical ramifications since both my kids and I are much older now and they are independent people. There is no do-over at this stage of life.

This thought entered my mind as I watched In the Name of the Father, a gripping narrative of Gerry Conlon, a petty criminal who was wrongfully accused of the Guildford pub bombing in England in 1974, a terrorist action of the IRA against England. Gerry is sent to prison for a long time together with members of this family, including his father, Guiseppe.

As the story unfolds, the relationship of father and son that emerges as a key to understanding Gerry. His father is a devout Catholic, a hard-working man of faith with a gentle nature. He wants much for his kids and tries his best to mentor them and be there for them when they are in trouble. Conversations between Gerry and him reveal deep-seated misunderstandings that have spanned many years, but dire straits bring them close together. When they are both in prison together, they share memories, memories which disturb them and illuminate their present relationship. In these candid interchanges, looking one another in the eye, their souls finally merge in love for one another.

There is a Jewish tradition to bless our kids on Friday nights, which implicitly reminds parents to gaze into our children’s eyes and remind them of our abiding love. To parent effectively requires us to stop, look into their faces, utter a blessing, hug them, and plant a kiss on their cheek. By showing affection and limiting our criticism of them, kids will better appreciate our love and concern for them. Guiseppe and Gerry finally share that epiphany.

In the Name of the Father teaches another practical life lesson. One of my mentors once told me “you never have a second chance to make a first impression.” Therefore, always strive to make a good first impression because that is what people remember most. It is a wise piece of advice that has proved valuable many times in the course of my career both professionally or personally.

I was reminded of this sage advice as I observed Gerry Conlon, a man sent to prison because the first impression he made on people was as a foul-mouthed, irresponsible young man who lived only for the moment. Jewish tradition notes the importance of first impressions. In Genesis, we see that Joseph was very aware that when Pharoah summoned him for a meeting, the outcome was unclear. Would Joseph remain a prisoner for the rest of his life or would he be a well-respected figure in the history of Egypt and the Jews? Everything would be determined in the first few seconds of their interview. Rashi, the great medieval Bible commentator, notes that Joseph shaved and dressed to prepare himself for the meeting with the monarch. He knew that not only did he need to give good advice but also he had to look like a capable administrator. Therefore, he made sure that his first impression was a good one.

In the Name of the Father conveys two life lessons. Firstly, parenting is a journey that never ends. We need to balance our criticism with expressions of love even when our children become adults. Secondly, the film reminds us how critical are first impressions, how important it is that people see us as persons of worth, not as people without direction or focus.

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A Few Good Men (1992), directed by Rob Reiner

a few good men posterA Few Good Men is an outstanding courtroom drama with a complex agenda. On one level, it tells the story of two Marines who assault another Marine, resulting in his death. What were their motives? Did they attack him because someone higher up in the chain of command ordered them to do so? Most important, is a Marine expected to follow an order even when it goes against his moral sensibilities? Indeed, these are heavy questions; and the answer in part lies with what kind of conduct is expected of a Marine. He is a soldier fighting to protect his country, a noble cause. But in the process, he may lose his moral rudder and begin to devalue the life of others. There are no easy answers; and the film, in general, presents a balanced view of a very complicated topic.

On another level, A Few Good Men considers the question of whether people are willing to listen to the truth when it contradicts the very way they live.

Several years ago, a good friend of mine lost his job and wanted to borrow some money from me to use as a bridge until he found another job. I gave him the loan, but inwardly felt uncomfortable. I knew that my friend was a dreamer, not rooted to reality. He had moved from job to job, always in search of the perfect position, but he never found it. Moreover, he had a reputation for being wasteful with his money and, in fact, had no savings after being employed for fifteen years. I debated in my own mind whether I was an “enabler,” indirectly encouraging my friend to continue with his irresponsible and self-destructive ways. I wanted to tell him the truth, but I was not sure he could hear what I had to say and so I remained silent.

A memorable scene in the movie – ask anyone who has seen it –addresses this very issue. In a courtroom confrontation between Tom Cruise, the defense attorney for the accused soldiers, and Jack Nicholson, the general who gave the questionable command, General Jessup describes the sacred duty of a Marine to defend his country. This depends upon following orders, orders that at times place the Marine on a slippery moral slope but which must be carried out nonetheless. This is Jessup’s truth, which guides him as a military man devoted to defending the country. When skillfully provoked by the defense attorney, however, he loses his composure and shouts to the courtroom: “You can’t handle the truth.” Handling the truth means accepting complexity, realizing that in the pursuit of a noble cause, there may be collateral damage which may be unwelcome but necessary. Tom Cruise may have won the case, but Jack Nicholson’s assessment of his military reality is not to be dismissed.

Watching A Few Good Men reminded me of the difficulty all of us have in hearing the truth. To hear the truth, we must be willing to accept discomposure, complexity, and the reality that truth can be painful even as it enables us to grow. The Torah tells us that we have an obligation to reprove people, to tell them the truth about their character inadequacies so that they can improve. But the commentators make an interesting point based on the unusual language of the Biblical imperative: “you shall surely reprove.” In Hebrew this is expressed by a doubling of the verb for “reprove.” The double term indicates that we should only give reproof if the recipient will listen. Sometimes it is wiser not to reprove if the listener is not ready to hear it.

Purchase this movie from Amazon.com.

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