Last night I invited a couple of girlfriends over to watch a film with a glass of vino and some Doritos. What do you think I treated them to? Well it wasn’t “Mama Mia!” It was a film I saw about 17 years ago and it has stayed with me ever since. The final scene in particular.
Had The Brave not popped into my head about a week ago it certainly wouldn’t have been my first choice. After all, the premise is hardly cheery (young Native American man with no hope for the future sells himself to a snuff movie director then has seven days to say goodbye to his life). Written, directed and staring Johnny Depp there is nothing quirky or colourful about this film, and it’s certainly not what I was used to from Depp.
So why did The Brave suddenly enter my consciousness on a dull Sunday afternoon? Well not feeling particularly cheery myself I was thinking about the isolation someone would feel when facing death. In the run up to Easter I tend to get a bit morose and look for films that reflect the Easter story: Jesus’ conquering death to save humanity. Mega themes that both beguile and excite in equal measures. The unnerving thing about this film is that the viewer doesn’t know whether Raphael (Depp) conquered death or not because the ending remains suitably ambiguous, whereas Christian believers are left in no doubt in Mel Gibson’s equally gruesome, The Passion of Christ, that Jesus did conquer death.
However for me The Brave’s appeal is not in the plot, for which there is precious little (needless to say it was completely slated at the Cannes 1997 Film Festival), but in what it represents: The sacrificial nature of someone living in a trash-pit, ghetto community inhabited by those on the fringes of society and for which there appears to be no escape. Raphael has no job, no money and no future – a ‘three times loser’ as he is described. Sacrificing his life to ensure his family are freed from the cycle of poverty – which of course is by no means a cert given the fact that he has just sold his soul to the devil (snuff movie director, Mr McCarthy played by Marlon Brando) – may seem a bit extreme and unrealistic to a white, middle class viewer in today’s Britain but utterly feasible elsewhere in the world for those living on the edges of humanity.
Whilst the film seems to suggest that facing death is the ultimate bravery, Raphael’s actions in the seven days he has left on earth would seem to say otherwise as we witness his newfound willingness to stand up to life, embracing his family and spreading a little joy throughout the whole ghetto community. Having had our spirits lifted momentarily we come to the eighth day when Raphael enters the elevator that marks his lonely decent into hell and into McCarthy’s warehouse film set. And there the film ends.
I hope I haven’t spoilt it for you because it’s a film I would encourage you to see. If only to see Depp in that last scene because it lingers as one of the most poignant of the whole film leaving the viewer with a choice to make. Do I believe that death is certain with no hope of escape or do I choose to believe that there is escape from death through Jesus’ resurrected life? Depp doesn’t attempt to make that choice for us he just offers the premise – whether he knew it or not.