An Unfinished Life (2005)
To escape from the abusive boy-friend, Gary Winston, Jean Gilkyson moves with her young daughter Griff Gilkyson to the ranch of her father-in-law Einar Gilkyson in Wyoming. It was a move made without previous notice and Jean and Einar are disaffected because he blames her for the death of his beloved son in a car accident. At the same time, Einar, who does not know that he has a granddaughter, is taking care of Mitch Bradley, his friend who was attacked and seriously wounded by a bear. While Mitch heals his wounds and forgives the bear, Einar also changes his feelings regarding Jean, finally understanding that accidents happen and accepting her and loving his grand-daughter.
Rated PG-13 for some violence including domestic abuse, and language.
Runtime: 108 min
Country: Germany | USA
Company: Miramax Films
Faith Review, An Unfinished Life by Star Crawford
Film Title: An Unfinished Life
Director: Lasse Hallstrom
Original release form/venue: Theatrical release
Current Availability and format: Available via online retailers in DVD form
Story elements: An Unfinished Life tells the story of a family torn apart by grief and loss. Einar Gilkyson is a broken man running a ranch in Wyoming with his long time friend, Mitch who was attacked by a bear one year earlier. Much like Einar and Mitch, the ranch is not what is once was. Everything changes when Einar’s estranged daughter in law, Gene, arrives with her 11 year old daughter Griff in tow. Mitch has never forgiven Gene for his son’s, death 11 years earlier. He also hasn’t forgiven himself for being too drunk to help Mitch during the bear attack. Gene, is also broken and running from an abusive boyfriend. She has not forgiven herself for the death of her husband, Griff and is stuck in the guilt and loss.
The story unfolds as Einar begins to form a bond with his grandfather, and the joy that comes from being able to move forward and re-enter life. While their relationship blossoms, Gene’s relationship with Einar is still in shambles as both are too stubborn and proud to forgive each other and let go of the past. Once trouble from the past arrives, Einar and Gene begin to move past some of their pain. The bear that attacked Mitch resurfaces in town, and instead of allowing Einar to kill her, Mitch has Einar take care of the bear. In doing this, Mitch shows Einar what true forgiveness and healing looks like, and in turn Einar opens his heart more to Griff and eventually Gene. Finally, when Gene’s old boyfriend arrives and threatens her, Einar comes to her defense and it is the beginning of a new start for them as a family.
The film shows the brokenness of humanity and how we live in and with that brokenness every day. It gives a shining example of the pain that comes with holding on to resentment and angry and the relief and freedom that forgiveness brings. An Unfinished Life even teaches us about family and what that means. The relationship between Mitch and Einar is one filled with love, respect, and frustration, but they are the closest family in the film. Hallstrom gives us and illustration of family can and should be, and shows how healing is possible in a family with time, understanding and love.
Film Language elements: The most important element is the characters. As with most of Hallstrom’s films, you are able to connect with the characters and feel their emotions with them. Another important element is the setting. The rustic backdrop of Wyoming allows all of the emotions to feel as raw as the surroundings. Einar is a simple man of few words, which is what one would expect from a cowboy, so when he begins to open up and show emotion, the audience can truly feel and see the changes happening to him.
Audience/Cultural context elements: The audience for this film is adults 18 and older. The film is rated PG-13, and it could be shown to teens, with parental permission. There is some adult language, and the abuse scenes should be handled with respect by the viewers and the facilitator.
Theology is found: Theology is found outside of the movie. We bring our beliefs about forgiveness, grace, and acceptance into conversation with the film.
Theological themes for conversation: How do we learn to forgive? What is our responsibility to our family? What is the church’s role in helping people mourn? How can we help see death as a friend?
Suggested use of film: This film would be great to use with teens to being the conversation about family relationship, forgiveness, even death. The film is not limited to teens, so these themes could be applied to all adult age groups. As with other Hallstrom films, because they are character driven, I believe it is important for the entire film to be shown.
Concluding or summary remarks: While the abuse storyline is the not the most prominent one in the film, it is important to not gloss over the issue. Some time should be devoted to topic. The difficult task will be incorporating this discussion into the other topics of family, forgiveness and healing. It would be powerful to have a conversation about what forgiveness can look like after abuse has occurred.