On the recommendation of a parishioner, I recently watched the Swedish movie, “A Man Called Ove” – based on the 2013 novel by the same name written by Fredrik Backman. It is a very thoughtful and uplifting film and probably one of the most pro-life films I have ever seen.
The film tells the story of the widower Ove who daily visits his beloved wife’s grave and who is lost in grief. Ove has become the grouchy, old man of his neighborhood – barking at people and living an isolated existence. Wanting to end it all and be with his wife again he comedically attempts suicide in different ways but keeps getting interrupted in the act. The movie poster has the short quip, “Misery hates company” and this is at the heart of the story. Uninvited, community keeps knocking at Ove’s door and community is what saves him and heals his pain ultimately. Community comes in the form of a new and loud young family moving in next door, a young man who was a student of Ove’s late wife and his gay friend, a stray cat and a now-paralyzed old friend of Ove’s to whom he must make amends.
As the movie unfolds we learn Ove’s story and learn that he is much more than just an angry, old man. He was a beloved son who experienced great tragedy. He was a young man who met and fell in love with a girl. The young couple had the hope of a child which was tragically taken away in an accident leaving the wife in a wheelchair, yet they persevered. Ove is a man with an amazing life and story. Bit by bit, we learn his story and see him for who he really is – a good man with a big and courageous heart.
A truth that I walked away with from this film is that to truly be pro-life means one must also be pro-community because it is in community where life is found and experienced in all its beauty. The film is chock full of pro-life moments and they are all wrapped in community – the promise of new life found in pregnancy as well as the pain of that life being taken away, the dignity of the disabled person as well as the dignity of the immigrant, the elderly and the person who is different from us, the danger of social isolation which can be going on right in front of our eyes and we don’t even notice, the possibility of youth and the need to encourage the dreams of the young as well as the life-changing gift of the teacher. Gratitude for the sheer gift of life. All of these find expression in the story and they are all poignantly nuanced within community.
The film “A Man Called Ove” is a story full of life and it is a story that challenges us (just as life does) to move out of self and isolation into community. The story gets beyond all the pat phrases, slogans and often hollow clamor of the culture wars and takes the viewer into the real stuff of life and because of its willingness to “go there”, it rings authentic.
Misery does hate company. There is truth in this. True community heals, even as it challenges and unsettles. To be pro-life and be authentic about it means we also must be willing to risk being pro-community even in all of community’s sometimes messiness and imperfection.
There is something very incarnational, very true and very Christian about the pro-community connection to being pro-life.