For people in the middle of some trouble, trauma, or grief, the light at the end of the tunnel can appear very dim or non-existent. On the other side of the hurricane, though the damage remains to one degree or another, it can be hard to remember the full reality of that particular time (at least until something triggers the emotions again in a similar way). In the midst of all the lingering effects of various degrees of trauma, healing is an open question. Can these wounds be healed? How and where? By whom? Those questions are at least part of what the films The Way Back and Driveways are exploring.
The Way Back (2020; Redbox, or for rent on Amazon Prime) plays like a “based on a true story” sports movie. It follows Jake Cunningham (Ben Affleck, who, apparently, got out of rehab right before filming began) as he tries to find his “way back” from alcoholism. The deeper reason for his self-destructive behavior, and the reason why he’s separated from his wife, are revealed later in the film.
Driveways (2019; free on Hoopla [through your library], or for rent on Amazon Prime) focuses on Kathy, a single mom, and her son Cody, who find themselves responsible for cleaning out and selling Kathy’s estranged sister’s house after the sister’s death. The sister’s house is next to the house of an elderly veteran, Del, who is still mourning the death of his wife.
These are obviously different movies, but the theme of healing runs through both of them. In The Way Back, the title is uncertain. After the priest at Jack’s Roman Catholic high school asks him to coach the basketball team (which hasn’t been back to the playoffs since Jack played), it seems like coaching is going to be “the way back.” But I appreciate that the movie doesn’t treat this as a cure-all for Jack’s problems. Coaching allows him to fight with the symptom of his alcoholism, but in some ways it serves as a different means by which he can avoid dealing with the real issue that manifests in his black-out drinking. The ending is optimistic, but not certain about where Jack will go from there—as are many moments in life, I suppose.
[MINOR SPOILERS AHEAD]
Driveways is more prosaic, perhaps, but it subtly asks big questions about what makes a good life. Whether it answers those questions in a satisfactory way (for me, at least) is another issue, but it, too, ends on an optimistic note. In the film’s final conversation between Cody and Del, Del tries to make it clear to Cody that he should take his time and enjoy the good moments of life. Cody says, “Yeah,” and then, in the next scene, he’s off to play with his friends.
For me, this illustrates the paradox of finding enjoyment in life: if we are always checking to see if we’re taking our time to enjoy what’s happening, we won’t be able to actually enjoy it. On the other hand, it is when we are least aware of enjoying our time that we most enjoy it. Del has regrets about not appreciating things more in the moments when they were happening, but it could hardly be otherwise with age. Cody hears what Del has to say, but the young don’t worry about whether they are giving each moment its due; they simply enjoy life for what it is. Parents whose children are grown often encourage parents with young children to enjoy each moment, but in the moment itself it is nearly impossible both to enjoy the moment, and to focus on whether or not one is enjoying it.
Healing of trauma and grief come in different ways in these movies, but in both they come primarily through other people, and from unexpected places. (Incidentally, this is something I’ve noticed far more in the time of corona: how significant and necessary human interaction is. And that often involves a risk on the part of one or the other individuals, especially in our over-politicized time. But isolation, whether for Jack Cunningham or April, Kathy’s sister, is more destructive than we had realized before we were forced to realize it.)
However, as the Christian knows, finally even family and meaning do not heal the deepest wounds or the trauma of events that cannot be undone. In the best circumstances, we learn how to live with those events. The Christian hope in the resurrection is the only thing I know that promises actually to undo everything that has gone irretrievably wrong in this creation. But both of these movies suggest a way forward as far as healing temporally, which is no small thing in a world of wounded people.