Walk The Line Feature
—2. Overview Basic (dial up speed)
—3. Reviews and Blogs
—4. Cast and Crew
—5. Photo Pages
—6. Trailers, Clips, DVDs, Books, Soundtrack
—7. Posters (Joaquin Phoenix)
—8. Production Notes (pdf)
—9. Spiritual Connections
—10. Presentation Downloads
There's just something about Johnny Cash. Most people can't put their finger on it. After the screening of the film, a young college writer was asked what it was that people of his generation admired about Johnny Cash. He said it was probalby that famous photograph of Johnny flipping off the camera. And also that he collaborated with some edgy, alternative, non-christian musicians near the end of his life. Do you think this is how Johnny Cash would want to be remembered? I say with resounding confidence, yes.
Director James Mangold and co-writer Gill Dennis did an incredible job showing Johnny Cash's authenticity throughout every stage of his life. Cash was transparent, and he was who he was at every moment he was alive. He didn't pretend to be something he was not. He didn't really have to pretend. Mangold, who worked with John on the film for several years, said, "There was something deeply human and humble about him, and at the same time something so magical."
As a young man, Cash (Joaquin Phoenix) and his friends went on tour together. Tyler Hilton, who played Elvis, commented, "I really want people to see this movie and not see Elvis and Jerry Lee Lewis, and not Johnny Cash. I think that part of the movie's supposed to be, 'Wow, these people are kids. They're kids! They don't know what they're doing, blowing up trees and talking about girls.'"
From his interview at Sun records to the touring days, John's journey through life meant living each moment and growing as a person. Mangold commented, "John finds himself creatively in the course of the movie...it's not like he was touched by God and everything he sings or does is genius. He's someone who's stumbling into greatness. That's part of what made John so appealing to so many people was that he didn't seem like he was from another planet." Joaquin Phoenix also commented, "The power of John's music is a real sense of intimacy. You always feel like you're in the room with him...and we don't see that anymore."
But soon John's life took a turn for the worse. Instead of hiding away, he wrestled with his issues through music. Mangold said, "John is a storyteller. His lyrics, what these songs were about on a character level was so profoundly about himself, that I needed to see these songs being born out of his emotions not just his talent." Well, Mangold accomplished his task. Throughout the entire movie, I could see a song emerging from every event or struggle in his life.
June Carter seemed to be struggling alongside him in the movie, though in different circumstances. She was a woman who broke all the rules in a time when rules weren't allowed to be broken. The film depicts her struggle but also illuminates the way her faith carried her through. And at a pivotal point in John's life, she carried the same message to him. Reese Witherspoon, who plays June, said, "There's a lot of stuff that happened to them. I mean, he had near death experiences and all sorts of stuff happened in his life. This is a very small part of what established his faith. I think June brought a lot of Christianity into his life and and brought him to church."
The Johnny Cash that emerged from those trials was profoundly insightful and full of passion. He was also full of strife. Mangold explained his version of what happened, "The other aspect I really wanted to make sure we got in the film was his taming of his own demons and his finding of his own love and finding peace in his own life. Integral with that was finding the reins of his own creativity as well, and learning to control almost this river of darkness that he had been riding and corral it in some way." Though John may have tamed his demons, he never let them far from him. In the true spirit of a conqueror, he practiced the principle of keeping his friends close and his enemies closer. His perpetual awareness of sin in his life prevented him from letting it overtake him. Mangold said, "You know, everyone thinks he was born the man in black, but in a way, the identity that developed of this man in black was...also a way of actually taking control and owning himself. And making it something he was in charge of as opposed to something that was running him."
Though his Christian faith was not discussed in the interviews as much as would be convenient for this article, anyone will tell you that his faith in Christ changed his life. The forgiveness he received from God transformed him. It gave him power to tame the demons of depression, addiction and failure. No longer fearing sin's power over him, he was free to love people and to understand sin on a different level. Joaquin Phoenix told this story about his dinner with Johnny Cash. He said, "But then having experienced...what was really, truly a profound sense of love [between John and June], then moments later him quoting to me my most sadistic dialogue in Gladiator, saying it was his favorite part of the movie, kind of encapsulated Johnny Cash to me - those kind of two separate forces that lived equally inside of him." Anyone who knew John would say the same thing. He was both completely devoted to God in his faith and yet highly aware of his sin nature.
Throughout the remainder of his life, Johnny Cash remained approachable, semi-rebellious, and honest about his trials. He remained authentic in every way. This quote from James Mangold pretty much sums up the singer, teacher, evangelist that Johnny Cash was and still is today, even after his passing:
"The contradictions are really interesting that he so admired his brother, and his brother wanted to be a preacher...His brother was such a good boy, religious, obeying his dad, working so hard, so much more focused on his studies. But, with no tarnishing the memory of Jack Cash (who died at the age of 12), I believe that John became twice to a hundred times the preacher that his older brother would have become. And that it's not like John Cash is the one you'd recommend to somebody, but that he knew what sin was and he knew what mistakes felt like and he knew what it was to forgive.
...The part of John's life we were telling the story about is the part where he pushed God away. And really, God starts coming back to him, as did belief in love and life and living and art at the point the movie ends...A man who's lost, taking pills and trying to destroy himself, is not a man who you can easily just stick in a seed of faith. Because that is his period of pushing goodness away from himself, because he can't either accept it, feel worthy of it, or he doesn't believe in it. But that journey made him in a way not only fulfilling his own destiny, but in a way picking up his brother's. That still gives me chills."