Boy, this was fun… and touching too. I could relate to this film in many ways. When I was ten years old, our family bought a VCR and video camera exactly like the one used in the movie. It was bulky and needed to be connected to the VCR, which hung on a shoulder strap. With that camera, my brothers, cousins, friends, and I made multitudes of horror movies, commercials, variety shows, and music videos. I even played Rambo in one of them! I had never seen the actual Rambo movies, but I heard enough from my classmates on the playground to know they somehow struck a chord in the culture. Since I still haven’t seen the original, I can’t really say if Rambo: First Blood can be qualified as great art or great filmmaking. But what I do know is that Son of Rambow reminded me that it’s possible for any art or any film, even the most unlikely of them, to have the power to heal, inspire, and break through darkness.
There were two major sequences that really struck me in Son of Rambow. The first one was after young, timid William Proudfoot experiences his first viewing of Rambo: First Blood. It’s interesting to note that he watches it from within the safety of a boat (or “ark”) suspended from the ceiling… it’s kind of like a cocoon or a womb of sorts, not entirely stable and precariously hanging in mid-air, and could possibly crash at any moment. It’s kind of a metaphor for his life until he is re-born from it. His new friend Lee Carter returns to find the boat empty, as William has just experienced a moment of revelation and emerged from the boat, running through a field to let his imagination run wild! For William, the medium of a film on television, both vessels to which he is forbidden to expose himself, opens up a whole new world for him. Though it gives him nightmares at first, before too long he discovers a way to bring his drawings and flipbooks to a whole new level of creative inspiration and expression. What’s even more important is that by freeing his imagination, William has a creative way to vent his feelings about losing his father and confronting his fears. It may be a cheesy ’80s action movie, but it is setting him free.
The other scene comes later in the film, when we discover a similar revelatory experience with William’s own mother Mary. She tells him a tale about how her soul was touched by a hymn coming from a shop window. She buys a record player and a copy of the song to allow her to re-live it again and again… only to have it burned and destroyed by the religious establishment William is being raised under. I found this truly heartbreaking.
I couldn’t help but feel disappointed by the depiction of “religion” in the film as being restrictive rather than allowing itself to be liberating. The disappointment comes from the fact that, in some cases, in reality this can ring true for many people. The character of Brother Joshua says he wants to be a “father figure” to William, but his true intentions are dodgy and likely dishonest. It is suggested that he is merely attracted to Mary, or simply wishes to dominate her and her entire family with his rigid belief system. He seems more interested in maintaining an isolated existence from those whom he labels “outsiders” and relying only on “what the Scripture says” about life. Were he to become an actual step-father to William, would he actually take an interest in what William is passionate about, which is art and creativity? Or would he be more likely to mold him into what he thinks is proper and decent, based solely on what the Good Book says? I obviously have nothing against the Good Book, but I also have much less against finding out whatever moves people to become inspired and help them to heal… even if it’s an ’80s action movie.
If only those quick to put the wonders of life into a legalistic, defined box would realize the power of creativity to inspire the soul! If only the Church could be depicted as a place that looks not only to Scripture but also outside the box to search for revelation and inspiration! Truth, inspiration, healing, and even steps towards God can be found in the most unlikely of places and people, if only we would try to look closer for it.