Wildcat– A Remarkable Film about Flannery O’Connor

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Of the great Southern fiction writers of her era, including Faulkner, Tennessee Williams,  Walker Percy, and numerous others, Flannery O’Connor was not only the greatest woman writer of that genre, but the greatest clearly Christian one as well.  Try as she might to write the novel Wise Blood, what she was really amazing at was writing short stories like ‘A Good Man is Hard to Find’, or ‘Parker’s Back’, or ‘Everything that Rises must Converge’, or most hilariously ‘A Temple of the Holy Ghost’.  Her stories were always deep and probing, often violent and disturbing, but also an exploration of grace, in its many and variegated forms.  Growing up Catholic in the strongly Protestant part of the South in Georgia. She was born in Savannah in 1925 and died in 1964, suffering many years with lupus, something that took her father too early as well.  Here she is as an adult—

Thus, Flannery grew up during the great Depression, in segregationist indeed racist territory, and as a Catholic, not even the right kind of Christian in the minds of many of her fellow Georgians.  She did not live to see the success of the civil rights movement. To say it was an uphill battle to write as a woman in that whole ethos. Yet grace was constantly in her prayers and in her stories in various surprising ways.

Ethan Hawke’s remarkable movie, which stars his daughter Maya as Flannery and an incandescent Laura Linney as her mother, with a wonderful cameo by Liam Neeson as a Catholic priest,  has acting of the highest caliber.  It was no small feat for Maya and Laura to play not only the main characters in the biopic part of the film, but many other roles in the excerpts from various of Flannery’s stories.  This film has a remarkable back and forth between story excerpts, and life of Flannery excerpts, and to be honest, if you not read any of the stories, you may be excused for not always being able to follow which is fictional story and which biography with the two lead characters playing constant parts in both sections of the film.   The film had its debut here in Lexington, having been filmed in Louisville and here in mid-April and is now in theaters.  It is an hour and 43 minutes, and one could have wished for more, but Ethan Hawke knew what he was doing when he spliced these things together so that art imitates life, and life imitates art.   In an era when Christians don’t often get positive  and poignant portrayals in films, this film is an exception, and I hope many get to see, and then to read her incredible short stories, especially the ones I listed above.   When asked if writing came naturally or easily for her Flannery says– ‘well it’s like giving birth to a piano sideways’, and sure enough the stories that emerge are sideways glimpses of life in the old post Reconstruction South, and how one Christian managed to see grace at work in herself, and in her world.   Since she is depicted as reading Thomas Merton’s Seven Story Mountain,   and like him was a Catholic mystic (Merton at Gethsemane Abbey near Bardstown) I will tell you there are more than seven good stories in her collection and in this one film.

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