Love, Mercy, and the Struggle of Living

Brian Wilson

We’re excited to welcome Doug Floyd to the Foundling House family! Doug is the Assistant Rector at Apostles Anglican in Knoxville, and it is our hope that he will open the language and beauty of cinema to our little community. He loves films that rarely make the summer blockbuster lineup and frequents the oft-neglected art house theater on the west side of town. Also, he’s a reader of Orson Scott Card, so of course we snatched him up immediately.

How can we discover glimpses of beauty in a broken world? As the film Love and Mercy explores the life of The Beach Boys’ Brian Wilson, it immerses viewers into a world of creative surprise and disintegrating anguish. The lens focuses our attention on two periods of Brian’s life, his ascent and descent in the 1960s and his torment and renewed hope in the 1980s. In these brief glimpses, we feel the wonder and magic of Brian’s inner life as well as the loneliness and anguish.

The film literally sparkles with surprise as the screens fills with images of Brian’s marvelous creative drive. The young musician continually pursues the ever-changing musical score ringing in his ears. Brian’s engagement with the studio musicians is electric, eccentric and at times downright hilarious. As he thinks and experiments out loud, the studio scenes develop from few voices singing harmony and instruments playing parts to a room pulsating with barking dogs, jingle bells, train sounds and, eventually, Brian and the team with fireman hats and sparklers.

At another point, Brian dismisses the musicians for the day because the vibrations in the room are all wrong. The bad vibrations echo in his mind and imagination. In the middle of a celebration, the young Brian leaves a dinner party in a state of anguish because the normal dinner sounds rattle through his brain and leave him unnerved. These bad vibrations echo in his relations with his father, his disintegrating relation with Mike Love, and eventually even in his abandonment of his wife and family in a drug induced stupor.

As we watch the highs and lows of the young Brian, we see the lows and highs of the older Brian. The stooping, aging Brian walks into a Cadillac dealer and asks the saleswoman to show him a car. Sitting with her inside the locked car on the showroom floor, Brian writes “Lonely. Scared. Frightened.” on her business card. She agrees to go on a date with Brian and steps into his world of loneliness and trauma under the controlling grip of his therapist. Instead of walking away from the messiness of his existence, she steps in as a light of hope.

Just as his musical creations reveal the rhythms of beauty in sound, her kindness reveals a different beauty, an unexplained mercy, an act of love. This is a not a panacea for Brian’s mental illness, but it is a gentle grace. In world where suffering continues, these gentles graces glimmer with hint of another love.

Love and Mercy shines brightly even as it peers into the dark shadows of human pain and confusion. It does not offer solutions to broken human relations or thin answers about a link between brokenness and creativity. Rather, it fills the screen and the imagination with both the joys and sorrows of Brian’s life in youth and middle age. We leave feeling the deep pains of human anguish but also tasting the beauty of faithful love.

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