There are many things that can haunt the human mind.   The visions of past horrors, the loss of personal meaning, the pledges of future action can all become compulsive passions infecting our thoughts and behaviors.  Such compulsions can compel us to sacrifice even family and friends on the altar of our own instability.

       This truth, in all its disturbing reality is photographed by Sean Penn in his film “The Pledge.”

       The haunted soul is a retiring homicide detective in Reno, Nevada, named Detective Jerry Black (Jack Nicholson).

       Having sacrificed his two marriages on the altar of his profession, Detective Black is on the eve of his retirement, with only six hours to go, when he chooses to leave his retirement party and accompany his replacement to one last crime scene. This desperate act to hold onto his life unexpectedly becomes the event that consumes it.

       The murder victim is a beautiful ten year old girl who has been brutally raped and killed.  Obviously the work of a deranged person, the mother of the victim tragically forces Black to swear on her daughter’s hand-made cross that he will find her killer.

       The convergence of this pledge with the loss of his career and the emptiness of his soul creates a dangerous set of circumstances haunting Det. Black.  Rather than walking into his retirement with the satisfaction and peace of a well-lived life, Det. Black is haunted by the ghosts of present and past realities.

       This is often the experience of a troubled and foolish soul. 

       When we live for career and divorce ourselves from those who could have loved us, living increasingly solitary lives, we are vulnerable to unbalanced thinking and superstitious compulsions.

       Having pledged his eternal soul to find the killer of this grieving mother’s daughter, Det. Black moves to the area of the murders and, seemingly without conscious choice, creates the opportunity to catch the killer.

       An avid fisherman, Det. Black purchases a gas station in the area of the murders and waits for the killer to bite.  What is disturbing about this is not just his willingness to use his life savings to purchase a business that will never produce, and not just that he gives up his retirement plans of fishing, but also that Black unconsciously manipulates the lives of a young girl and her mother to become the bait for his biggest catch.

       This is the most disturbing aspect of his foolish life.  Unable to actually return the love of a beautiful young girl and her vulnerable mother, Black instead buys a new swing and places the girl in a red dress by the side of the road.  There is no way the serial killer could miss the opportunity.

       Though we won’t reveal the outcome of the drama, or the twists to the plot, the underlying message is clear.  The difference between persons of wise faith, who love and protect those in their lives, and persons of foolish superstition, whose compulsive pledges put their loved ones in danger, is the difference between fulfilled lives and empty ones.

       Though “The Pledge” doesn’t explain how Det. Black became such an empty soul, we are nevertheless clearly shown how such a person is vulnerable to spiritual foolishness.  Empty souls often try to fill the void with substances or superstitions.  Such withdrawal from God often produces this kind of compulsive isolation which destroys not only ourselves but those we love.

Posted on June 1, 2011 and filed under 3 STARS, CHALLENGING.