FOUR STARS - Powerful
“The Spitfire Grill” is cinema at its finest. In this masterfully told tale, we travel a journey with people who could be our mother, sister, brother, son.
Their experiences are shared with such simple insight that we soon forget they are creations of fiction. Instead they become people woven into the fabric of our own experience.
The complexity of the themes of the film mirror the complexity of our lives. Life, death, sorrow, hope, discovery, loss, betrayal, loyalty, chance, confession, forgiveness, loneliness, and love are all genuinely presented.
The central character is a young woman whose life has guarded a grieving wound. Imprisoned for manslaughter, Perchance (Percy) Talbot has the dream of a new life: a life in which she can find a place safe enough to heal her wound.
Her choice is Gilead in the beautiful hills of Maine. Like the Biblical city of the same name which was known for its healing balm, Percy is seeking a place with people who will love her and give her a chance to begin again.
Under the care of the local Sheriff responsible for her parole, she becomes the live-in waitress for Hannah (Ellen Burstyn). Hannah is the owner of the only restaurant in town called the “Spitfire Grill.”
This is the first step of her healing as she comes under a mother’s care. But what creates such depth in the film is that this also begins the healing of Hannah.
Like the Hannah of the Bible, who was barren and prayed for a son, and was given Samuel only to give him up again, Hannah of Gilead is also grieving a son.
Though the story is beautifully woven, it would ruin the intrigue and the unexpected turns of the tale to share the details of her wound. But her sorrow is touched as she begins to love Percy.
In their struggling and guarded attempts to love, we identify with them and feel their bond. In a wonderful statement of the reason why healing is so difficult, Percy asks Hannah a question as she puts a balm on her broken leg. She asks, “Do you suppose there are wounds which go so deep the healing of them hurts as much as the wounding?”
This strikes a chord in all of us. Intuitively we know that there are some things we experience which so injure our souls, that we cannot bear to even acknowledge the wound. To do so is far too painful. So we deny its existence, guarding it day and night against discovery, and wearying of its care.
But healing requires that we cease our denial and reopen the wound. The infection of wounds of the soul prematurely sealed over are toxic to the entire being of the person. Only love has the power to sustain the person during the healing of such wounds.
Following the Biblical symbolism, the story also has a judgmental presence in the nephew of Hannah, named Nahum.
In the Bible Nahum is the minor prophet whose book in the Old Testament is a judgment against the city of Ninevah. Nahum of old ends his message to the people by saying: “Nothing can heal your wound; your injury is fatal...” (3:19)
Nahum of Gilead repeatedly proclaims a similar message to Hannah about Percy. He does not believe she can change and be healed.
But again, what creates the depth of this film is that even Nahum’s lack of faith in Percy to find healing eventually is used to bring about a humbling and a healing of his own arrogance and lack of love.
Symbolic of the people’s restelessness in the beginning of the film is that Gilead had one church which was closed due to economic reasons. The void felt in a town without a place to nourish their faith is powerfully corrected at the end of the film due to circumstances surrounding Percy’s life.
This new beginning for the town is emotionally reinforced in the closing scenes as the town joins together in its ministry to another hurting soul who comes with her son to find a new life.
The sorrows and wounds of our lives are deeply felt. The heart cries out for the chance to begin again and find healing for our souls.
The old hymn states it this way: “There is a balm in Gilead, to heal the sin-sick soul. There is a balm in Gilead to make the wounded whole.” We experience that healing balm in the caring lives of people willing to open their hearts to others in need of a new chance to begin again.