For an explanation of "Cinema Divina" click here. For our review of "The Florida Project" click here.
Cinema Divina reflections on "The Florida Project."
Lectio: A reading from the First Letter of John (1 John 3: 16-20)
This is how we came to know love – he [Jesus] laid down his life for us; we too should lay down our lives for our brothers. Whoever has worldly goods and sees a brother in need but closes his heart to him – how can love for God remain in him? My children, let’s not love in word or speech alone but in actions and truth. This is how we’ll know that we’re of the truth and will reassure our hearts before him when our hearts condemn us, because God is greater than our hearts and He knows everything.
I love this Scripture passage because, usually, when we think of faith and works together, we often think of the Letter of St. James. In the Letter of John, faith and action coming together are the result of a heart open to God and our poor brothers and sisters. This really made me think of the character of Bobby in "The Florida Project." When I first saw this film last year, at the end I was a little angry at Halley. It seemed like she took no positive action to better the situation for herself and Moonee. I've watched the film again since then and I really latched onto Bobby. Bobby, played brilliantly by Willem Dafoe (he actually received an Oscar nomination for this role), seemed to me to be the embodiment of compassion, the kind of compassion that St. John calls for in his letter.
Bobby had a job to do - to the manager of a motel and all that entails. But because his motel was home to those living on the fringes of homelessness, paying rent week-by-week, he became much more than just a manager to them. He was a quasi father-figure to Moonee, Scooty, and Jancey, trying to get them to take responsibility for their actions by following the rules. Yet, when they disobeyed those rules, his scolding took place with a twinkle in his eye, frustrated and amused at the same time by the antics of the kids.
I have two favorite scenes involving Bobby. The first is when Halley and Moonee had to leave the hotel for one night so that they didn't establish residency which was definitely against the rules. He helped them pack all their meager belongings into old laundry baskets and helped carry them to a storage closet for overnight safekeeping. Then, when new proprietors of the neighboring motel where they stayed on that off-night raised the price, Bobby negotiated on their behalf. He didn't have to do that but he truly cared about the people in the motel so he went out of his way to help them.
The second scene is when the child services people come to talk to Halley. A lot of yelling happens between Halley and the women but Bobby takes Moonee down the corridor so she does not witness her mother's strife. He stays with Moonee, doing his best to comfort her and shield her from the ugliness of her mother's life. Halley loves Moonee in her own way and Moonee loves Halley, but through childhood innocence, she doesn't understand Halley's irresponsibility. Bobby, in his seemingly infinite compassion, tries to be a buffer for Moonee when things get bad with Halley.
This movie really challenged me to look at my own compassion. I could use some more. I live in New York City and see homeless people on the street all the time. Their situation sometimes embarrasses me and I don't really know how to relate to them. Usually, I always try to smile and say hello but sometimes I avert my eyes, not knowing what to do to help. The way Bobby showed care and compassion in this movie is something I want to emulate.
My prayer after watching this film again is for all the real-life people like Halley and Moonee who live from week-to-week in low-rent motels. It's not a living situation I understand, but I don't have to understand in order to have care and compassion. Lord Jesus, cover all these people with your love and send "angels" to help provide for their most basic needs.
I just spend a few moments in quiet contemplation, relishing the experience of reflecting on film and Scripture. I carry in my heart all the Halley's and Moonee's of the world.
Seeing how Bobby treated the people at the motel really inspires me to treat everyone I meet, whether they are homeless or not, with respect and dignity. I try to do that anyway, but I want to make a better effort. My action for this Cinema Divina reflection is to really pay attention to people the next time I make my way around New York City. I want to notice those in need and acknowledge them as the children of God that they are, giving them my respect and attention. I may not be able to do much to help them monetarily, but I can always be kind and compassionate. Like Bobby was.
Lord Jesus, help us to remember that we are all poor in some way. Grant us to grace to reach out in love to those who are on the margins of society, especially the materially poor. Fill our hearts with compassion and let that compassion overflow in actions, for we know you, Lord, care for all of us. Amen.