Release Date: August 19, 2010
I am daunted every time I witness a mother’s love. I don’t mean the sort of general affection that is perpetually ready with a snack in one hand and a moistened towelette in the other. No, I refer to that peculiar sense of devotion that awakes in the middle of the night to clean up vomit without complaint, that continues to serve green vegetables despite the abuse heaped upon them, or is prepared to spend hours shaking coloured blocks because it benefits and amuses a baby. When I see that sort of enduring commitment expressed by faulted human beings, my criticisms usually die a quick death. As the new Australian film Matching Jack ably conveys, ‘a mother’s love’ may sound clichéd but that is only because we all recognize its power when we see it.
Matching Jack tells the story of middle-aged Marissa, the mother of 12-year-old Jack, who discovers her son’s leukemia and her husband’s serial adultery on the same day. Marissa, played by Jacinda Barrett, has to put aside her personal pain to concentrate on the well being of her son. When it becomes clear that only a sibling’s bone marrow will be able to save his life, Marissa even sacrifices her self-esteem to go door-knocking her husband’s former lovers in the hope that his infidelity produced a love-child.
Matching Jack premiered at the Melbourne Film Festival on August 19, followed by a national release that is sure to draw the attention of fans of Australian film. This is not another bleak drama set in Struggle Street. Matching Jack casts a spotlight on the outwardly perfect lives of Australia’s upwardly mobile, revealing that pain and personal transformation are not the prerogative of the poor. “It’s not about the leukemia,” director Nadia Tass told reviewers at a Sydney screening. “It’s a woman’s journey of change. It’s a story about the change that happens to everyone that surrounds this boy.”
The change that challenged me most was the way parents and patients coped with the inevitable approach of death. In hospital Jack makes friends with the terminally ill Finn and his father Connor, played by Irish standout James Nesbitt. Connor fans the flames of Finn’s hopes at every point, transforming his hospital bed into a sailboat and talking the trips they will take on his yacht. He bolsters his son with mystic New Age chants and mythological tales of the Celtic afterlife, and when they fail to raise his spirits he concentrates on the knots and signals Finn will have to learn for their coming voyage. Marissa thinks that Connor is failing to take their sons’ situations seriously:
Marissa: “Think about it Connor. Playing Cat’s Cradle isn’t going to help our kids.
Connor: “Maybe, but there’s more to beating this vile disease than medicine. When the spirit dies, so does the flesh. That won’t be happening to my boy.”
Matching Jack puts real faith in the need to preserve our spiritual as well as physical health. However it highlights how ill-prepared we are as the citizens of a post-modern age to pass on any real spiritual support. Nesbitt’s character assembles a threadbare covering of competing philosophies, and when his son finally dies they provide little comfort to Connor or his audience. This was why at times I struggled with Matching Jack. Though emotionally rewarding, it consistently pushed everything spiritual into the realm of the purely personal. If Connor chose to feed his dying son tales of the magical land of Tír na nÓg, and that worked for them, then all well and good. But disconnecting this real side of our nature from the real world leaves parents ill-equipped to cope their children’s real questions:
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Jack: “And kids who are friends – when they die, are they still friends in Heaven?”
Marissa: “No one really knows for sure.”
No? God displayed the extent of his love for the children of his creation in real time so that we could know. Verifiable history records Jesus claiming to be his son and offering his life so that we might have a hope in the world to come. The same accounts record a woman crying out how blessed people would be if they could benefit from the mother’s love Jesus must have enjoyed. Jesus appreciated but was not overpowered by the sentiment:
“He replied, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it.”