The Eighth Day
Not rated; would be PG for some gestures. In French with subtitles.
I had no clue what this film was about before the press screening, but told a friend that from the title, "it sounds Orthodox." Orthodox theology refers often to the eighth day. It's the day after the creation was completed and after God had finished His rest. On the eighth day He added one more thing to creation: redemption. Through resurrection He won the victory over death. The eighth day is the beginning of eternity; of new life in the eternal present, in this ancient Christian worldview. And it's pretty close to that in this movie, too.
Belgian film-maker Jaco Van Dormael (Toto the Hero) has created as his second film a story of two worlds; the workaday world most of us experience and as it's experienced here by Harry (Daniel Auteuil) the driven bank executive, and the world of those who have no workaday life, portrayed here by people with Down's syndrome in general and by Georges (Pascal Duquenne) in particular.
Though he isn't sure of it, Harry's life is in a shambles. He is an expert at inspiring the bank's staff people to present themselves in very positive lights as salespeople. "We're all in sales," he tells them. "Smile," and it had better be a genuine smile. "Be confident. Project success." But in his personal life he projects none of these. His wife and children have left him and don't want to speak to him. After trying to shoot himself unsuccessfully with his daughter's toy gun, he decides to drive with his eyes shut until it's all over, and that's when his redeemer steps in.
Georges, who has taken leave of the care facility where he lives with other Down's syndrome people, is Harry's redeemer, but it's Georges' dog who gives up his life to save Harry. The jolt when the dog's body bounces off his windshield forces Harry back to life. When he gets out to look at the damage he's done in killing the dog, he meets Georges, and they're together through the rest of the film. Despite his low IQ, Georges has a lot of insight into life and meaning and purpose. No, the film isn't saying as one cynic deduced that "slow people are morally superior." But it is saying a great deal about the choices we all make in life, especially the choice Georges' mother made to love and care for him, and in the end the choices Harry makes.
Several reviewers have found shades of Rain Man here. That, too, is barking up the wrong tree. This film's antecedents are King of Hearts, with Alan Bates as the leader of an asylum full of mental patients who take over a French town when its residents go into hiding from Nazi troops, and the still-current Sling Blade. But it's bettermuch easier to followthan King of Hearts and almost as morally poignant as Sling Blade. I asked a while back for nominations of movies for a "Christian film festival"; this would definitely be one, and one the whole family could see.
Photo © by the film's distributor
© 1997, Jon Kennedy