THE MAN WITHOUT A PAST has gotten rave reviews and won kudos at the Cannes Film Festival last year. This is surprising for two reasons. One, it is almost like a home movie, although it is very winsome. Two, it is unabashedly pro-Christian and pro-Salvation Army.
The movie opens on a train with a man rolling a cigarette. He gets off in Helsinki, walks to a park bench and falls asleep on his suitcase. Three gang members come up and take CLOCKWORK ORANGE like pleasure in beating him to a pulp with a steel rod while kicking him with their boots. Somehow he struggles back into the train station, and the washroom attendant calls an ambulance.
The doctor in the hospital thinks that he’s dead. The EKG shows no signs of life, but after a few minutes, the man gets up, straightens his broken nose and walks down to the water, where he collapses. To add insult to injury, an old vagrant steals his boots. Two boys find him and take him back to their mother and father, who live in a metal shipping container on the edge of the water. This is a sparse community of homeless people.
The mother nurses him back to health, but when he finally speaks, he admits that he knows nothing about his past. This of course means that he can’t get a job, rent a shipping container from the local thug, who runs the homeless community, or open a bank account.
The Salvation Army, however, gives him a clean set of clothes and a job. He starts to fall for one of the women in the SA. They develop a kind and gentle friendship.
When he goes to open a bank account, a bank robber holds him up as well as the teller in the bank. After the robbery, the police throw him in jail for refusing to give his name and social security number. The Salvation Army attorney gets him out.
The police report locates his wife. He leaves his beloved Salvation Army worker and heads north to go back home, where he finds that his wife has divorced him. Evidently, he was a very prosperous metal worker with a beautiful home. He forgives his wife and heads back to the vagrant community in Helsinki.
There’s a lot happening in THE MAN WITHOUT A PAST. It reveals a country that has forgotten its Christian heritage. It overtly presents an allegory of a man who has to die to self. The old man was mean and violent. The new man is kind and gentle. Overt references to Jesus, to God’s mercy and God’s love continue throughout the movie.
There seems to be a glossing over of God’s justice, though at the end the gang that beat the man without a past up gets their comeuppance. There’s the suggestion that his relationship with the Salvation Army worker may have gone beyond a kiss, but nothing is shown, and, at the end, he proposes to her.
THE MAN WITHOUT A PAST has some very funny scenes in it, especially when the thug who runs the homeless community tells his dog Hannibal to attack the man without a past, and the dog just lies down on the man’s bed. There are also some very poignant moments, especially when he tries to teach the Salvation Army band how to play rock and roll so they can become more relevant. There’s no foul language, but there is intense violence when the man is beaten by the gang and later when the gang beats up another vagrant.
This movie is almost a Dogme film in its simplicity. It is clearly made on a low budget. There are a few obvious script problems, and a few moments when the characters don’t know what to do.
However, THE MAN WITHOUT A PAST is so heartwarming and winsome, captivating and unique that it has drawn rave reviews from a broad spectrum of critics. What a joy it is to see the Gospel proclaimed and Christians commended in such a wonderful way.
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Michael Barker, Tom Bernard & Marcie Bloom
Sony Pictures Classics
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(CC, VV, A, D, M) Strong Christian worldview on both an allegorical and an overt level, with a positive portrait of the Salvation Army; no foul language; strong violence including gang beats a man unconscious, blood drips from man as he tries to make it into a train station washroom and another horrendous beating toward the end of the movie, bank robber with shotgun locks teller and protagonist in vault; one kiss; social drinking and man drinks beer to get drunk; constant smoking; and, pictures of poverty, homelessness and stealing.