"Postmodern Drama with a Pinch of Redemption"
What You Need To Know:
The New Zealand cinematography in JUNIPER is breathtaking. The writing, impressionistic storytelling, and compact running time make JUNIPER powerful in ways other similar movies are not. JUNIPER has some positive Christian, redemptive content and references. It concludes life is beautiful and worth living. Ultimate meaning in God and Jesus, however, still seems out of reach for the characters. JUNIPER has strong foul language, scenes of drunkenness and contemplation of suicide, and brief lewd content. So, MOVIEGUIDE® advises extreme caution.
JUNIPER is a New Zealand drama that tells the bittersweet story of an unlikely relationship which blooms between a suicidal 17-year-old and his grandmother after the man’s father reluctantly takes in his mother, whose self-destructive nature matches that of her grandson’s, but who may ironically come to be the key to the teenager’s reclamation. JUNIPER has some powerful, intense, uplifting moments, with some positive Christian, redemptive content that concludes life is beautiful and worth living, but ultimate meaning in God and Jesus still seems out of reach for the characters, and the movie has strong foul language, scenes of drunkenness, references to suicide, and brief lewd content deserving extreme caution.
Ruth is a diehard alcoholic who drinks to dangerous excess. A renowned journalist and world traveler, Ruth comes to see that there’s more of her in her 17-year-old grandson, Sam, than she had thought. The two get to know each other over drinks and over deep philosophical conversations about the meaning of life and death. The question of mortality becomes preeminent for both people. Could it be that a disturbed, unhappy teenager can help a world-weary, difficult elderly woman face death as she helps him to embrace life?
The New Zealand cinematography in JUNIPER is breathtaking and makes an excellent backdrop to the tale being told. The shots of the red sunrise are particularly beautiful and meaning-laden. The concision of the writing, impressionistic storytelling, and running time of the movie make it powerful in a way other similar movies are not. Its strength is that it communicates the agony and ecstasy of people in pain and seeking meaning with power and intensity. The movie’s brevity can be seen as a symbol of the brevity of life and that the movie does come to see that life is beautiful, though ultimate meaning remains out of reach.
The movie’s worldview is one of postmodern nihilism with a theme of biblical morality running through it. The redemptive theme of Ruth’s saving the life of her grandson by investing in him where no one else has is uplifting and keeps the movie from being simply a meditation on death. However, this redemptive theme is not enough in itself to outweigh the movie’s strong nihilistic overtures. For example, Ruth’s “no games,” no pretenses approach to life would seem to be the opposite of the postmodern persuasion, except that it becomes clear that she herself is playing games in a way she simply cannot admit to herself. Thus, her assumption that people can’t “have a decent conversation unless [they] get drunk” is illustrative of the escapist view of “getting through life,” which is characteristic of postmodern nihilism. Also, though the two leads appear to overcome this nihilism in the end through their relationship, it remains unclear what the worldview takeaways are, for both the movie’s characters and the viewer. Ruth’s actions in correctly defining war to her teenage grandson and engaging him and his directionless friends in honest, helpful activity are noble, but, in the final analysis, she, her son, her grandson, and her grandson’s friends are not totally transformed by these acts. It’s also unclear whether Ruth herself comes to any sort of meaningful change of heart by being given the gift of not having to die alone, or that her efforts to keep her grandson from committing suicide is any proof of a lasting redemption, much less salvation. The positive content in JUNIPER keeps this family drama from being a mere tragedy, but they don’t necessarily equal a worldview paradigm shift. For example, though Ruth does accept absolution and communion before death, she does so at the urging of a Christian friend and seems rather put out by it all.
Finally, JUNIPER also contains 11 “f” words, one strong profanity, drunkenness, contemplation of suicide, and brief lewd content. So, MOVIEGUIDE® advises extreme caution.
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