“When you serve me…, I feel sanctified.”
In Diane, from writer/director Kent Jones, we watch the title character (Mary Kay Place) spend her days selflessly trying to help others. Diane is constantly in motion, driving between visits to her dying cousin Donna (Deidre O’Connell), trying to help her drug addicted son Brian (Jake Lacy), and working at her church to serve dinner to the homeless.
It may seem that this is a saint, quietly doing what she can for others, but as the film progresses, we discover a brokenness within her. The first inkling may be that we almost never see her smile. But soon we see cracks begin to appear in her image. And we learn about a past sin—one that haunts her, that she has never quite forgiven herself for.
The mood for the film is set by the winter landscape. Trees are bare. There are always patches of snow on the ground. Characters are encompassed with layers of clothing. Although this is actually more the result of the filming schedule than design, the grayness and coldness fit perfectly with this story and impact the way viewers may experience it.
This is a film that is permeated with spirituality, usually unspoken, but at times it is openly religious. It is the more muted spiritual tones that are more meaningful and touching. When the film ventures into overtly religious scenes, the religion portrayed is a bit extreme and off-putting. But even those scenes feed Diane’s underlying spiritual journey.
One of the key spiritual issues Diane must deal with is forgiveness. We learn about half way through the story of an event that touched her life, her son’s life, and her cousin’s life. Even though Donna has told Diane she has forgiven her for what she did, Donna still brings it up from time to time. It is not so much that Donna has not forgiven Diane as much as Diane has failed to forgive herself. She carries her guilt and shame with her each day. It shapes her self-image. It holds her in a place that is as cold and gray as the world around her.
So it is something of a shock to her when one of the clients she serves in her church’s basement says that he feels “sanctified” when Diane serves him. It is such a contrast to the way Diane feels within her own soul.
Often when we think of saints, we picture those with extreme virtue—Mother Teresa, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Martin Luther King, Jr. But even these great souls often had places within themselves of brokenness, shame, or doubt. In reality, the saints I have gotten to know through the years are much more like Diane. They give themselves to others, but they also have their own torments and spiritual struggles. They are people who do their little bits to sanctify the world even when traveling through the winter landscapes of life.
Photos courtesy of IFC Films