“We’re all God’s creatures in the dark.”
Jesus’ parable of the return of a prodigal son (Luke 15:11ff) is a complex tale of grace and of judgment. In the parable, we see the perspectives of the son, his father, and his brother. In God’s Creatures, directed by Saela Davis and Anna Rose Holmer, we get a glimpse at what the Prodigal’s mother might have gone through on his return. There is great joy, but there are also problems that could tear apart her community and her family.
Brian O’Hara (Paul Mescal) returns home to his small Irish fishing village after seven years away in Australia. His mother, Aileen (Emily Watson) sees this as her prayers being answered. She’s even happier when Brian sets out to restore their long-abandoned oyster bed. When Brian is accused of a sexual assault, Aileen lies to give him an alibi. That lie, and Aileen’s sense of morality create a struggle she must deal with as the consequences compound.
This is a tightknit community. The men all work on the sea, the women in the processing plant. Everyone depends on the sea and its dangers for their survival. The tides and the storms of the sea are reflected in the tumultuous emotional journey that Aileen will face as the story develops.
Aileen may be protecting her son, but she also knows, works with, and likes the woman who accused Brian. As is often the case, it is Sarah, the victim, who is ostracized by the community. But there are some, even in her own family, who believe Sarah’s accusations. Aileen struggles between protecting her son, and doing what is right for the community and for Sarah.
The emotional and ethical struggle that Aileen goes through is very much like the life in the seaside village. It is ruled by tides and storms. The sea is beautiful, but dangerous. It gives life, but it can also destroy. As Aileen deals with the repercussions of her lie, it is as if she is facing the sea itself. She begins to see that there are dangers she hadn’t imagined. It may not be possible to face this storm without losing more than she can stand.
The Parable of the Prodigal Son (or “Waiting Father” or “Elder Brother”) is one of Jesus’s most complex parables. It offers a wide range of points of view. It also raises some important issues. The Prodigal is never held to account, and in the end, we don’t see that he’s changed. If we use that parable as a lens to view God’s Creatures, we too may wonder if a welcome home was warranted by one who seems to have squandered so much.
God’s Creatures is available in select theaters and on VOD on Friday, September 30th, 2022.