Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington

From the

Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane

Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302

Media Watch
On film: ‘The Ghost Writer,’ ‘That Evening Sun’; Alaska pastor reflects on abuse crisis

by Father Tom Caswell, for the Inland Register

(From the April 8, 2010 edition of the Inland Register)

Movie Reviews

One of the independent films that came out in 2009 nationwide finally reached our area. The film is titled That Evening Sun and stars the 84-year-old Hal Holbrook as a cantankerous old man placed by his son in a nursing home not far from his farm in rural Tennessee. The Holbrook character, Abner Meecham, walks away from the nursing home and is picked up by a taxi designed to bring him back to the care facility. But Abner gives the driver a $20 bill to take him back to his long-held farm.

When he gets there he finds that his son Paul (Walton Goggins) has sold the farm to a man Abner always despised as “white trash.” The new tenant is Lonzo Choat (Ray McKinnon) who has had trouble holding down jobs in the past but hopes to make it on the land he now is on.

The movie is more about characterization and mood than lots of plot. Abner is not a particularly likable character but he is fighting for the memories of the past and his own attempt to have some control in his life.

Abner’s old friend and neighbor, played by Barry Corbin of fond Northern Exposure memory, lets Abner have a dog that likes to bark. Abner has moved in an old sharecropper’s shack on what was once his land and knows the barking dog will drive Lonzo crazy.

Lonzo’s daughter is in high school and feels more than a bit trapped under her Dad’s orders. She is the one character that communicates on a friendly basis with the old man in the shack. She is played very well by Mia Wasikowska, who is now rather famous for her work as the lead character in the latest version of Alice in Wonderland.

That Evening Sun has lots of conflict among wounded people. The police are called in reference to physical abuse. A dog is shot during the night. A fire takes place that involves a heroic note of redemption.

Throughout the film, Abner has memories of his wife in their home as the years passed by. They may well be romanticized. Paul the son seems to say his father was less than kind to his mother and himself.

Director Scott Teems also wrote the screenplay that has a Flannery O’Connor feel to it. Personally, I found the film very thought-provoking and emotive. Maybe as an older person, I am hit by the main character’s memories and the fact that he has little time left. And yet the film seems to be saying: take advantage of every moment that is a part of your “evening sun.”

The film is rated PG-13 because of brief strong language, some violence, and sexual content. The film would be appropriate for older teens and adults.


For some, there is a struggle between Roman Polanski’s call to face the legal system in the United States and his gift as a filmmaker. His new film, The Ghost Writer, is a psychological thriller in the Alfred Hitchcock mode. In some ways it is slow moving and shows little violence compared to the typical action film of our time. But it is like a puzzle that slowly reveals itself until the dramatic ending.

Ewan McGregor wonderfully plays the ghostwriter called in to finish a autobiography of a former British Prime Minister modeled on Tony Blair. The previous ghostwriter’s body has been found dead on a beach at Martha’s Vineyard, where the Prime Minister is staying in the large modern home of the his publisher. Adam Lang, the Prime Minister is played wonderfully by Pierce Brosnan. Lang is not very forthcoming as the new ghostwriter rapidly tries to finish the book, first in a month, and then in two weeks.

The Martha’s Vineyard’s scenes are filmed beautifully in Northern Germany, as director Polanski at present cannot film in the United States. It’s interesting that in the film, Lang soon finds that some politicians in England are demanding that he return to Great Britain. He would be forced to appear before an investigating committee in reference to allegations of his turning terror suspects over to the C.I.A. for rendition and torture. So the former Prime Minister may live in exile in the United States, a la Polanski in Europe.

The ghostwriter is caught among lies and mysterious characters, such as Lang’s wife Ruth (Olivia Williams) and a professor (Tom Wilkinson). The tension for the ghostwriter increases in the wet and dark New England nights filled with foreboding and danger. He jumps off a ferry just before it leaves its dock to save himself from imminent death.

The ending of the film is absolutely terrific. It has the dark overtones of the money floating in the air at the end of The Treasure of the Sierra Madre combined with the despair of the ending of Polanski’s own Chinatown. It takes your breath away.

The Motion Picture Association of America rates the film PG-13 because of language, brief nudity, sexuality, some violence and a drug reference.

Book Review

Father Patrick Bergquist, pastor of St. Raphael Parish in Fairbanks, Alaska, has written a poetic, heartfelt and elegiac book on the priest-sexual abuse scandal. The book is titled The Long Dark Winter’s Night: Reflections of a Priest in a Time of Pain and Privilege. Liturgical Press has recently published the book for a list price of $16.95.

Father Bergquist takes as his overhanging metaphor the long winter of northern Alaska that begins toward the end of September and breaks up at the end of April or beginning of May.

He intersperses a brief history of the priest-sexual abuse scandal with some pastoral stories of his own.

He takes issue with the quotation of then-Bishop Wilton Gregory, who at the time was president of the United States Conference of Bishops in the winter of 2004. The quotation is: “The terrible history recorded here today is history.” Bergquist strongly wishes those words were true.

He argues that the Catholic priesthood must be united with those who weep. And in the end, all of us who are wounded end up below the cross of Christ, who is in the agony of Good Friday. Says Father Bergquist: “The foot of the cross is where heaven’s hope and humanity’s wounds meet.”

He suggests that the notion of the “wounded healer” made famous by Father Henri Nouwen must again be brought to center stage.

In one moving passage, Father Bergquist says: “Be this the Dark Night of my soul or the ‘Great White Silence’ of my life, I believe there is something of real value and purpose in my long winter’s night – not just for me alone, not just for priests, but indeed for our whole church. This is without doubt an unfamiliar landscape for priests, for how we stand stripped before our God, grieving over what could be, what should be, what was meant to be. Mine is neither a Church Triumphant nor Church Militant, it is just a Church Grieving.”

The Alaskan pastor also uses the stages of grieving from Kubler-Ross. He suggests that individually and as a community, we have been going through forms of denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. He says: “Yes, mine is a Church Grieving, but no less a Church Believing.”

From Scripture, the author particularly uses some of the Psalms, and parts of Isaiah and Micah.

He gives us a service of healing used in Alaska that includes a priest figure holding a stick that the figure breaks and later is reconfigured as a cross.

The Long Dark Winter’s Night is certainly a book for priests and for all the baptized. It doesn’t provide ABC answers, but it does tell one priest’s journey. And he tries to express the pain and feeling of the Church we live in. In the pain, Father Patrick Bergquist gives hope.

(Father Caswell is Inland Register archivist and Ecumenical Relations Officer for the Diocese of Spokane.)

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