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
Two fine films fill the screen; Christopher Buckley reflects the death of his parents

by Father Tom Caswell, for the Inland Register

(From the Sept. 9, 2010 edition of the Inland Register)

Book Review

Christopher Buckley has written a wonderful bittersweet memoir of the deaths of his larger-than-Iife parents, Patricia and William F. Buckley Jr. The book, titled Losing Mum and Pup, is published by Twelve of the Hachette Book Group. The large paperback was published in May of this year for a list price of $13.99.

Buckley is a fine and often humorous writer who powerfully tells the story of his parents’ death within a year or so, starting in April of 2007. His mother, Patricia was a key figure in the New York society and fashion world. She had come from Vancouver, B.C. to the U.S. in order to attend school at Yale, where she met her eventual husband, William.

Christopher reveals the joys and sorrows of being the son of such a famous couple who loved each other deeply while each had extraordinarily busy and active lives.

Of his last novel, published two weeks before his Mother died and which received rave reviews, his Dad could only e-mail, “This one didn’t work for me. Sorry.”

Losing Mum and Pup is also a story of Christopher’s religious journey. He moves away from the active practice of his Catholic faith. He tells this side of his life with sensitivity and humor. At the time of his Mom’s death, he went to Latin Mass at the family home as his father wept. William Buckley later told Christopher’s good friend and go-between, Danny, that he was so pleased Christopher was there.

This memoir is also about funeral directors, clergy, sailors and friends.

Patricia Buckley had a tendency to exaggerate or as her son would say “lie” in telling stories at fabulous dinner parties. When Christopher was older she would not open his letters because she did not want a scolding from her son about her story-telling.

There is a delightful section on trying to control the time taken by eulogy speakers at funerals. Christopher would tell several famous people that the limit was “four minutes,” so they wouldn’t go on forever on the basis of being told ‘’five minutes.”

Chris gives us much material on sailing, which was his Dad’s passion. William wanted to pass that passion on to his son. Sometimes the son thought it was a wonder that William was still alive.

In June of 2007 Christopher’s Dad began to have more severe medical problems. This turn leads to several chapters on the relationship of father to son and vice-versa – a highlight of the book.

Twenty priests concelebrated at William Buckley’s funeral at St. Patrick Cathedral in New York City. There is lots of backstage drama going on as to which priests will participate.

Christopher ends the book with his final reflection on life and death. He writes:

“Yesterday, I was driving behind a belchy city bus on the way back from the grocery store and suddenly found myself thinking (not for the first time) about whether Pup is in heaven. He spent so much of his life on his knees in church, so much of his life doing the right thing by so many people, a million acts of generosity. I’m – I shouldn’t use the word – dying of curiosity: How did it turn out, Pup? Were you right after all? Is there a heaven? Is Mum there with you? (Grumbling, almost certainly about the ‘inedible food.’) And if there is a heaven and you are in it, are you thinking, ‘Poor Christo – he’s not going to make it.’ And is Mum saying, ‘Bill, you have to speak to that absurd creature at the Gates and tell him he’s got to admit Christopher. It’s too ridiculous for words.’ Even in my dreams, they’re looking after me. So perhaps one is never really an orphan after all.”

Movie Reviews

Get Low arrived in the Spokane area the last weekend of August. From my vantage point it is the best movie I’ve seen so far this year. If you want to see a film with great acting, fine directing, and an absolutely life-affirming story, Get Low is the movie to see.

The story is loosely based on a true event that took place in Tennessee in 1938 when an eccentric hermit decided he was getting close to death and it was time to throw a funeral party for himself while he was still alive. There was a lottery, with an acreage of trees offered as a prize, and 12,000 people came.

Robert Duvall, whose first film role was Boo Radley in To Kill a Mockingbird roughly 50 years ago, gives a terrific performance as Felix Bush, who has spent 40 years of his life living alone and chasing everyone off his property with a shotgun. So there is more than a bit of mystery about this long-bearded and unpopular man.

Get Low is basically a story of long-sought reconciliation and redemption. When Felix gives his halting speech at the end of the film you discover a moving address that you will not easily forget.

The key to the story is the pre-death funeral organized by a somewhat sleazy funeral director, played pitch-perfect by Bill Murray. His establishment is suffering from not enough people dying during the Depression in his area. But it is the young assistant funeral director, Buddy (Lucas Black), who is key to the story and able to draw Felix out into the world with human connection.

Sissy Spacek is sparkling as Felix’s former old flame, Mattie. The acting of the ensemble, including the mysterious Black preacher (Bill Cobb), is as good as it gets. There are several Academy Award nominations here.

Older viewers may find that Get Low is speaking directly to them. Parishes that have films for older teens and adults will want to put this film on their list. The story warms the heart and may bring some changes to peoples’ lives. Don’t miss this film.

The film is rated PG-13 for brief violence by the Motion Picture Association of America. It is neither reviewed nor rated by the Catholic News Service at this time.


The dark but life-affirming film Winter’s Bone has been in theaters the last two weeks in August. The film won the Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival. It is certainly among the top three movies that I have seen this year. I readily admit this has not been a stellar year for well-written movies with memorable acting. The film is already out on DVD. One film site is selling the film for $14.39.

An extraordinary young actress by the name of Jennifer Lawrence plays Ree Dolly. Ree is 17, living in rural Missouri with a mother who has severe mental illness and two younger sibblings. One is a boy of around 12, the other is a girl of six or so. Ree is trying her best to hold the family together with no income and a father who has disappeared with a major drug charge. She is living on food by the kindness of neighbors down the road.

Eventually Ree discovers that her Dad has put their home up as bond. The sheriff arrives and if her Dad doesn’t appear on the appointed day in court, Ree and her family will be forced out of their rather primitive home. The young Ree thus begins to try everything to save her family and their home. To complicate the plot there is always the possibility that her father will not show up because he is dead.

Almost like a Greek tragedy, Ree goes on one journey after another to try to find a solution to the impossible situation she, her very sick mother and the two young children are in.

Her Dad’s brother, Teardrop (John Hawkes), is both a terrifying and later a redeeming relative.

This film has a beautiful winter vision to it. Some of the situations Ree finds herself in contain implied and real violence. The world we look into is a distant world to most of us, but we can identify with the characters, especially Ree and her brother and sister.

Director Debra Granik gives us a film that is memorable and haunting. This film is in the tradition of Flannery O’Connor’s Southern Gothic short stories. It is a film that deserves to be seen.

Winter’s Bone is rated R-Restricted because of violence, by the Motion Picture Association of America. Catholic News Service has neither reviewed nor rated the film.

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

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