Imagine: A Vision for Christians in the Arts, Free for CAPC Members
In Imagine, Steve Turner proposes that Christians ought to learn to understand art better and should feel able to participate in the arts more freely.
To be honest, I try to avoid dramatic shows that grab at my emotions. I deal with too many emotionally draining issues in real life to invite the trauma of fictional characters into it as well. But the Christ and Pop Culture Facebook group (a serious perk of subscribing to CAPC) convinced me that the drama and trauma of the characters of Broadchurch were worth entering into. I haven’t regretted that choice through seasons 1, 2, or now 3. Each season revealed hard-won beauty just beyond the devastation that is worth the emotional price of entering the town’s story. (If you’re not familiar with Broadchurch, in short, it’s an English crime drama set in a town by the same name.)
While Broadchurch ended its three seasons with satisfying resolutions to many of its story lines, it did not end with one for the Latimers.Season 2 ended with the acquittal of Joe Miller (Matthew Gravelle) for the death of Danny Latimer (finding his murderer was the basis of Season 1). The community was forced to reconcile the tension between the reality they knew to be true and that of Joe Miller and the courts. Season 2 reached a good resolution, and I personally thought the show had ended (and ended well). I was surprised to see Season 3 in my Netflix queue. But I was invested enough in these characters to jump at the chance of seeing them again.
Season 3 begins with an altogether different crime, the sexual assault of a new character in the community, Trish Winterman (Julie Hesmondhalgh). The striking (and I mean striking) thing about the first episode in this season is the care taken with Trish by the detectives. DI Hardy (David Tennant) and DS Miller (Olivia Coleman) come close to getting it exactly right. As much as I would want to avoid this story line if I had been sexually assaulted (I have not), I wonder what grace may be ministered to one whose assault was mishandled in seeing the care authorities were giving on screen, the same sort of care that should have accompanied such a trauma in real life.
This season also wove the issue of pornography into the rape culture that developed in the community. I have never seen the infiltrating devastation of pornography so clearly articulated on screen. Through legitimate storytelling rather than contrived scenarios, the show’s writers demonstrated well what many of us already know—pornography develops a warped sense of sexual desire, often of men toward women. The result is that real relationships can’t stand up under the pressure and inevitably tear apart. Before Harvey Weinstein or the #MeToo movement, this season had already aired in Britain. I’m reminded that we Americans aren’t always the keepers of all knowledge and leaders of the free world the way we think we are.
Much time could be spent exploring the themes of sexual assault, pornography, and rape culture from this season. But though the theme of sexual assault dominated the story line of season 3, it was the longer story of Danny Latimer’s murder and its effects on his family that lingered with me after the season ended.
I found myself comparing the Latimers’ progression of grief through the three seasons to Trish’s new trauma and grief, as her life was forever changed through her assault. There were similarities, demonstrated with Beth’s care of Trish as her Sexual Assault Response Association counselor. Beth could identify with key parts of Trish’s grief, coming to terms with what had happened to her as she figured out how to go forward in life. There, of course, are many differences in the path of grief through sexual assault and the one through the murder of a child. But the key difference in their routes of grief struck me most in the scenes involving Mark Latimer (Andrew Buchan).
After her assault, Trish’s life was forever changed, even as the Latimers’ were three years before at Danny’s murder. I certainly saw a difference between the grief of processing rape versus that of processing the murder of a child. But more than that, I was left thinking through the contrast between processing grief as an individual versus processing it as a family. When those around Trish respected and cared for her as an assault survivor, her relationships survived or even improved. Trish was the singular victim in her assault, and it was good and right that her dignity and her needs were central to the other characters processing her assault.
In contrast, Danny’s murder devastated multiple people, particularly Mark, Beth (Jodie Whittaker), and Chloe (Charlotte Beaumont). When the needs of Beth and Chloe conflicted with the needs of Mark as they all processed their grief in relationship with one another, a tension arose that the show rightly didn’t resolve. How do you neatly tie up in a bow the complicated emotions around shared grief, depression, guilt, and suicidal thoughts between a mom, dad, and daughter equally harmed by the murder of a child/sibling?
After Mark’s attempt to kill himself, a conversation between Beth Latimer and the vicar (Arthur Darvill) perfectly catches the tension of shared grief between those in relationship:
Beth: I’m listening to everything he has to say and it takes all my training and all the skills I’ve learned to not just punch him in the face. I’m so angry with him. He has two daughters, one of whom is barely three years old! How could he do this to them? He knows what loss feels like, what it… what it rips out of you.
Vicar: You were right to go gentle on him. He’s hurting.
Beth: We’re all hurting! I’m hurting. You’re hurting. The whole bloody world’s hurting. But he has to make it about him. He takes all the oxygen, all the attention. “Look at me. I’m Mark Latimer, and I am so much sadder than the rest of you.” And you know what that does? It leaves no room for me. No space for me. He crowds out my grief, and my grief… my ongoing daily pain is as strong and as alive as his, but I don’t let it win.
I felt such grief for Mark in this season. I wept in the scenes leading up to his attempt to end his life. But I shared Beth’s anger at Mark as well. Three years after the murder, he mourned the loss of Danny as he simultaneously drove out of the lives of his other two children. If Chloe had been murdered instead, would he have driven away from Danny? Mark’s inability to value the relationship with the two children he had after the loss of his son struck me as a plausible yet deeply troubling story line. You would think that his ongoing guilt over not protecting Danny from Joe Miller would cause him to be overly vigilant in his daughters’ lives. Instead the exact opposite seemed to happen.
Another subtle story line in this season gave context for Mark’s unresolved grief. The vicar, a staple in the show throughout the series, is left on the sidelines contemplating the community’s lack of need for him. Though he’s stood with Mark throughout, particularly at the ending of season 2 after Joe’s acquittal, he perceives himself as an unneeded decoration in the community. He has become only a sounding board when folks need to process, not a true counselor whose wisdom is needed for the community to walk through their pain. Mark Latimer, in that context, strikes me as an example of Henri Nouwen’s brokenness detached from our status as beloved children of God:
We human beings can suffer immense deprivations with great steadfastness, but when we sense that we no longer have anything to offer to anyone, we quickly lose our grip of life. Instinctively, we know that the joy of life comes from the ways in which we live together and that the pain of life comes from the many ways we fail to do that well. (89–90)
Mark failed Danny, and now he seems determined to fail his other two children as well. So in the final scene, he drives away, as the remaining members of his family share a simple, but happy, meal in the backyard with Ellie and her kids.
The question remains: How do you neatly tie up in a bow the complicated emotions around shared grief, depression, guilt, and suicidal thoughts between a mom, dad, and daughter equally harmed by the murder of a child? The answer is, you don’t. While Broadchurch ended its three seasons with satisfying resolutions to many of its story lines, it did not end with one for the Latimers. Most of us yearn too for resolution of some long, hard story in our lives. It may involve an estranged parent, a physical disability, rejection by a spouse, or the death of a loved one. For those who believe that Jesus will resolve all that is wrong with the world, in this life we still must wait and endure. This season of Broadchurch captured that tension perfectly.
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