Starring: Siobhan Finneran, Sacha Parkinson, Molly Wright, Robert Emms
Director: Daniel Kokotajlo
A portrait of a religious family in crisis, Ivanna (Finneran) and her teenage daughters Luisa (Parkinson) and Alex (Wright) are Jehovah’s Witnesses in the UK. When Luisa, studying at university, transgresses religious law, her family is forced to shun her. While Ivanna seems to cope well, Alex struggles with a crisis of faith.
The director himself was a member of this religion for a time, and paints a portrait of the cult like aspects of this religion and how damaging this can be. Ivanna is a mother whose devotion to the church is total, and she seems almost emotionless and heartless. She urges her daughters to learn Urdu so that they can convert local Muslims and warns them against close friendships with outsiders or putting anything before the church.
The first part of the film focuses on the sisters, and how Luisa struggles to fit in at home and in the wider world. She doesn’t get a great deal of understanding from her family, and we only glimpse her outside life. Alex talks to Jehovah about her feelings, about her struggle with having to shun her sister at the church’s behest, and also her being marked as damaged goods because of a blood transfusion as a baby that saved her life. She is urged throughout the film to let herself die of her anemia rather than have a transfusion, as the Jehovah’s Witnesses don’t allow for it in their faith.
It’s not an expose of the religion, but rather an exploration of it’s real world application. Not being allowed to ask questions, the way some people are scapegoated or families pushed apart, the way some are not allowed medical help, and the concept of the preparing for the world to end have a claustrophobic and numbing effect. The tight shots show us people caught in a world of their own making. Questioning things could mean being kicked out of your home and there is little forgiveness here, and yet, no one in the family is a bad person. I feel like Ivanna is numbed by her religion, insulated from facing the real world or difficult emotions.
The film is not about finding answers, and just follows the feelings of the sisters as they navigate the world they find themselves in, one ostracized and the other confined. In the final acts, we see that underneath Ivanna’s facade of complete trust and devotion to her religion lies a woman who has to believe because her religion has cost her so much. To admit her doubt would leave her open to questioning her whole life and her own choices. It’s in interesting portrait and an unusual film in the way it explores what feels like another world. One in which the apocalypse is expected any day and religion rules all of life’s choices.
See It If: you like dramas. This explores a family in crisis and the way religion rules their lives. Not for everyone but it’s often quite insightful and emotive.