Projections - Movie Reviews

Angela's Ashes

The film adaptation by Director Alan Parker of 67 year-old Frank McCourt's 1997 Pulitzer Prize winning novel is heavy handed, long and repetitive; it also leaves a major imprint that is difficult to forget.

McCourt was born in depression era Brooklyn and migrated with his parents back to Limerick, Ireland.  His father Malachy, rarely worked and when he did he drank his wages.  He also told his son tales of Cuchullan, who saved Ireland, and of the Angel of the Seventh Step, who brings his mother babies.  Perhaps that story telling was part of Frank's inspiration to write and read.  With little assistance from her husband Angela, Frank's mother, was forced, while facing anger from her family and prejudice for her mixed marriage, to fend for the entire family.  Generally she had to beg for help from her family, the church societies and neighbors.  The families existence was miserable.  They lived in flea infested filthy apartments barely surviving as they watched the weakest siblings die of malnutrition and disease.

We are exposed to wet dirty streets, constant vomiting, slop pots, dirt, death, depression, ridicule at school and hope that is constantly dashed.  There is a father who drinks, even using a new born baby's five pound gift, and a cousin who helps house the family (for which Angela must pay a sinful price).

In a world of restrictive school masters, one sees hope in Frank's mind.  He lectures that no one can take what is in your head.  He is impressed by Frank's theme "Jesus and the Weather."  Frank is also encouraged by one priest who brings him peace after learning of an affair Frank had with a young woman who has died.  The priest counsels: she is surely in heaven; God loves and forgives.  Those events along with his hospitalization for typhoid where he learns of hot baths, a bed without fleas, his own lavatory and reading - particularly Shakespeare are the only positive hopeful events in his young life.

Even though Angela's Ashes is depressing and difficult to witness, its images remain fixed in  memory.  They force us to face two realities.  First, that Frank McCourt survived is spectacular and that he wrote a Pulitzer Prize winning book is one of those miracles his grandmother believed in.  And second, what we consider poverty in America today would have been luxury in Frank McCourt's childhood.

Angela's Ashes

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