The Sunset Limited

Posted: July 24, 2012 by jperritt in Drama
Tags: , ,


I’m somewhat baffled that I haven’t heard more talk about The Sunset Limited, especially in Christian circles. Maybe there has been talk about this film and I’ve just missed out on it. It could be that since it was an HBO film this kept it under the radar, however, the fact that Cormac McCarthy wrote the play should keep the spotlight on it a bit more.

It’s easy to see that this film was designed as a play, since there are two characters who remain in a single room throughout. The film stars Tommy Lee Jones (who also directed) and Samuel L. Jackson. We find out that White (Jones) has attempted suicide and Black (Jackson) saved him. We also find out that White didn’t want to be rescued.

White is a man who sees humanity through very pessimistic eyes. So much so, he has come to the conclusion that his own life isn’t worthy anything. What’s the point? There’s nothing he believes in, except for the Sunset Limited (the subway train that was to take his life).

Black, on the other hand, does see much to live for. Although he agrees about the state of mankind, God’s grace bestowed in his life has led him to bestow it to others. He believes in God, the Bible (except for his thoughts on original sin), and Jesus. He is a former inmate who went to prison for murder.

Part-way into the film White, who Black often refers to as the ‘Professor’, continues to ask Black for a prison story. He wants to hear about the gritty life that Black once lived. When White agrees to listen to more of Black’s evangelistic conversation, as long as the prison story is told, Black finally concedes. Black then tells a very graphic inmate quarrel, where he beat a fellow-inmate to the point of blinding him and leaving him mentally handicapped. Black was attacked by this inmate, so he was also brutally stabbed multiple times – 280 stitches to be exact. As he laid in the hospital bed in prison, he heard a voice that said, “If it were not for the grace of God, you wouldn’t be here.” This was the point of his conversion.

White, in his typical cynical tone, said, “[This is a story] about a fellow inmate that became a crippled, one-eyed, half-wit so you could find God.” White is not only suspicious about his story, but suspicious about a God who could curse one man to bring salvation to another.

However, I mention this story because this is exactly what God did for me. I was a murderer. I was a criminal, a criminal who, ‘still likes the music’ of his past, as Black says. And God sent his Son, Jesus Christ, to become a cripple for me. His Son was beaten until He couldn’t walk, was mocked, the punishment my sins deserved where laid on Him. In White’s cynicism he hit the nail on the head. Salvation is about one Man being cursed, so the guilty could be redeemed.

Although The Sunset Limited has some very rough language, it is one I would recommend. It is a film that may require multiple viewings. So much theology is mixed with rapid-fire banter, that I sometimes found myself missing some excellent lines. It will cause you to think and will challenge you in many ways and raises many difficult questions of life in a fallen world. Watching films like The Sunset Limited will assist to sharpen us in the theology we cling to.


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