Mockingbird at the Movies: I’ve Loved You So Long

Last week while choosing a movie to rent, I stumbled upon one that I have […]

JAG / 6.12.09

Last week while choosing a movie to rent, I stumbled upon one that I have been wanting to watch since its release last year, the French film I’ve Loved You So Long. I had thought it was a romantic comedy, but I was completely blown away by what it actually was – a story of despair and redemption, of our own inner prisons and the freedom of unconditional love, of law and pure gospel, of the grace that breaks into our world as light into darkness. I abreacted twice with tears.

The story is a mystery that unravels subtly and intelligently, so I will try not to give away too much. However, I will say this about the storyline: Juliette, the main character, is haunted by a heinous act that she committed many years ago. She moves in with her sister Léa (and her family) and tries to start her life anew. But we soon find out that Juliette’s extremely painful memories have robbed her of the ability to relate to other people. She shuts off every person who tries to approach her in love. The movie tells the story of Juliette’s intense and overwhelming emotional grief and her humble efforts at re-establishing herself in society, reconciling with her family, and re-learning how to live despite her past. It also tells the story of Léa, who without any reserve, accepts and loves Juliette, attempting to understand the incredible weight upon her sister and give her time to heal individually and with other people.

Juliette’s story is the universal story of regret seeming more powerful than hope, of the burdens of the past enslaving us to believe that love and faith are useless – whether they be disappointment and disillusionment in relationships, broken and unfulfilled dreams, specific things we have said or done, or just the pervasive feeling of complete desperation because we cannot seem to “get over” something – and that we are doomed ultimately to death and pain.

As the psalmist writes “Be merciful to me, O Lord, for I am in distress; my eyes grow weak with sorrow, my soul and my body with grief. My life is consumed by anguish and my years by groaning; my strength fails because of my affliction, and my bones grow weak” (Psalm 31:9-10).

Even Jesus was “despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and familiar with suffering” (Isaiah 53:3). In one scene in the movie, Juliette and her friend contemplate Emile Friant’s painting “Pain.” The robes of the mourning women in the painting, with their engulfing darkness and the endless hole of death in the forefront, illustrate the ceaseless depths of Juliette’s anguish, much like the suffering we often feel and cannot overcome.

However, just like the film’s title, the movie is not primarily about the pain Juliette feels, but about the redemptive love that comes into her life from the outside and changes her heart to know freedom and grace. The French title “Il y a longtemps que je t’aime” can be translated both as “I’ve Loved You For So Long” and as “I Loved You A Long Time Ago.” The redemptive love of Christ is both these at the same time – for God so loved the world that He gave His only son at Calvary a long time ago, and, because of the resurrection, He is alive and has loved us since before we were formed in the womb. God is a God who redeems us when we are still sinners, who loves us and gives us life when we deserve nothing but death.

So, the Gospel is in this movie as much as it is in reality. Christ, who invites us to come near to Him and to give Him our burdens, offers forgiveness at the feet of His cross. Our powerlessness and our sin open the way for God to pour his grace into our brokenness so that we would depend and trust on Him rather than on ourselves. Ours is a true love, a true hope and a true salvation because it does not rest on us, but on the living God, Jesus Christ. Now, go see the movie!