Incendies: What it can teach us

The Movie Incendies has to be one of the most informative and direct films out in theaters this Summer. Billed as a historical mystery, the film goes into the dark secrets of a fractured Lebanese-Canadian family.  Last Saturday I went to a screening out in my local theater, not expecting to see so many explosive images of violence and profound examples of the human spirit. What I gained from viewing this type of presentation was how human beings can survive all odds and break the wages of a horrific past.

We’re introduced to the Marwan family, The mother Narwal seemingly slipping into a PTSD episode before succumbing to a heart failure near a public swimming pool. The twin adult children, Jeanne and Simon, are given a mission through their mother’s will to find their lost father and brother. Despite the sudden death and ensuing grief caused by their mother’s passing, Jeanne agrees to fly to Beirut. In a flashback, The journey takes us back to 1970’s Lebanon. War is apparently about to break out.

Narwal, a twenty something Maronite Christian student, rendezvouses with her Palestinian refugee lover. The two attempt to elope. No sooner do they leave the village outskirts when Narwal’s brothers arrive, to commit an honor killing. After a brief scuffle with the young man, they execute him and attempt to do the same to their sister for “dishonoring their family”. They relent after being stopped by their aged grandmother and the revelation that Narwal is carrying a child. After nine months, with the sounds of fighter jets and artillery echoing across their valley, Narwal gives birth. Her infant son is immediately taken away, assured that his life among an orphanage would leave him free of the ethnic reprisals to come. Narwal’s own resolve won’t allow this, vowing that she would find the boy one day.

This type of heart-rending scene follows the main character’s journey, interspersed with her other children’s discovery of her past. We are treated to roadside killings of civilians by militant forces, the shelling of cities, the torture of political prisoners, and the harsh reality (as the title suggests) that war runs its course and leaves everything scorched. Yet the spirit of humanity is also present throughout.

Narwal’s saga through her destroyed land reveals her own tenacity in the face of ethnic gangs, her refusal to give up her own son for dead, and her continued empathy for fellow human beings in the face of terror and degradation. In a sense this film addresses many things about people.

History is full of the self-destructive pathology of humanity. It is also full of several small stories expressing our ability to overcome such monumental evil. When faced with a challenge we follow whatever choice best represents our character and personal beliefs. I like to think that it is faith in people that drives us to do good.