Making the Grades
THE 1950s AND '60s LEFT US with some of the most notable religious epics ever put to film. The Ten Commandments, Ben-Hur, and many other wide screen spectaculars pulled countless thousands into theaters. Yet during this pious era, there was one humble film that is often overlooked today, even though it was the recipient of five Oscar nominations in 1962 (including Best Picture and Best Actor).
Appropriately, it all begins with a Baptist carpenter -- Homer Smith (Sidney Poitier). When his car succumbs to the heat of the Arizona desert, he makes a quick pit stop for water from the well of a small group of German nuns. But Mother Superior Maria (Lilia Skala), who has been praying for someone to help fix up the place and ultimately build her a real chapel, doesn't see his coming as a coincidental breakdown.
In need of a few dollars, the vagabond carpenter mistakenly interprets Mother Maria's acceptance of his offer to fix the roof as hired work. Careful to have never said she would actually pay Homer, the manipulative Maria skillfully keeps her fish on the hook after the job is done by giving his pride room to grow. At the same time, Homer soon recognizes that Maria's strict characteristics keep her from feeling the spirit of the work to which she has dedicated her life. Engaged in an often-humorous mental tug-of-war, both are convinced they have the upper hand.
If you've never viewed this film before, you owe it to yourself to watch it at least twice. At first glance, you'll enjoy the simple story, but a closer look will reveal a complex set of characters precisely crafted to portray subtle examples of pride, humility, apathy, and selfishness.
Lilies Of The Field isn't about VistaVision, casts of thousands, or glamorous costumes. In fact, it's one of the last major Hollywood productions to not even warrant a budget for color film. Yet this timeless epic, based on a short novel by the late William Barrett, exhibits a depth of religious understanding I haven't seen in any other movie.
Discussion Ideas After The Movie
Teaching ideas and topics to discuss about Lilies Of The Field (1963).
A well-written story will provide logical motivations for each character on the screen. Can you identify them in this film? (ie: Why does Homer stay? What drives Maria to keep doing what she does?)
Look for subtleties within the script that allow us to learn more about each character. For instance, what do we learn about the owner of the construction company when he donates poor quality bricks? What do we know about the people who donate the chandelier? What type of person is Juan, the owner of the restaurant?
Most movies have a clearly cut protagonist and antagonist. Who is the “good guy” in this film? Who is the “bad guy”? Is it difficult to identify anyone as good or bad? How does the writer hold your interest without resorting to these usual techniques?