Amish Grace, a film based on the book Amish Grace: How Forgiveness Redeemed a Tragedy, premieres on the Lifetime Movie Network on Sunday, March 28, 2010 (check local listings for time). On October 2, 2006, Charles Roberts took five Amish schoolgirls hostage in their own classroom before eventually killing them and committing suicide. Even more shocking was the instantaneous decision of the Amish community to forgive the killer and offer their condolences and assistance to the widow of the killer.
The peaceful Amish community of Nickel Mines is forever changed when a gunman senselessly takes the lives of five girls in a schoolhouse shooting before taking his own life.
What transpires afterward takes the community by storm, as the media descend on the town and criticize its Amish leaders for their notion of unconditional forgiveness of the shooter and their outreach of support to his widow, Amy Roberts (Tammy Blanchard). Devastated by her daughter's death, Ida Graber (Kimberly Williams-Paisley) finds herself struggling with her community's belief in the transcending power of forgiveness. Deeply conflicted and unable to forgive the gunman and his family, Ida is tempted to leave the only life she's ever known before re-embracing her faith.
How Would I Respond?
Movies about tragedies have a challenge: to walk the fine line between over-dramatizing and sensationalizing an event, or under-dramatizing an event, denying the impact it had on the victims. The producers of Amish Grace maintain a fine balance, never really straying to one side or the other in their portrayal of the events at Nickel Mines, Pennsylvania.
In contrast to so many of today's fast-paced thrillers and procedural shows, the story is allowed to unfold gracefully. Scenes in the Amish community prior to the event are intertwined with scenes involving the shooter's family, and build a sense of the history of all the families involved.
When the shootings occurred in the story, the producers chose the least sensational way to chronicle the event, showing the reactions of the families, the newscasters, and the wife of the killer. In this way, they strengthen the impact of the story, making the families involved much more relatable to all of us. Now instead of wondering, "How could someone do that?", we wonder, "How would I respond in that situation?"
Lives of Restraint
Initially when I watched the film, I was a bit taken aback by the stoicism of the families of the victims. What I later realized was that what I thought was underplaying by the actors was instead a fair portrayal of the restraint of the Amish people. They are not a people given to excess, and in almost every way possible, live a life of self-control. Their self-discipline, which is in the very fiber of their beings, would help them maintain an outward calm even when their heart is breaking.
In one of the most poignant scenes, we see the father of one of the children collapse into tears, but not in the midst of a crowd. Rather, it is while he is carrying out his daily chores, doing what he does every day of the week.
Power of Performance
And it is in this manner that the director and actors show their skill. They gracefully and subtly move through all the emotions associated with death, but in a quiet restrained manner that honors the lives of those they are portraying. Kimberly Williams-Paisley and Matt Letscher, both familiar from television series, give finely-tuned performances in leading roles as Ida and Gideon, the parents of one of the dead girls.
In Ida we see the external processes of a mother whose daughter has been killed prematurely, and who finds it almost impossible to forgive the killer. In Gideon's character, we watch a man's external actions reflect his internal decision.
The "outsiders," who include the family of the killer, the newscasters, and emergency response personnel, serve as the windows through which we view the Amish community. They ask the questions and express the wonder so many have at the rapidity and completeness with which the people of Nickel Mines were able to forgive.
Tammy Blanchard (Bella) and Gary Graham as the wife and father-in-law of the killer, respectively, are the recipients of the grace of forgiveness. In their stunned acceptance of this unusual gift, we see the power of Jesus' words in the Lord's Prayer, "Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors."
In this graceful retelling of the event that brought forgiveness to the forefront of world news, we're reminded that although the words of the Lord's Prayer sound simple, the actual accomplishment of them is not easy. But it is doable, and at a much deeper level than most of have been challenged to.
Amish Grace does not have an MPAA rating, but it is suitable for the entire family. The violence that occurred is not depicted in action, but in people's reactions. The film is about the death of children, so consider that in determining whether your younger children should see this film.
Courtesy of a national publicist, Angela screened a preview DVD of Amish Grace.
As Executive Editor of ChristianCinema.com, Angela writes and edits articles and movie reviews, interviews filmmakers, and searches for new films to add to the ChristianCinema.com catalog. A primary focus is interviewing today's filmmakers to get to know the person behind the camera and gain an inside look at the process of making movies. Angela also writes the ChristianMovieNews blog, an ongoing dialogue about faith and film.