Redemption of the Commons is a simple story about simple people. They are not rich, fancy, or famous. They do not have spy skills, super powers, or technological genius. They are not comedic parodies, caricatures, or flamboyant personalities. They are simply honest people, working to pay the bills and find a little joy in life. You might say they are common.
Victor seems to have it all together – good looks, his own brand and marketing company, and life in L.A. But in reality, he’s broke, living out of his van, $93,000 in debt and still looking for the ever-elusive purpose of his life. Pop, an elderly friend from the past, offers Victor his only choice – to come back home. Yet, home is a tattered trailer park in the Deep South, which is full of bad memories and broken relationships.
When we first meet Victor, we are struck by his determination and resolve. He keeps pushing against ever-waning odds and fights until absolutely nothing is left. Rarely do we see such determination in real life, so it’s heartbreaking when he must hang his head in defeat and go home. We want nothing more than to see him succeed, at least by the end of the film, please. The very story structure of screenplays involves a character spending the entire movie trying to reach his goal. Thus, movies constantly perpetuate the idea that a man’s success and the accomplishment of his goals are irrevocably intertwined. But Redemption of the Commons asks us to reevaluate that very premise. Is success really what we need?
Though the story can be reflective (and at times slow), I quickly became invested in seeing how it would play out. My immediate compassion for the main character set the hook and my curiosity about the film’s treatment of the American Dream reeled me in. I wanted to know, would the movie place the American Dream on a pedestal as a goal to be achieved, would it redefine that dream, or would it make us question its validity?
The answer is an all-around yes. The genius of this film is that it highlights the sense of community prevailing in poorer neighborhoods. People go outside in the evenings after work, visit neighbors, have functions like barbecues, attend church together, and generally seem to care about what happens to one another. This is a stark contrast to suburban neighborhoods with drive-through mailboxes where people avoid neighbors of different nationalities, leave early, come home late, greet neighbors with a head nod during the weekend mowing, and shuffle children to and from sporting events in the evenings. The film challenges us to consider how the American Dream fits into God’s broader plan for community.
On a smaller scale, it addresses what it means to be an ‘average’ person with a specific, unique, and perhaps not glorious purpose in life. It explores how a seemingly common existence is multiplied in the hands of an uncommon God. Truly, wealth and status can never define our happiness and blessing, but knowing God’s will for our lives certainly can.
Arriving at that truth, however, is painful. As Victor pushes through problem after problem, first in the city and later in his run-down trailer park beginnings, he must be stripped of worldly deception. Whether it’s the lure of fortune, the challenge of forgiveness, the difficulty of a new business start-up, or the near impossibility of asking help from an old rival, Victor faces off with the cultural lies that keep most of us running in the hamster wheel.
When the wheel finally stops and he steps off the traditional American Dream, new ideas open up to him. But his education and training are not wasted or thrown away as if they are useless. Instead, God uses the fullness of his talents and experience to give him purpose in life along with happiness. And that seems to be the missing link. So often, we pursue success at the expense of happiness, purpose and contentment. We wake up one day to find we have missed the critical elements of community, love, trust, faith and defense of one another. In a world where success is supposed to define happiness, Victor learns that happiness often defines success.
In the end, Redemption of the Commons explores the nature of success in a way that we don’t typically see it explored in Hollywood films. It redefines success for those who crave it, encourages those who have lost it, and empowers those who still have it. It is about more than an ordinary place to live and the ordinary people in life. It’s about an uncommon God, his uncommon people, and his exceptional plan for every single life.
Redemption of the Commons is in theaters now and will be available on DVD November 20.