This debut feature from Paul Harrill has been getting a lot of press. Jeffrey Overstreet mentioned it in his Top Ten for 2014. Justin Chang wrote it up for Variety. Christianity Today posted an interview with Harrill. The NY Times featured it last week as a Critic’s Pick.
And Darren Hughes hosted an insightful interview at Mubi months ago, which touches on the film as a story about a seeker, someone passing through a familiar culture on the hunt for something different, even holy. (Hughes’ interview is a must-read in conjunction with the film.) At one point, this seeking even takes the form of pilgrimage to a monastery where she expects to find “something, anything” – not fully sure of what form that may take.
The film begins with a montage of Peggy’s first forays into adulthood. There is a wedding, a successful career, and all the trappings of settling down in the suburbs. But then there is a miscarriage. This loss triggers something deep in Peggy, something she didn’t expect. Her husband’s cold and glib response causes her to question their relationship. She feels alone, cast adrift by the experience. A pregnancy has been acknowledged and accepted, like a gift. Immediate life goals and dreams have begun to shift to accommodate a baby. Post-miscarriage, she feels a cavernous emptiness she had not seen before.
The slow and gentle pace of the film begins to settle in as Peggy makes a series of odd choices in response. She separates from her husband. She quits her job. Even though it offers her financial stability, she just can’t handle the duplicity it requires. She rejects the advice of her friends because she finds their platitudes empty. All she has to do is settle down, get back together with her husband, and fit in. A Bible study or two wouldn’t hurt, either.
Instead, Peggy is oddly inspired by a letter she receives from an old high school classmate, with a brief note of grief for her loss. When she finds out this guy has become a monk, Peggy travels to find him.
This is when the film becomes alternately surprising and sublime. In his reliance on thinkers like Merton or Tolstoy, Harrill offers a subtle critique of the ease with which contemporary spirituality leans on concepts like “community” or “transparency” as markers of authenticity. Peggy’s community is her problem. So is their failure to accept her honesty. The bland pose of their Christianity, the immaturity of her husband, the avarice of her boss – the lack of any solid help from anyone but her parents – these shortcomings are what make the film tick.
Something, Anything is about the search for spirituality in one’s middle-age, when the more acceptable religious expressions and communities have been found lacking. This is a situation I think many of us can identify with fairly quickly. In the midst of crisis, Peggy has seen through the sham of the religion of the South, and finds herself drawn into a lonely quest for something more substantial. She feels as if her choices to leave her husband and abandon her job are the right ones, now she just wants to know why. The causality here seems backwards, but it makes sense. I think, as is the case with Peggy, our search for more consequential glimpses of the holy pass often through dramatic choices like these, inspired by some ineffable instinct and/or triggered by something as simple as a kind word.
And though they are at first lonely choices, they return us back to others – to compatriots that have traveled similar paths. Harrill is onto something here, and I look forward to seeing what’s next.
Keep an out out for this on Netflix and VOD, as I hear it releases toward the end of this month. I will update this post when I hear something more definitive.