Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth;
break forth into joyous song and sing praises.
Sing praises to the Lord with the lyre,
with the lyre and the sound of melody.
With trumpets and the sound of the horn
make a joyful noise before the King, the Lord.
Let the sea roar, and all that fills it;
the world and those who live in it.
Let the floods clap their hands;
let the hills sing together for joy
the presence of the Lord, for he is coming
to judge the earth.
He will judge the world with righteousness,
and the peoples with equity.
For you shall go out in joy, and be led back in peace; the mountains and the hills before you shall burst into song, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.
The film opens with a glorious shot of a boy in a wheat field. As we hear the wind blowing, close-ups of the bobbing heads of grain are interspersed with wide overhead shots in which the wind has a wave-like effect on the wheat. A beautiful sequence that made me think of the line in Maltbie Babcock’s great hymn “This is my Father’s World,: “In the rustling grass I hear Him pass, He speaks to me everywhere.” Come to think of it, the first verse begins with, “This is my Father’s world, And to my listening ears, All nature sings, and round me rings, The music of the spheres.” And although the plot is about lonely boy longing to be reunited with his parents and their search for a child they did not know was alive, the film is really about those “listening ears” and “the music of the spheres.” Indeed, the last thing you hear in the film is an invitation to listen to the music.
Two talented musicians, one classical and the other rock, meet for one passionate night and then are separated by fate. The girl gives birth to a boy, who is turned over to an orphanage, the father telling the young mother that the infant had died—add a note of magic realism in which the boy grows up believing that music will lead him to find his parents, and you have the makings of a 21st century fairy tale. The girl is Lyla Novacek (Keri Russell), a rising young cellist, and her lover is Louis Connelly (Jonathan Rhys Meyers), lead singer and guitarist of a rock band. After her performance on a concert stage and his at a downtown club (there is an enjoyable blending of classical and rock music on the soundtrack), they meet at a party in Manhattan, go off to make love, and part the next morning with the understanding that they will meet again later that day in Washington Square.. However, the domineering father, focused only on his daughter’s career, forces Lyla to leave their hotel, with the disappointed Louis catching a glimpse of her from across the street but unable to catch up with the taxi bearing her and her father away. Louis waits for long hours in the park., but she does not show up.
Louis, being from a different country, leaves the USA without knowing how to contact the woman who has captured his heart. The impregnated Lyla nine motnhs later gives birth to a boy, but there are complications, and her father, forging her signature, has the baby taken away as a ward of the state. Father and daughter return to their home on the west coast. Louis, broken hearted and no longer finding his inspiration, gives up his career, as eventually does a dispirited Lyla.
Eleven years pass, with young Evan Taylor (Freddie Highmore), a resident in a New York orphanage, refusing to be considered for adoption. Longing for his unknown parents, he has been listening to the sounds and music of the world, believing that they can connect him with his mother and father. As he says at the beginning of the film, which he narrates, “I believe in music the way some people believe in fairy tales. But I hear it came from my mother and father. Once upon a time, they fell in love…” His kind case worker Richard Jefferies (Terrence Howard) would prefer that he give up such a dream, but he bears with the boy, not wanting to force him into a situation that could be painful for him. What happens to Evan when he runs away from the orphanage and finds himself on the not always friendly streets of Manhattan will warm your heart. When Evan meets young street musician Arthur (Leon G. Thomas III), the two strike up a friendship, which leads them to the place where Arthur lives with a number of other musically talented boys in the deserted, run down theater Fillmore East. Here Evan meets the Fagan-like hustler who calls himself The Wizard (Robin Williams), a Svengali-like guardian of the children, sending them out each day to take in money by performing on the streets and in the parks of the city. Discovering Evan’s phenomenal talent, the Wizard gives the name August Rush to Evan and seeks to exploit him, even if it means derailing the attempts of other more highly motivated adults to help the boy.
This charming film comes dangerously close to cloying sweetness, but director Kirsten Sheridan (this is her second feature) and her talented cast keep things on track, even at the conclusion refraining from depicting a tear-drenched reunion of hugs and kisses. Oops, did I give someone away? No, not really, as the plot, owing much to Dickens’ Oliver Twist, is fairly predictable. Nonetheless, despite what you might read by more sophisticated critics who turn their sophisticated noses up at anything coming close to sentiment in a film, this is a film that adults can enjoy as much as the children fortunate enough to see this celebration of life and love..
In a review of Tolkien’s book The Children of Hurin* I learned that his great work The Silmarillion begins with his version of the creation story in which sound, rather than light, is central. Eru, or Iluvatar, creates the universe through music. I don’t know whether screenwriters Nick Castle and James V. Hart, or for that matter Paul Castro, the author of the story the screenplay is based on, are familiar with Tolkien, let alone the Psalms or Isaiah, but they seem to share with the great novelist and the Biblical writers’ view of music as central to our being, and not just a nice diversion or entertainment. Some of the film’s story developments are hard to swallow, but the tuneful music makes us move beyond them and join in the party. Long after you ;leave the theater I would hope that you will remember August Rush’s challenging question, “Do you hear the music?
* By Philip Zaleski, CHRITIAN CENTURY, Oct. 16, 2007, p. 43.
1) How did the opening shot of the boy in the wheat field affect you? When have you been enthralled by the wind sweeping through the leaves of a tree; across a field of tall grass or flowers; or making patterns on the surface of a pond or lake? Look up and sing/recite the hymn “This is My Father’s World.” 2) In conjunction with the above, think about the following observation by Viscount De Chateaubriand contained in a book of quotations:** “The musician who would follow religion in all her relations is obliged to learn the art of imitating the harmonies of solitude. He ought to be acquainted with the melancholy notes of the waters and the trees; he ought to study the sound of the winds in the cloister and those murmurs that pervade the Gothic temple, the grass of the cemetery and the vaults of death.
3) What did you think of the sequence in which Evan melds all of the noises of the city around him into a musical composition? What were the various sounds? How have (or what) modern composers done this? There is an old film set in Paris which opens with the early morning sounds of the city that blend into a song that the hero then picks up on. Sorry, I cannot think of its title—if you recall this, let me know. This was the best part of an otherwise conventional love story.
4) What do you think of Wizard’s statement, “You know what music is? Harmonic connection between all living beings” ? He also says of music, “It’s God’s reminding us that there’s something else in the universe other than us.” 5) When August/Evan says, “It’s like someone’s calling out to me, only some of us can hear it,” Wizard replies, “ Only some of us are listening.” How is this like the response of the scribes and Pharisees to the invitation of the Lord of the Dance in Sydney Carter’s folk hymn? In the same collection cited in Question 2 ** I found the following two quotations by Martin Luther, who himself was a musician. Think about them: do you think Wizard would agree?
“When natural music is sharpened and polished by art, then one begins to see with amazement the great and perfect wisdom of God in His wonderful work of music…He who does not find this an inexpressible miracle of the Lord is truly a clod, and is not worthy to be considered a man.” and “I have no pleasure in any man who despises music. It is no invention of ours; it is the gift of God. I place it next to theology,” 6) What do you think Wizard means when he tells August, “You got to love music more than you love food. More than life. More than yourself.” How is such dedication like taking up a cross? What other pursuits, including the following of Christ, demands such discipline as music does?
7) How did you feel at the end of the film? How does the way in which it ends avoid the clichés of most similar films? Did the gorgeous music make you forget the implausibilities of the last part of the film? Do you sense the challenge in the last words we hear from August?
8) If you see and discuss the film with a group the two hymns mentioned above—” This is My Father’s World” and “Lord of the Dance” should be incorporated at the beginning and end of the session, either by singing or playing a recording of them.
**The World Treasury of Religious Quotations. Ralph L. Woods, ed. New York City: Garland Books, 1966.