When reading Nouwen's The Return of the Prodigal Son this morning, I realized that a recent movie, Warrior, somewhat paralleled the parable. The two brothers, however, get to slug and kick and maim and injure each other in the martial arts cage, a modern vicious sport. The brothers carry with them the baggage of resentment, past offenses, father injustice, family division, death, hurt, pain, dysfunction. How good it feels to them to slam one another, pounding out the filth they see in each other's eyes and lives.
In the Bible, the younger son returns after a squalid life. However, in Warrior, the younger son, played by Tom Hardy on the left, returns after leaving his alcoholic father with his mother who later dies of cancer. The older son, portrayed by Joel Edgerton, has stayed with his father, mainly because of a girlfriend and perhaps because of a desire to be the father's favorite. Clues tell us that the younger son, a fighting champion who the father coached, had been the perceived favorite. When the younger son runs away with his mother, he doesn't communicate out of resentment back to his two family members.
Yet in the movie he returns: broken, hardened, in pain. He doesn't ask directly for his father's forgiveness; rather, he torments his father some at the same time he holds the door open a little for a relationship. The older brother / son leads a quieter domesticated life, but he too has rejected his father for the pain caused. As fate would have it, he must fight to retain his home loan, and the two brothers meet accidentally (and have a tense, unresolved confrontation) as they walk outside of the arena where they will later fight for the championship.
Okay, the parable connection becomes muddled. Yet Nouwen talks about how the tension between the two brothers in the biblical parallel revolves around a father-figure and choices made. Same here. The father figure in the movie, played by the great Nick Nolte, is pitiable in his dysfunction, not like the biblical father who represents God. Yet we capture him trying to also find redemption in his life through sobriety and belief. The younger son who wants his dad to coach him again to win the martial arts championship, sees a Bible laying on the table and scoffs at it. The brothers, throughout the movie, circle the father, inside wanting clearance, love, function, normalcy, although the father is still fighting to receive these gifts himself.
So, in the ring, the brothers find themselves (of course, this is Hollywood!), and they are deeply at odds with one another, although they long for brotherhood. They return, and apart from the father, they get to work their differences out. The last scene in the movie is one of the best; the focus on the finished faces of both brothers is monumental. You'll have to see the movie to appreciate it.
In the biblical story, we don't know how the brothers end. And, in Warrior, it is implied rather than directly pronounced too, yet with more of a possibility given than the parable. We do know that the father implores the responsible older son to forgive and to love and to welcome. Yet the older son doesn't concede openly in the parable.
It's as if he needs a cage to enter into where he and his brother can duke it all out.