Engage with culture without disengaging your faith.
Rating: M (course language)
Length: 119 minutes
Starring: Hugo Weaving, Don Hany, Xavier Samuel, Mark Leonard Winter, Anthony Hayes, Jane Menelaus
Director, Producer and Screenplay: Craig Monahan, Alison Nisselle (co-writer)
Musical Score: David Hirschfelder
Cinematographer: Andrew Lesnie
Healing is a powerful, moving story of redemption, the discovery of hope and the healing of the spirit – in the most unlikely place, for the most unique men, through the most unusual catalyst. Won Wron is a low-security prison farm, a completely non-threatening environment where it is felt some individuals can be reformed and prepared to face the real world on release through hard work, normal working hours and acquiring useful skills. Although not a true story, all the prison inmates are composite characters based on real individuals that Craig met during his research. Even Yasmine is a composite of three individual eagles. Matt Perry (Hugo Weaving) was based on a real person. https://www.healingthemovie.com
The photography is magnificent and the birds are each characters in their own right.
Questions for discussion
Some general questions might provide enough framework to get started:
- What stood out as the main points/highlights in the movie?
- What themes are explored?
- What assumptions were embedded in the story?
- What challenged you? What questions did it raise for you?
- Are there aspects of the story that resonated with your own experience or with the experience of others in a similar situation?
- Are there biblical or theological themes or characters that come to mind?
Punishment or rehabilitation
Viktor Khadem (Don Hany), an Iranian, was convicted of murder and has spent 18 years in gaol. He has little idea of the world outside and has cut himself off from his religion and his family. He is close to being released but he has almost given up on life. Each of the Prison Officers is a Case Worker for a small group of prisoners. Matt Perry has contact with the Healesville Wildlife Sanctuary because of his interest in raptors. He dreams up the idea of prisoners helping with the rehabilitation of injured birds as the sanctuary has too many to deal with. He gets the idea passed by the CEO (Robert Taylor) and, with support from the Social Worker (Justine Clarke), picks Viktor as supervisor. Viktor is introduced to Yasmine, the majestic wedge tailed eagle with a 2 metre wingspan and terrifying claws, and taught how to care for her. If these two can tame each other, anything is possible.
What do you think of this idea? Are the inmates still being punished? How important do you think it is for prisoners to be properly rehabilitated so that when they are released they don’t commit further crimes? Are our prisons doing enough rehabilitation? If not, who suffers as a result?
Can people change?
Matt asks Viktor to choose who will work with him. He chooses his room-mates: Paul (Xavier Samuel), a young shy, easily intimidated prisoner paired with Viktor on arrival, and Shane (Mark Leonard Winter), a rather mixed up kid with a pet rat. They set to and build the aviaries and cages for the birds. Matt’s fellow officer, Egan (Tony Martin), has seen it all before and bets Matt that ‘Viktor won’t come out of the door without being told.’ He continues this kind of negative banter throughout the film.
What brings people to have faith in others and faith that change can occur in people’s lives? How much of the cynic is in us? Has the Gospel message something to offer? If so, what? Would this work with an Iranian Muslim or is another approach needed? How do we get our good ideas accepted by other people?
The bullying behaviour of Warren (Anthony Hayes) runs as a thread through the film. His behaviour is observed by the prison officers who seemingly do nothing. He has control over Shane and makes Shane do things like hide his drugs. Finally, fearing he is losing his control over Shane to Viktor and Paul, he kills Shane’s rat. Shane has finally had enough of being bullied and strikes back. A note appears in the complaints box. In the subsequent prison officers’ raid on Warren’s room drugs are found and Warren is promptly sent back to the main prison.
Pecking orders develop in most societies and many organisations, even gaols as is commonly depicted in the movies. Bullies are often very clever at concealing their activities. What are your experiences of bullying? What is an appropriate response to bullying?
People and Birds
This film was inspired by the real life partnership between the Healesville Wildlife Sanctuary and Won Wron prison farm run by Corrections Victoria. Many institutions and support organisations have introduced animals as part of therapy.
What is the place of animals in your life? How important do you think it is to protect animals and their habitat. Why?
The writer in the book of Genesis says that mankind has dominion over all the fish, birds, and every living thing on the earth. Some people see this as a licence to use animals as they like. Is there another way of looking at this?
Time and Culture
Although the movie is long (119 minutes) we didn’t realise this. It moves at a steady pace as the different characters develop, much like country life and, like the healing which occurs gradually.
How dominated are we in our lives by time? Is there a way to pace our lives better? How easily do we judge others? If we try to heal too quickly are we really healed?
The Healing Process
After 18 years of having no visitors, a first ever prison visit by Viktor’s son, Yousef (Dimitri Baveas), who is now grown up and married with a daughter, fails. Viktor won’t look at him because of shame. Viktor shows his rage and the son leaves. However, Viktor is soon attached to Yasmine, a wedge tailed eagle that cannot fly due to damaged pinion feathers that will take 9 months to heal. Viktor has to feed and exercise the bird daily. As time goes by Victor accepts another vist by Yousef and begins to communicate with his son. He explains why he refused to attend his mother’s funeral – if he had, no one else would have attended. A day visit is arranged as part of the process of preparing prisoners for release. Viktor must take a gift so he wraps a framed picture of himself and Yasmine. He inadvertantly leaves the gift on the train, then fails to visit, is found intoxicated and is returned to the prison farm the next day by the police. He loses all his privileges, his position in the raptor program and his single room. He goes to work in the kitchen but the connection with Yasmine does not go away. Yasmine pines for him. Viktor is eventually able to return to the program and tries to release Yasmine, as is the aim for all rehabilitated birds. Yasmine does not cope in the wild and is taken to the sanctuary where Viktor is reunited with her and his family.
Matt is also carrying scars from the death of his daughter. He leaves the play equipment at his house but later is seen dismantling it when he has come to terms with her loss.
Paul is so ashamed of what he did that put him in gaol that he will not accept visitors. He gradually gains his self esteem through caring for the birds and is pleased when his father visits.
How easy is it to give up? How easy is it to recover from shame, loss or disappointment? What do you think helps Viktor, Matt and Paul continue?