May 7, 2014
Healing (M). Director: Craig Monahan. Starring: Don Hany, Hugo Weaving. 119 minutes
As its title suggests, Healing probes the process of dealing with loss, coping with regret, and moving on to a more positive future. Director Craig Monahan has said that making the film was part of his own healing process, following the death of both of his parents during the years that the film was in development. Hugo Weaving’s character in the film is inspired by a real-life minimum-security prison officer whose daughter had died.
This man helped initiate a partnership between the Healesville Wildlife Sanctuary and Prisons Victoria, to develop a program for rehabilitating injured raptors, that would be overseen by prisoners as part of their own rehabilitation. ‘The program encapsulated the positive side,’ says Weaving, ‘of someone trying to deal with their own grief, and healing himself by setting up a kind of living memorial to his daughter.’
Such a program and process lies at the heart of Healing. ‘I’d read a number of drafts,’ says Weaving, who has shared a working relationship with Monahan ever since he starred in the director’s feature debut, the menacing police drama The Interview, back in 1998. His character Matt, like his real-life counterpart, is a bereaved father, and his all-but silent grief lends considerable weight to Weaving’s gruff portrayal. ‘It is not demonstrated in any great depth, but you understand the magnitude of his grief and what he’s trying to deal with,’ says Weaving.
Matt is inspired to initiate the program not just by his own grief, but also by his observation of the film’s hero, Viktor (Hany), an Iranian expat and inmate who bears his own deep emotional scars. Viktor is at the tail end of a prison sentence for murdering a friend. During the course of the film he must confront not only his sense of guilt over that deed, but also try to heal the family relationships that have been damaged by his errant ways. His care for the raptors mirrors and enhances this process of self-healing.
As part of his research, Weaving spent time at some of Victoria’s minimum-security prison farms, and hopes that the insights gleaned from these experiences will illuminate for audiences this often-unseen aspect of the justice system. ‘It’s a prison film and yet you’re in a facility that not many people know about,’ he says. ‘At these facilities there’s a great deal of trust and quite strong relationships between prison officers and inmates.
‘It’s a pre-release facility, a very different atmosphere to a maximum-security prison. There were no exterior walls or fences — the inmates could run away if they wanted to, though obviously that’s not in their interests. It’s the borderline between being incarcerated and being set free. Therefore there needs to be a certain amount of trust and responsibility given to inmates because they need to be rehabilitated back into the community.’
Healing‘s strongest attribute is its cinematography. Its images of birds in flight or repose stand as poignant metaphors for the ebb and flow of human dignity, the fragility and resilience of the human spirit, and the burgeoning self-respect. If the story is a bit thin at times, and the dialogue stilted, this is balanced by the gravity of the theme and by the performances of Hany and Weaving, as their characters push back with increasing resolve against the weight of grief and regret. In this regard it, like its characters, achieves transcendence.