The fascinating film about adolescent encounters with the sublime gives us plenty to ponder.

If you’re looking for a film that inspires lively conversation, you’ve got to check out The Fits. Anna Rose Helmer’s debut feature film runs a brief, but intense, 72 minutes, leaving plenty of time for discussion and debate afterwards. It caused a stir last year at Sundance, and critics have been talking about it ever since. Fortunately, Amazon Prime subscribers can currently stream it for free—and for the rest of us, it’s available for rent or purchase.

Here’s the premise:

Toni (played by an astonishing discovery named Royalty Hightower) is a soft-spoken but hard-thinking 11-year-old girl who, in her lonely afterschool hours, is wandering unwittingly toward an outbreak of mass hysteria. She spends her days drifting around her Cincinnati community center, moving back and forth from her brother Jermaine’s boxing practice (where she is an awestruck observer in the world of boys) to the territory of the Lionesses, a highly competitive and hierarchical dance team (in which she is an awkward beginner).

Sometimes, it’s challenging: We ponder Toni’s lonely silences and awkward exchanges with girls younger and older. Sometimes, it’s exhilarating: We watch her slowly begin to find her feet in an unsteady environment. And sometimes, it’s unsettling: Toni witnesses other girls on the Lionesses’ dance team succumbing to sudden “fits” that resemble strokes, seizures, sexual ecstasy, or spiritual epiphany.

And that’s the fun of the after-movie discussion: What do these fits mean?

I showed The Fits to film classes at both Seattle Pacific University and Northwest University this month, and each time my students filled an hour (and could have kept going) …

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