HBO’s The Sunset Limited-Hollywood’s Attempt at Exploring Faith and Existence

The Sunset Limited

I was up late one night flipping through the channels and came across a movie that had two of my favorite actors-Samuel L Jackson and Tommy Lee Jones, sitting at a table discussing deep philosophical and theological issues. The name of the movie is The Sunset Limited. Adapted from the stage play by Pulitzer Prize Winner Cormac McCarthy, the movie brings life to the real disparities of faith and life many people struggle with.

The two characters, White and Black (respective to their ethnicity) are brought together by what appears to be a moment of chance as Black , a deeply religious ex-con, saves White, an apathetic and atheist college professor from a suicide attempt of jumping in front of a subway train named Sunset Limited. Upon returning to Black’s apartment in the slums of New York, the two engage in a deep dialogue of philosophy, faith, and life. Even the setting of their dialogue, a simple table in a one room slum apartment can be seen as a symbol for the need to simplify our environment so that we may engage our inner self.

It’s not often that Hollywood would tackle the deep philosophical questions of suffering, life, and faith, but this movie does a great job. Jackson plays the role of a deeply religious man who while not fully understanding his faith, accepts it and questions it at the same time. Jones plays the role of an educated atheist man overcome with the despair of his existence. Both men existentially present arguments to counter the other’s faith both in religion and natural order and in my opinion, both are successful at convincing the other that each of their arguments amount to nothing more than fleeting fallacies. This is evident in the very beginning dialogue of the movie where Mr. Black says, ‘What am I supposed to do with you, Professor?’ and White says, ‘Why are you supposed to do anything… ‘Take action? There’s only one action that would have any meaning, and that’s to jump in front of a train.” Watching the interaction of the two men and listening to the dialogue, it’s hard to decide who is more likeable and believable enough to support Mr.White or Mr. Black.

For me, the most moving part of the movie was at the end. It is here that Mr. White comes to grip with his angst, despair, and dread and although presented with the alternative, chooses to leave in the same state of being. This leads Mr. Black to fall on his knees and cry out to his God-“I tried, you know I tried.” It is as if the ending is attempting to bring the audience to question whether or not efforts to prevent fate are worth it. It certainly leaves the watcher with deep pressing questions that he or she may engage with his or her self that could press them to either draw closer or further away from faith and life.

I strongly recommend this film for both its existential relevance, but also because it has two of today’s best actors tackling roles that relate to the average person and are highly likeable.

Published by

Dr. Lorenzo T Neal

Advocate, Author, Coach, Counselor, Educator, and Servant of God