I just came back from seeing the movie Precious and it is an absolute must see. Although it is dark and utterly draining, it is still a testimony to the power of the human soul that remains even in the most trying circumstances. It is a movie that in my view all Latter Day Saints and all professed Christians should see, but unfortunately too few will.
Of course, this film is rated R and the R rating is well deserved. It is a gritty and no holds barred look at a side of American life that we all too often choose to ignore. Dark and nearly unspeakable acts of human cruelty are shown and described. Language is foul and free with four letter words perhaps being the most common words uttered. Yet, this is reality for a sizeable number of Americans. This film does not glory in this terror but reviles it desperately hoping for a way for its characters to escape it.
The film is set in Harlem in 1987 and tells the story of Claireece “Precious” Jones an obese impoverished illiterate African American teenager born into the most deplorable situation possible. At age sixteen, she is pregnant with her second child that we quickly find out is the result of her father’s repeated raping her. Her mother is a welfare queen and an absolutely intricate and fascinating monster of a human being. Precious is constantly belittled, beaten and brought down. Her plight is almost unimaginable.
Yet, first time actress Gabourey Sidibe fills her character with such personality and soul that she almost flies off the screen. Precious has withdrawn into a shell and hardly engages with the outside world. Yet, her inner imagination is shown in wonderful bursts of creativity that reveal that ambition cannot be putdown completely. Her character has no time for self-doubt even as she has been taught to hate herself. She is simply living day by day and hoping for something better from life. At one point, she mentions wishing she were dead, before soon after snapping back to reality and thanking God for the blessing of new days.
Mo’Nique a comedian not known for her fine acting, here plays the mother in an oscar worthy performance for the ages. She is completely human and this makes her menace even more terrifying. She is the result of a life drained of hope, and we realize that she is a poor victim even as she is a vicious perpetrator of hate. It is a performance that shows an incredible nuance and poignancy.
Precious of course receives help from an alternative school teacher Ms. Rain (Paula Patton) and a social worker played by an almost unrecognizable Mariah Carey. Yet, the film manages to present hope without trafficking in cliché or melodrama. There are no simple solution, and yet we can see how simple words of kindness or moments of attention fill Precious with light. Bit by bit, she develops a renewed sense of self and a purpose in life. This film is also a powerful expression of the empowerment of motherhood as Precious is empowered by the birth of her second child in a beautiful way. Every moment of joy feels improbable but utterly real.
In the end, one leaves the theatre with a greater appreciation both for how low people can go, and the power for people to rise up again. Spiritually, this film made me think about the incredible power of the atonement. Even someone born into the lowest of the low is capable of being redeemed by the light of hope. There is a powerful moment where Precious stands outside of a church looking in and imagining herself part of the gospel choir, and that image could be a metaphor for the whole film. Small acts of kindness, and examples of humanity at its best are the way to bridge the gap and bring people into a deeper sense of hope. Every human being is a child of god with dreams and ambitions. Precious is the kind of person that we would all judge in a negative way if we saw her or spoke to her. She is neither refined nor articulate. Yet, this film can help us realize that this judgment is precisely wrong. It is a message that is powerful and enduring.