The loss of a child has a way of slamming the brakes on life. When is the right time to “move on” from tragedy? That’s the question posed in David J. Stern’s The Forgiving.
Stern’s story opens with up-and-coming writer Avi Brickman (John Gerard Healy) and his daughter, Kaylah, freestyling a story about a large tree and the adventures of the bunny that inhabits it. Instantly, the film’s tone shifts to the dark blue colors of depression, and we realize it was a flashback. Now we gaze upon Avi’s current reality.
Since his daughter’s death five years before, Avi’s marriage to Beth (Janna Sokolowski) is over, his home is up for sale, he loses his job teaching at the university, and today he’s been fired from his current job in sales. As Avi finds himself hitting rock bottom, he discovers this pit can go a lot deeper. Now broke, he goes to his former home in the woods and discovers a woman, Renata (Emily Classen), and her daughter, Angelina (Laurel Webb), have been living in the abandoned home for several days. Avi decides to make the best of the situation and show a little compassion to the pair.
“…discovers a woman…and her daughter…have been living in the abandoned home for several days. Avi decides to make the best of the situation …”
I’m mixed when it comes to The Forgiving. I found that if I can get past the film’s shortcomings, the story has a lot to say about loss and grief. Avi is played wonderfully by John Gerard Healy, who understands his character’s journey. I also like the idea that after his daughter’s loss, Avi becomes despondent and detached from life and those around him. It’s not until he confronts the past that he is able to “move on” with life.
The weakness of The Forgiving is it feels like several stories are being told—like a pot of stew when it should be a delicious, blended soup of the day. The film’s through-line is Avi’s journey from grief, losing everything, and finally being faced with the last thing he could lose—his life. A significant section of the movie has to do with several ghosts who confront Avi in his home. One spirit is his father. The others are Beth and Angelina (the revelation is disclosed in the press notes, so I share it here). These ghosts are there to force Avi to confront his anger toward his father and face the events surrounding his daughter’s death.
"…they serve as a catalyst for Avi to reconnect with life, and it's the moments when The Forgiving comes to life."