J. & C.'s Movie Reviews

Our Notes on Movies Made Public

Walk the Line

Posted by J on November 26, 2007

Walk the Line is never sure if it’s a morality tale or a rockstar celebration. On the one hand, it praises a mass-marketed icon’s rise to fame and iconographic status. On the other, Johnny Cash’s story keeps wanting to veer toward Christian repentance and redemption. He does not exactly find that repentance and redemption here, unless June Carter is an able substitute for Christ. Since she is not, we wonder what lessons this movie actually teaches.

Yes, we learned, celebrities tend to be pampered delinquents. In Cash’s case, drugs, booze, women, and money come all too easy to him. Unfortunately in Walk the Line, Johnny’s fall into licentiousness goes on and on and on. There is nothing else but this fall, for almost two hours of this movie, except the hope that he might be saved by June Carter.

We also learned that being a rockstar is sexy. This movie is a de facto musical, since all of Johnny’s songs are used to augment or comment upon the plot in key moments. And so we see Johnny and June up on stage for what seems like a quarter of the movie. And they look real cute together, even while married to other people.

This was our problem with Walk the Line. While we appreciate the plot arc that leads to Johnny and June’s marriage after which everyone lives happily ever after, the movie throws away opportunities to deride Johnny and June for their three divorces and extra-marital activities. In fact, just the opposite. In several scenes, they are married to other people, but the movie-language makes clear that these two people always have been Meant To Be. In early scenes we almost want them to quit their spouses and fall in love. Then, in a later scene, we encounter a puritanical witch in a corner drugstore, who tells June that she has committed an abomination by twice divorcing, because “marriage is for life.” Here, June is supposed to be the sympathetic character, but this lady has a point. June and especially Johnny have alienated their families by living somewhat decadent lifestyles, from which ensues divorces and wrecked relationships. It is therefore difficult to praise their final marriage when we were supposed to want it to happen when it should not have even been considered.

A more mature screenplay would’ve realized that–gee whiz–Johnny and June’s early flirtations are not just dumb but immoral. June does recognize this to a degree, but yet she keeps touring with Johnny, smiling cutely on stage at his antics. In the end, it is she–and not the message at the church the two of them attend–who saves him from drugs and isolation. When Johnny asks her to marry him for the fortieth time–on-stage, embarrassingly enough–she accepts without any reason, reversing her previous adamant decisions to not marry him. The camera shows the two of them kissing, with the stagelights creating a bright aura around them. This is Johnny’s salvation, of sorts. June has offered him grace, and thereafter we see Johnny reformed and his broken relationship with his father repaired. This is not to say that Walk the Line is necessarily blasphemous; there’s enough Jesus stuff in here to lend weight to a counter-interpretation of some parts of this review. The movie just struck us, in its use of the modes and messages of conversion stories, as a bit cock-eyed.

Entertainment: 6
Intelligence: 5
Morality: see review (but not as bad as a PG-13 rating these days suggests; two bad words and Johnny pops some pills)

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