Ingrid Ambelin (Christine Jones) owns a coffee shop in Cincinnati. She has one son, a responsible young man named Michael (Spencer Lackey), and she also tends to think of herself as being a mother figure to everyone who works for her. She’s the type of boss who keeps an extra set of clothes in the backroom, just in case one of her cashiers makes the mistake of coming to work in something that Ingrid considers to be too revealing. (Actually, to be honest, that’s the sort of thing that would drive me crazy if I worked for Ingrid.) Ingrid is old-fashioned but she means well.
Alec McCortland (Rupert Spraul) is a musician and a drug addict, someone who has never had anyone willing to look out for him. Alec is the type who frequently goes to rehab but always relapses as soon as he gets out. He’s angry but he’s also young. In fact, he’s young enough that, when he accidentally drives his car straight into Michael, he’s tried as a juvenile.
At first, Ingrid is outraged that Alec will not be tried as an adult. She forms a support group that meets in the basement of her church. At first, Father Peter (Michael Wilhlem), who also happens to be Ingrid’s brother and Michael’s uncle, feels that the group will help her overcome her anger but instead, he watches as Ingrid and the group become obsessed with getting revenge. In fact, when Ingrid catches Alec again breaking the law, she reports him and gets him thrown in jail.
And then, something unexpected happens. At the urging of her brother, Ingrid finally visits Alec in prison and, as the two of them talk, Ingrid comes to realize that Alec is not the demon that she assumed he is and Alec finally starts to come to terms with his guilt over the death of Michael. To the shock of her family and her employees, Ingrid comes to forgive Alec. She works to try to reunite Alec with his father. And when Alec is up for release, she volunteers to serve as his legal guardian….
I’m a big fan of the concept of forgiveness. At the same time, I also know just how difficult it can be to truly forgive anyone, much less someone who has committed a heinous an act as Alec does in this film. Therefore, I was curious to see how Healing River would handle the topic and I have to say that I was pleasantly surprised. Healing River is a film that celebrates forgiveness and shows why forgiveness is necessary but, at the same time, it also doesn’t pretend as if forgiveness is easy. For the most part, it takes an honest approach to the concept of forgiveness. It’s portrayed as being important but it’s also not portrayed as being a magical elixir. Even after Alec and Ingrid get to know each other and grow close, there’s still a lot of pain to be dealt with.
It helps that, as opposed to a lot of other inspirational films, Healing River has a little bit of an edge. No one in the film, including Ingrid, is presented as being a saint. The characters actually curse and I was glad they did because what mother wouldn’t curse while trying to explain how she feels about the death of her son? Far too often, films like this seem to be set in a fantasy world that’s specifically designed not to challenge the target audience’s beliefs. Healing River, however, takes place in the real world and, in the real world, people curse when they’re in pain.
There are a few scenes where the film’s low-budget does become a bit of a distraction. An early scene featured a Hebrews-related pun that made me cringe. (“Hebrews …. she brews.”) There’s a narrative development in the third act that feels a bit clumsy. It’s a flawed film, as most films are. But it’s a sincere film and it’s a film that honestly explores both why forgiveness is important and why it’s also so difficult.