Magazine article The Christian Century

Man in Black

Magazine article The Christian Century

Man in Black

Article excerpt

Director Sidney lumet once lampooned the "rubber ducky" school of drama: "Someone once took his rubber ducky away from him, and that's why he's a deranged killer." In telling the story of singer Johnny Cash and his tumultuous reckoning with fame--including a first marriage that crashed in divorce (though a union that produced Rosanne Cash can hardly be characterized a failure); an addiction to pills; and his courtship of June Carter of country music's legendary Carter family--Walk the Line presents Cash's volcanic father as the rubber ducky. Robert Patrick is directed to play Ray Cash as a walking grudge who irrationally blamed 12-year-old J. R. for a sawmill accident that claimed the life of Jack, the beloved eldest son.

From Cash's autobiographies (1975; 1997), on which screenwriters James Mangold (also the director) and Gill Dennis based their script, there's no question that Jack's horrible death haunted Cash. Less clear from those memoirs--but an easier dramatic pitch for film audiences--is that Cash's crazed drive for success was an oblique attempt to warm a father's frostbitten heart. Throughout his life Cash spoke of his father with sympathy and respect, which the years mellowed the more. And Ray Cash was backstage and later in the audience for his son's seminal concerts at Folsom Prison (January 13, 1968)--which you would never guess from this film.

Another thing you'd never know from this film is that Cash's mother, Carrie, exerted on her son an influence as strong as that of his father. Mangold has Shelby Lynne play this woman as a mousy cipher, cowed by her husband's meanness. That rings false to Cash's chronicles and, more tellingly, to his songs, which feature wise, protective mothers ("Folsom Prison Blues," "Don't Take Your Guns to Town") whose twilight summons to children playing outside that it's "Suppertime" he transmuted into a spiritual about the Lord's heavenly banquet. Carrie's impact on her son persisted into 2004, with Rick Rubin's posthumous release of Cash's American album, My Mother's Hymn Book.

So we come to the most disappointing aspect of Walk the Line: its inability to deal with the deep Christian piety of either John or June. The way this movie tells it, young Cash the hell-raiser was never more than nominally religious until Carter straightened him out with tough love, a copy of Gibran's The Prophet, and one visit to the First Baptist Church. All the real-life principals--Cash included--agree that, at his nadir, he probably would have killed himself had it not been for June's devotion to him. Nevertheless, Cash's own Christianity was a lot more pervasively entwined in his career than Walk the Line suggests. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.