- Movie Rating -

Resurrection (1980)

| September 26, 1980

I understand from some light research that Resurrection was originally intended to be a horror movie.  Having seen the picture, I could understand how that might have been tempting given the subject matter, at least from a marketing standpoint.  Yet it would a real crime given how the movie turned out.

This is not a horror movie.  It’s a tender drama about a woman given a special ability – yes supernatural – but who then has to decided what to do with it.  She has the power to heal through touch, and given the temptations to exploit such a gift, we’re surprised at the decisions that she makes.  This is a very human film about very human values.

Ellen Burstyn plays Edna McCauley, a housewife who lives in California with her husband Joe (Jeffrey DeMunn). They have a good relationship but it comes to a tragic end when she buys him a car for his birthday and, on it’s first road test, crashes through a guard rail and down a cliff. Joe dies while Edna has a near-death experience and wakes up in the hospital paralyzed from the knees down.

Her father John (Roberts Blossom) is a man who keeps a stone wall between himself and his daughter, comes to see her in the hospital and suggests that she come back home to Kansas with him. Having no real reason to say no, she agree and they make the long drive. During a family get-together, Edna stops a little girl’s nosebleed just by touching her. Her grandmother (Supporting Actress nominee Eva Le Gallienne) notices that her hands are hot and suspects that she may have a healing touch. She tells Edna the story of a woman from her past who had died of pneumonia for ten minutes but was revived and began healing people by touching them. Edna doesn’t buy the story but later she rubs her own legs and eventually begins to walk again.

She becomes an enigma in the town and folks seek her out to be healed themselves. Most of the time, her healing touch works, so it isn’t long before a few of the God-fearing townsfolk begin to get nervous. Edna won’t readily admit that God is working through her and that leads to a few people accusing her of being in league with Satan. She even turns down an offer to have herself tested by scientists, telling them “What’s going on here has to do with people and feelings and not wires and machines. I dunno, it just doesn’t feel right to me”.

A local kid named Cal (Sam Shepard), is stabbed one night in a bar and falls under her healing hands. He likes Edna and after some initial reservations, she falls for him too. They begin a sweet relationship that comes to a bitter end when he tries to get her to admit that she is a vessel of God. She refuses and Cal becomes an extremist, quoting the Bible and railing about the idea that she is a vessel of the devil. Eventually, he shoots her, but only grazes her shoulder. She flees town and some years later – her hair now white – she owns a gas station that she and her father had passed on their way into town some years earlier. A couple drops by with their son who is dying of cancer. She doesn’t tell the couple that she has a healing touch but upon their departure she gives the boy a puppy and says that it will cost him a hug. She hugs the boy and the film ends as she looks over his shoulder, her face full of contentment.

Ellen Burstyn has always been one of my favorite actors because she seems so vulnerable, so real. She doesn’t possess any of the high gloss of her contemporaries, she looks like someone that you might actually meet in real life. That’s why she’s so perfect for this role, she believes that she is doing good with her miraculous ability and we believe it too. Edna is a woman full of love and compassion, which is why she asks for nothing from those she heals. She refuses to let her amazing ability go to her head or to become a demagogue. She never renounces the existence of God but she refuses to use her ability and claim that she is a special case in his eyes.

Edna becomes more in tune with what people need rather than what they need to hear and that becomes clear in her relationship with her father. Where she is warm and wants to give love, he is cold-hearted and keeps her at a distance. Late in the film, after he has disowned her, she stands at his deathbed and urges him to welcome the embrace of death. She has seen the light and urges him to take it. She knows that it would be wrong of her to heal him (he sees her healing as blasphemy) or to simply abandon him. This woman, so full of love, reaches out to this man even though he has dismissed her.

Resurrection is a movie that is still waiting to find an audience. It was initially planned by Universal to be a horror story on par with The Exorcist but Burstyn didn’t want it that way. She saw this as a story about love and compassion, but in their ad campaign, the studio tried to sell it as a thriller and audiences stayed away. Even today, the movie isn’t screened much on television and, to date, has never been released on DVD.

I wish more people would discover this film because Edna is a woman they can admire. She has a heart full of love and asks nothing in return. She has been blessed with an ability to help people and never waivers in her conviction that she is doing a good thing. The ending is especially emotional as she is visited by the little boy with cancer. She hugs him but never reveals to him or his parents that she is healing him. We see a close-up of her hands touching his back and then the camera moves to her face smiling into the sunlight. This is one of the most satisfying moments that I have ever experienced in a movie.

About the Author:

Jerry Roberts is a film critic and operator of two websites, Armchair Cinema and Armchair Oscars.
(1980) View IMDB Filed in: Uncategorized