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Cinema in Focus: ‘August Rush’

Within a musical masterpiece and a convergence of consequences, spring bonds of love.

3 Stars — Intriguing

The bond between parents and children is difficult to describe. Perhaps the best we can do is to create an analogy in which both share not only the same love for music but also the same ability to hear the harmonic sounds of nature itself — what the ancient Greeks called the music of the spheres or musica universalis. And perhaps if parents and child were separated from birth due to a horrendous betrayal, their shared experience could draw them miraculously back together. That is the solution Kirsten Sheridan presents in her magical film August Rush.

The central character of our tale is August Rush, a.k.a. Evan Taylor (Freddie Highmore of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory fame). Born of two extremely talented musicians and conceived from a serendipitous one-night-stand, August is placed in an orphanage by his mother’s father, Thomas Novacek (William Sadler). Selfishly ambitious for his daughter’s career as a concert cellist, Thomas tells her that her baby has died, forges her signature on the adoption papers and has him placed in a state-run facility. But when August is 11 years old, he becomes convinced he can find his parents by listening to and producing the music they share.

August’s mother is Lyla (Keri Russell). A quiet woman who is uncomfortable in the spotlight of her abilities, Lyla becomes despondent when she cannot give up the memory of her son or her love for his father. August’s father is Louis Connelly (Jonathan Rhys Meyers). Similarly temperamental and the lead singer of his brother’s band, Louis is stricken as well when Lyla does not return to meet him the next day at the arch in New York City’s Central Park. He does not know that their union had produced a child. Exemplifying the biblical observation that sexual union creates one flesh, the spiritual bond that Lyla and Louis share is personified in their son.

This 11-year struggle on the part of all three members of this family comes to a head when the harmonic convergence of their own unique musica universalis orchestrates their reunion. The events that bring this about involve courage, danger, talent, confession, empathy and love.

The villain of this tale is himself a product of the foster-care system, Maxwell “Wizard” Wallace (Robin Williams). A musician who has gathered a group of homeless kids into his abandoned theater-home, much like Dickens’ Fagin had done in Oliver Twist, the Wizard is an angry and abusive taskmaster. His desire to use music to make money presents a contrasting world-view to that of August and his parents.

Alhough it is clear this magical tale is an analogy of a deeper reality, it works well in expressing the inexpressible. The music itself is worthy of the price of admission, as the classical cello and the rock guitar being played in two very different settings blend in a musical composition of unusual texture and passion. But the most moving of all is the music of August’s creation that brings the climactic conclusion to the film. That is a moment you will not want to miss.

Discussion:                       
1. Have you ever had a connection with someone such that when you were apart you “knew” what was happening to him or her? What was that like? How often did it happen?

2. The contrast between the Wizard and the church’s pastor, Rev. James (Mykelti Williamson), is like night and day. Have you experienced the encouragement of a pastor who helped you reach your full potential? If not, where have you found help, assistance and support?

3. The empathy of the social worker, Richard Jeffries (Terrence Howard), was pivotal in the identification of the true identity of August even though he had to bend the rules of the system to help. Have you ever had a government official step outside the system to help you person to person?

4. When you hear the sounds of a city or of nature, what happens to your soul? Do you hear noise or music?

Cinema In Focus is a social and spiritual movie commentary. Hal Conklin is a former mayor of Santa Barbara and Denny Wayman is pastor of Free Methodist Church on the Mesa. For more reviews, visit www.cinemainfocus.com.

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