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Conception, no annunciation

12 June 2015

Stephen Brown sees a brave film that reminds him of Solaris


"THEN said Mary unto the angel, How shall this be, seeing I know not a man?" (Luke 1.34). Modern minds tend to be uncomfortable with what cannot be explained in rational terms, which makes Debbie Tucker Green's film Second Coming (Cert. 15) a brave venture.

Jackie (Nadine Marshall) discovers she is pregnant, but knows not how. Though she is happily married to Mark (Idris Elba, fresh from playing Mandela), their relationship hasn't been sexual for some time. Nor has she been involved with anyone else. They appear to be a Christian family. Jackie's best friend Bernie (Sharlene Whyte) is godmother to JJ (Kai Francis Lewis), the much loved 11-year-old son born after several miscarriages.

After undergoing a huge range of emotions over the situation, Jackie becomes convinced that this is the Second Coming of Christ. One might wish to point out that the New Testament Greek word parousia refers to Christ's triumphal coming this time as judge, not infant. No matter. As far as the film is concerned, Jackie ponders this mystery in her heart for as long as she can. It brings her no joy, only a troubled countenance that swiftly alerts others that something is wrong.

The problem is that Jackie isn't telling. Her husband is initially delighted until he does the arithmetic. JJ is caught in the cross-fire between an enraged Mark and his near-silent wife, who is unable to provide an explanation for the pregnancy. It's all very frustrating, not least for the audience. A problem shared might have become a problem we'd all get more interested in if only she'd talk.

I think Second Coming is meant to remind us of several other films. JJ takes refuge in caring for a lame bird (Kes). Outdoor scenes are set on Wimbledon Common which parallel Antonioni's Blow-Up, another never-to-be-resolved mystery. And, most of all, there is clear reference to Solaris when rain seemingly pours over Jackie when indoors. The new world she inhabits is of a different order. Anything is possible.

In the Tarkovsky original, the psychologist Kris Kelvin is summoned to a space station to assess strange goings-on, but he himself shortly starts hallucinating. Likewise, Jackie begins having visions. Are these psychotic or the work of God? It brings us back to the essence of this film. There is a reality far grander, more mysterious than one of surface appearances. And, while the director does her best to retain our interest through a whole bag of cinematic devices - I chuckled when the camera paused in front of a Stork margarine carton - the film is often every bit as slow as Tarkovsky can be.

Whether that is a problem will depend on the patience of the viewer. Jackie's reaction to pregnancy may have differed from that of the Blessed Virgin Mary, but in both situations there is a palpable experience of transcendence.

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