As someone who was raised Christian, the story about the birth of Jesus has been ingrained in me from an early age. The immaculate conception of Mary, arguably one of the most important events in the bible, was always the most puzzling aspect for me. Whenever I questioned the logistics of Mary’s predicament, I was met with the standard retorts of “you must have faith that God had a plan for Mary” and “there are just some things in the world that cannot be explained, you just have to believe”. Needless to say, these answers did little to quell my curiosity. Still the message was clear, Christianity, like all religion, comes down to blind faith.
Sermons from the pulpit preach of having faith that Jesus will come again to fix all that is wrong with the world. However, will we be ready for such an event? Would even the most devout believer recognize the signs of the second coming? Or would they dismiss it like they do the homeless man who shouts bible verses to people passing by on the street? This is a question that flows through Debbie Tucker Green’s thought-provoking directorial debut.
Green’s film Second Coming uses the notion of immaculate conception as a jumping off point for her examination of a family on the brink of self-destruction. Jax (Nadine Marshall) and Mark (Idris Elba) are your typical London suburban couple trying to raise their young son, JJ (Kai Francis Lewis), to the best of their abilities. There are problems in Jax and Mark’s marriage, but the film never fully explains what has led up to this point. All Green shares is that Jax has had several miscarriages and that the couple’s sex life, despite Mark’s frequent advances, is non-existent.
The couple’s relationship slowly slides from troubled to toxic once Jax finds out she’s pregnant and cannot provide Mark with a concrete answer on the identity of the father. With Mark convinced that she has been cheating on him, Jax struggles with the guilt of trying to keep the truth of the baby being immaculately conceived a secret. Furthermore, Jax must navigate her own sanity while wrestling with whether or not to even risk keeping the child.
While Debbie Tucker Green weaves a stirring film together, it should be noted that Second Coming, despite its title, is not an inherently religious film. Green is more interested in the nuances that make the family dynamic so complex rather than making any bold statements on religion. She displays a confident aesthetic that is very reminiscent of Steve McQueen’s works, especially in the way she captures both the beauty of nature in juxtaposition with the coldness of deteriorating relationships, but her own unique voice is always at the forefront.
Whether focusing solely on JJ’s face while Jax and Mark engage in a heated argument or using rain to symbolize Jax’s questionable sanity, the stylistic choices Green makes are mesmerizing. We feel every nervous eye movement, and can almost touch every drop of water on Jax’s skin.
Despite its deceptively simple premise, Green’s film is challenging and rich in the way it handles family strife. Second Coming is the type of film that not only lingers in the mind for days, but is bound to evoke plenty of deep discussions.
An outstanding debut, Green’s film not only benefits from a compelling script, but also by having actors who know how to sink their teeth into the wealth of material. Nadine Marshall and Idris Elba are heartbreaking in the film. Marshall in particular is wonderful as a women forced into a predicament that she never wanted in the first place. The way she silently takes the brunt of Elba’s verbal fury is devastating to observe.
The knockout combination of Green’s script and the moving performances make Second Coming a must-see. Green not only shows that she can make the transition from playwright to director with the greatest of ease, but also that she has a bright directorial career ahead of her. A unique and richly thought-provoking film, Second Coming is a film that is not easy to forget.
Sunday, September 14, 6:45 PM, TIFF Bell Lightbox
Ticket information can be found at the TIFF website.