Dear Zachary: A Letter to a Son About His Father (2008)

It’s hard for me to not think of this film in theological terms as it’s a deep stare into the problem of evil. I think there’s even a tiny bit of a framework for it as the family has religious ties and someone even mentions at one point how the events of the film shook their faith. It’s not overt or in your face about those elements, but they’re brewing throughout the film.

A documentary conceived as a letter to Zachary about his father, Andrew, the film deals with a heart-wrenching and awful story. Andrew is a wonderful, unassuming guy who was shot and killed by his ex-girlfriend Shirley after he broke up with her. The messed up part is that she ends up being pregnant with his child, Zachary. When she flees the country and delays the extradition process, she ends up giving birth to and taking care of the son of the man she murdered.

What does someone do with a situation like that? It’s such an unjust, cruel situation, a complete and utter failure of the judicial system and a morally repugnant scenario. To let a woman who is accused of killing someone she loved care for the child of the man she slaughtered is the kind of absurd evil that seems incomprehensible.

And what you believe about God and the world probably goes a long way towards how you feel about this film. Is this the story of a world so messed up that this kind of thing happens without any recourse? Is justice this bankrupt system that fails people? Do evil people just get free reign in this life? If there is a God, why doesn’t he stop evil?

One of the concepts people find uncomfortable, even in religious circles, is the idea of a God of wrath. That out there exists this God who created everything and yet goes around punishing people. People read the Old Testament and balk at a God who would strike down people with such anger and wrath. And yet, watching this movie it would be hard to not come to the conclusion that Shirley is a person that deserves such wrath. If she doesn’t get it in this life, perhaps it is just and right that she gets it in the next life.

This is not to say that people should simply leave it all up to God and let evil run around unrestrained. David and Kathleen, the parents of Andrew, start a crusade to reform the judicial system in North America to avoid this situation from ever happening again. In the midst of such a horrific, heinous situation, they find a way to turn it into something to make the world a better place.

Not everyone who watches this film will find it as hopeful as I do, which is fine. Dear Zachary isn’t here to solve the problem of evil but it certainly wants you to confront the fact that evil does exist and sometimes evil wins the day. How you respond to that problem is perhaps one of the most defining elements of a person’s belief and a shapes how one lives everyday life.

I know that a lot of that doesn’t sound like it addresses the actual movie, but it’s the kind of film that elicits a response that spills out of the film. It simply isn’t confined to the events on screen, but pours out into this deep problem of evil that permeates the human condition. It demands a reaction, both emotional and intellectual, and that reaction says more about the viewer than anyone depicted in the film.

© James Blake Ewing 2017