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Troubled Grace:
The Dardenne Brothers’ Lorna’s Silence

A lesser double twist comes after Lorna accepts the expediency of Claudy’s death and begins settling into her new life as future mafia wife and bar co-owner. On cue, Lorna feels the first stirrings of pregnancy while checking out the site of her and Sokol’s business dream. She refuses to have her baby terminated (Fabio’s immediate suggestion, since the Russian wouldn’t like it), incurring Fabio’s wrath and eventually escaping assassination into a forest where she finds shelter in an abandoned log cabin. Such mythic, babe in the woods innocence isn’t entirely pure: Lorna’s condition is make-believe. She’s made it up but firmly believes she’s the mother of Claudy’s child, and she talks to it as if it were alive, or as if it were Claudy itself: “Don’t worry, I’ll protect you.”

A colleague (different from the Dardenne-basher mentioned above) recently mocked the critical tendency to champion the brothers’ spirituality when most of these same critics are likely spiritual only in the conveniently “non-practicing” sense. It’s funny, though: Despite their Catholic background, the obvious allusions to the Immaculate Conception in the final scene of their new film and the quiet intrusion of an ethereal Beethoven sonata (as the debut of extra-diegetic music in their work it’s another Dardenne first), I still don’t believe the Dardennes’ films are especially spiritual. Moral is a better, more grounded word for their interests, and in Lorna’s Silence that morality has been complicated by an understandable interpretation of events: Lorna is crazy. Insanity has long been equated with spiritual loftiness in Western culture, but the earthiness of the Dardennes’ filmmaking and their interest in the basic physical facts of existence makes the paradox more accessible. A self-generated illusion brought on by overwhelming guilt, Lorna’s “pregnancy” is also as real to her as the future prosperity of the snack bar once was. It’s the manifestation of a conscience fully awakened but awakened too late, a living reminder for Lorna of her responsibilities as much as it is a disturbing symptom to us of her fall off the deep end. Like the earlier moment of Lorna shopping that can be registered in two different ways, the ending of Lorna’s Silence (and the end of Lorna’s silence) isn’t simply “spiritual” but something more complex and troubling. If people, detractors included, think Lorna has been vaulted into beatitude, they haven’t been paying attention to the film, and haven’t been mindful of what the Dardennes have been doing all along.
 

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