TV on DVD Review: Amish Grace (2010)

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When you hear the horrific words “school shooting,” typically you imagine bullied loners wandering around public school hallways in trench coats. Needless to say, when presented with such an ominous term, a mental picture of a quaint little Amish community is the last thing that would fill your heads.

But tragically back in 2006, a senselessly tragic act of gun violence did indeed occur in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania when a disturbed man still distraught over the death of his baby daughter decided to “offend” God in the worst possible way by taking the young girls of the Nickel Mines Amish schoolhouse hostage, killing five of them before turning the weapon on himself.

And while obviously the devastating details alone are enough to forever sear this unexplainable event in our brains, what happened in the community immediately afterward sent shockwaves around the globe. Instead of following the biblical adage of “an eye for an eye” by answering an attack with another attack on either a Charles Bronson revenge level or by the declaration of war had this occurred on a national stage, the Amish vowed forgiveness.

Only hours after the bodies fell to the floor of the tiny schoolhouse, a small group of Amish elders rode over to the wife of the community's former milkman turned deceased gunman to sit with his widow, even going so far as to bring toys that their now diminished child population would no longer be using to offer them to the woman's children.

Regardless of the fact that Amy Roberts (Emmy winner Tammy Blanchard) was a God fearing Christian, when a majority of her parish seemed to disappear nearly overnight, by figuratively and literally turning their backs on the widowed struggling mother in her hour of need, she found friends in the unlikeliest of places, grieving and banding together with the community that her husband's bullets had ripped apart.

And although Christian hypocrisy is only subtly hinted at in this acclaimed made for Lifetime television movie which drew in the largest audience numbers the channel has ever received for an original film, since the main theme of Amish Grace is in rising above hatred and transcending tragedy with love, perhaps the work will spark valuable discussion among those of all faiths about what true neighborly compassion entails.

Yet even with this in mind, it's safe to say that most of us may have some difficulty even envisioning being able to vocally forgive the individual who killed our loved ones, especially only hours after it occurred.

However, to its credit, Amish Grace which is based on both the true story and Donald B. Kraybill, Steven M. Nolt and David L. Weaver-Zercher's heavily researched nonfiction book of the same name, never implies that this is the only way to respond to tragedy going so far as to reveal that it's perhaps easier to do so because the murderer is dead and also philosophies that forgiveness doesn't go hand in hand with forgetting, understanding or condoning what has occurred.

While there was some criticism about the way the movie fictionalized the events to assist in the storytelling and respect the privacy of the victims, the movie skillfully allows us to better identify with the internal struggle that grieving mother Ida Graber (Kimberly Williams-Paisley) faces.

Upset that her husband Gideon (Matthew Letscher) was one of the men to accompany the elders to Amy Roberts' home on the very same day they lost their eldest daughter who'd dreamed of becoming a teacher, Ida experiences a slightly dramatized yet entirely understandable crisis of faith.

Forming a somewhat dubious bond with a kind television reporter who refreshingly doesn't try to exploit Ida but worries that the Amish are forcing her to keep up a good front, Ida questions the choices she's made including her inability to go along with the community's vow to shun her sister after she left Nickel Mines and married an “English” man in the big city.

How can you forgive a killer for taking a life and not forgive a woman for falling in love?

It's an extremely valid question and one that serves as an example of the film's presentation of the events, which although slightly manipulative and extraordinarily sanitary admirably rises above television's traditional need to relish in both the gore and the gritty nature of the massacre itself since no guns are fired nor blood is shed in Grace.

Derived from either composites or hypothetical questions the audience had as viewer stand-ins, the characters of both Ida and the reporter are invented. Yet by preferring to navigate existential, emotional and moral terrain to enrich the lesson the Amish taught the world rather than cheapen it with exploitative disrespect, as a film, Amish Grace succeeds.

Featuring sensitive portrayals of the leads by Williams-Paisley and Blanchard, regardless of whether or not you condone, understand, or even believe the act of forgiveness in the wake of such an incomprehensibly mind-boggling tragedy, because Grace is destined to evoke thoughtful conversation, I'm able to overlook the heightened reality since the end justifies the means in bringing a valid lesson of humanism to light.

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FTC Disclosure: Per standard professional practice, I received a review copy of this title in order to evaluate it for my readers, which had no impact whatsoever on whether or not it received a favorable or unfavorable critique.