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‘…this is a genuine curio, a thoughtful film about healing that never quite explains itself, right to an ingenious ending, but is all the better for leaving plenty of room for interpretation according to your own beliefs…’

Some things stick in your head. I can’t place exactly where I read this story as a teenager, I think it might have come from prolific entertainment writer Tony Crawley, but when Resurrection was shown at a press show in New York in 1980, critics were reportedly wowed, bestowing rave reviews. One critic begged to differ, finding Daniel Petrie’s drama to be disjointed and confusing. Refusing to let this go, the critic checked with the cinema projection booth and found that the reels had been shown in the wrong order, breaking the narrative time-line into a unintended jumble, yet somehow the critics involved refused to recant…

Despite multiple Oscar nominations, including Exorcist/Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore star Ellen Burstyn for best actress, Resurrection has been a tough movie to find since initial release, but YouTube provides a haven for such forgotten fare. Burstyn gives a remarkable performance as Edna Mae McCauley, who we see gifting her husband a flashy new car as he finishes a shift at his hard-hat Kansas workplace. He accidentally drives the car off a cliff, killing himself and leaving Edna with serious injuries. But after healing, Edna finds herself blessed with healing powers, and is seemingly able to work miracles, an ability which upsets her local religious groups…

So a parable of sorts, right? Lewis John Carlinio’s script is supposedly based on the real life experiences of a faith healer who, according to imdb trivia, cured Martin Scorsese of his asthma. There’s certainly some striking details along the way, with a two-headed snake and an ambiguous scene in which Edna may or may not use her mind to bend an iron poker by a fireplace, and her visions of the afterlife are dynamically imagined through slick special effects. But Resurrection goes off on an unexpected direction when Edna meets Cal Carpenter (Sam Shepard) a deeply religious man who believes in Edna’s abilities, but develops an unhealthy obsession with her after they become lovers. Cal ends up going full Terminator 2 when he launches a public attack on her with a motorcycle and shotgun combo, but Edna’s powers somehow see her through…

Resurrection is a well-mounted and acted film, but the point is hard to nail down to one specific meaning. Is Edna a messiah, does she actually have supernatural powers? Or is this all an operating table dream a la Jacob’s Ladder? Anyone’s guess is good; this is an opaque film that it’s possible to read almost anything into, and yet the time-line is straight as a die; perhaps mixing up the events might have added a extra layer of engagement for the audience to try to piece things together? Either way, this is a genuine curio, a thoughtful film about healing that never quite explains itself, right to an ingenious ending, but is all the better for leaving plenty of room for interpretation according to your own beliefs.



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  1. Definitely saw this way back in the day but remembered it as confusing despite the cast and Carlino and possibly neither one thing nor the other. But am happy to admit I misjudged it and should seek it out.

    • This is a terribly neglected film. But it’s certainly confusing, switching from one kind of story to another. Maybe because there’s a real experience behind it, but it’s quite absorbing in each mode.

  2. Don’t have vault version, but have watched dvd several times for clues…loosely based on Rosalyn Bruyere, who issued from a line of healers. Of her life she said ‘nobody wakes up and says I want to be a weirdo…’ she had visions as a kid, did something close to Reiki and saw auras…I could ID with her…she took defense classes and studied with Indian medicine men, connected with Egypt. She had many successes and of misses she said ‘illness can have many causes (physical, mental, emotional, spirit), I only treat physical aspect.’ Burstyn met Roselyn. She acknowledged her healing of others had detrimental effect on her, a concept I explore in Remains to be Seen. She’s in mid 70s now and advises others in Chelaton technique. Movie not one of my fav roles for Shepherd; in real life he was ill I Think. Roselyn was tested for electromagnetic abilities and CAL researchers were impressed. Writer did great job in insisting abilities didn’t come from religion. I agree film is hard to pinpoint, a real curio!

    • It’s a simple story, yet hard to place a through line. It could be an allegory; someone who can help others but cannot help themselves, would put it alongside contemporary works like Schrader’s American Gigolo. Fine. Or it could be an attack on organised religion; a modern day miracle worker finds herself in conflict with the church. That might work too in a Carrie meets Network way. I guess the ending feeds into that idea, that Edna hides her gift and uses it in secret. But this isn’t really horror, and if it’s religious or even satire, it goes off on a strange domestic abuse tangent. But I think you’re right to pull this back to a semi-autobiographical slant, and one that’s careful to cover tracks. Whether you believe in Edna’s powers or not, and aside from a mind-bending poker that might just have been left at the fireplace too long, all Edna’s ‘miracles’ could be otherwise explained if you have a mind to. Positive thinking, tapping into holistic theories; if we assume that her miracles have been dramatised for movie purposes, it’s certainly possible that 1) Edna could help people heal and 2) that process may have been damaging or destructive to her. Anyway, I found out more FACTS reading your comment than I did from my research of this film, but yes, this is a wildly untypical Shepard performance, it feels like they wanted to cast an up and comer with a dark side, and they sure got one, but there’s something off about his performance, possibly intentionally. And you are now the only other person I know who has seen this movie!

  3. I wish any director who shows shotguns being shot from a motorcycle had to shoot a shotgun with live ammo from a motorcycle. That would soon put a stop to such nonsense.
    It’s not impossible, but it is super duper incredibly hard. You’re going to crash and burn and I doubt even a faith healer could fix you up…

  4. When Henry James’ The Ambassadors was first published they put some of the chapters in the wrong order and nobody noticed that either. But that’s something I can understand.

    I heard about this but never caught it. Not high on the list, but maybe someday. Just finished up The Bats today. Nice graveyard you’ve got there.

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