Resurrection Imprint Films Bluray Review – An Essential Addition to Anyone’s Collection

Australian boutique physical media label Imprint Films have been doing a truly marvellous job at rescuing indispensable films from obscurity. Not only do they provide beautifully restored prints, each release comes with extras that enrich the understanding of the work. Daniel Petrie’s 1980 masterwork Resurrection scored star Ellen Burstyn an Academy Award nomination for Best Actress; it also gave theatre titan Eva Le Gallienne a nomination for Best Supporting Actress. Although overwhelmingly praised by the critical establishment at the time the film was a commercial flop due to poor marketing and expectations around what a supernatural film featuring Ellen Burstyn famous for her role in The Exorcist would be.

Resurrection is the story of Edna Mae McCauley. Edna is happily married to her construction worker husband Joe (Jeffrey DeMunn) and living in Los Angeles. They aren’t wealthy but they are deeply loving. Edna saves her money to surprise Joe with a brand-new car for his birthday. The gift leads to a terrible accident, and his death, and for a short moment, hers also. Edna goes “into the light” where she sees people from her past welcoming her. At the centre of the light is Joe. Revived and returned to life, Edna awakens with an uncommon ‘gift’ – the ability to heal.

Originally screenwriter Lewis John Carlino envisioned the story as the return of Christ in female form. However, when the producers approached Burstyn for the role, she had a different idea. Interested in parapsychology and healing practices from around the globe she suggested that instead of a Christ figure they concentrate on a ‘healer’ with no faith attached. (This information comes from Lee Gambin’s extraordinarily researched commentary track.) In fact, it could be said that Burstyn was essentially a co-writer, casting agent, and even a dramaturge director for Resurrection – simply put, without Burstyn the film would not exist as it does.

On awakening in the hospital, she is confronted by her taciturn father, John Hardy (Roberts Blossom) who we see throughout the film harbours a volatile resentment towards his daughter. With no-one left to care for her, and being paralysed from the waist down, Edna agrees to accompany John back to rural Kansas while she recovers.

On the road to the homestead, they encounter the gentle eccentric Esco Brown (Richard Farnsworth) who runs the ‘Last Chance Gas’ station. Esco symbolises the only supportive male energy Edna knows after the death of her husband. He shows her a two-headed snake (a symbol of rebirth in Hopi mythology, and also a potent pagan symbol) and his gas station is more akin to a small tourist attraction than just a place to fill up on a long journey. Edna does not realise it at the time, but her brief stop at Last Chance Gas will inform her own journey.

Arriving at the homestead which looks like a less grassy version of Andrew Wyeth’s ‘Christina’s World’ (an image that has informed many a cinematic version but is particularly poignant in Resurrection) Edna is given the chance to re-unite with her folksy and wise grandmother, Pearl (Eva Le Gallienne) who along with Edna’s cousin Kathy, played by the legendary Lois Smith form her only true support network in the small town (not discounting Edna’s adopted dog, Casey).

Edna’s powers are revealed gradually. Kathy’s daughter Lizzie has a nosebleed – a seemingly ordinary thing to happen, except Lizzie is a bleeder (possibly a haemophiliac) so stopping the bleed is an emergency. The local doctor who is at the welcome home picnic for Edna has no coagulant with him. Edna naturally reaches for the child to calm her in a motherly fashion and after a few moments the bleeding has stopped. Pearl notices that it isn’t a small thing that has occurred. So too the “fire and brimstone” preacher Earl Carpenter. From an act of love directed towards the child, Edna soon finds herself amidst a battle that sees her powers as unholy (because as an agnostic she won’t directly attribute them to God) and wasted on a woman.

Earl’s son, Cal (Sam Shepard) is to begin with the antithesis of his father. He’s known around the town for being a drunk and a womaniser. After a bar fight where he was stabbed, he is brought to Edna for healing. From there they begin a troubled affair. Edna insists she is a woman with desires and agency. Cal becomes more resentful of Edna each time she performs a healing. His malignancy grows into obsession. He feels that Edna is too powerful, and her power emasculates him.

The fear of a woman’s power that is generated through love is the key to Petrie’s film. Edna is characterised as a whore by men who insist on the patriarchal version of a woman as a virgin (John Harper, Cal and Earl Carpenter). Edna is always an ‘other’ to those men (father, lover, the church). That Edna is acting in good faith with her healing is irrelevant to the men who want her to be less than fully realised as a woman and human. For a vital examination of how Edna’s power exists within the realm of the ‘Divine Feminine’ Kat Ellinger’s video essay on the disc is a must.

The incredible work by cinematographer Mario Tosi is self-evident, not only in the scenes where he creates the “tunnel of light” but in how he shoots the rural aspects of the film. Again, Lee Gambin gives brilliant insight into Tosi’s work in his audio commentary.

Ellen Burstyn absolutely deserved her award nomination. One of the most important actors to come out of Hollywood’s 70s new wave, she had proven her mettle in Scorsese’s Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore and of course had become synonymous with one of the most important horror films of the 70s in William Friedkin’s The Exorcist. As Edna Mae McCauley she gives a performance that grounds the character as a complete woman who is filled with love and forgiveness, a force that exists only to do good without expectation of reward. She is luminous.

Resurrection is a film that needs to be seen by a new generation of film fans. It not only breaks the genre conventions around the faith healer film (Elmer Gantry for example) and creates a feminist alternative to parapsychology films such as David Cronenberg’s The Dead Zone (1984) it is a work that Ellen Burstyn was involved with on such an intimate level that to call it her film would not be an overstatement.

The Imprint Disc has a wonderful interview with Burstyn, as well as the aforementioned commentary by Lee Gambin and video essay by Kat Ellinger. The restored transfer is glorious. Resurrection is a film about love and those who give it freely, and the patriarchal forces that would stymy that love if it meant that it was a feminine power. It is an essential addition to anyone’s collection.

Director: Daniel Petrie

Cast: Ellyn Burstyn, Richard Farnsworth, Eva La Gallienne

Writer: Lewis John Carlino

Nadine Whitney

Nadine Whitney holds qualifications in cinema, literature, cultural studies, education and design. When not writing about film, art or books, she can be found napping and missing her cat.

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