Penguins, Trees, and Tragedies
Image: HBO
Liv Tyler in 'The Leftovers'

Note: As with all TV recaps, there may be some spoilers below for those who did not watch the episode. If you're only looking for a content advisory, I'll tell you: this HBO show, were it a movie, would be rated R for language, violence, sexual content, and thematic material, but it changes from week to week. The first commentary carried a Caveat Spectator, so you can check that out.

I lost my father to an aggressive leukemia nearly eight years ago, less than a week before my wedding. I was 22. He was 47.

And that still makes no sense to me.

I know all the ways to explain what happened eight years ago, and even why. But no matter. It doesn't—it truly doesnot—make sense.

My faith is supposed to sustain me through tragedy. I always (unwittingly) took that to mean that it was supposed to cheer me up and help me feel less angry and upset about it.

It took a long time for me to understand that faith also demands I speak and bear witness to the tragedy of human life, to the balance between hope and doubt. To brush past tragedy is to degrade faith: the assurance of things hoped for, and the evidence of things not seen. Failing to acknowledge tragedy for what it is—tragic—is a way to deny that all things will be set right in the end, but they are not right, not now.

Everyone responds to loss differently. I responded by locking myself up inside for a long time, sure that to doubt or complain was wrong, needing to be strong for others. Others respond by acting out, or self-destructing, or slipping into deep depression, or even madness.

I continue to learn how to properly experience and understand tragedy through art—movies like Krzystof Kieslowski's Blue that left me longing ...

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Watch This Way
How we watch matters at least as much as what we watch. TV and movies are more than entertainment: they teach us how to live and how to love one another, for better or worse. And they both mirror and shape our culture.
Alissa Wilkinson
Alissa Wilkinson is Christianity Today's chief film critic and assistant professor of English and humanities at The King's College in New York City. She lives in Brooklyn.
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Penguins, Trees, and Tragedies
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