Woman, Thou Art Loosed
Both the external and internal demons of a young African-American woman’s past may destroy her future in the blemished but potent film adaptation of Bishop T.D. Jakes’ novel and stage play, Woman, Thou Art Loosed. Jakes hopes the emphasis on realism rather than idealism will stretch interest in this Christianity-fueled film beyond its obvious audience base. The broadening of his ministry is an intangible element of the film best discussed in forums other than film criticism. But Woman’s lack of sugarcoated messages certainly strips down the relevance of the church in today’s messy world to its bare bones, allowing for further rumination whether you are a nonbeliever, were born again, were born too late or reportedly were just found under a rock.
Woman, Thou Art Loosed is the story of a horrific crime perpetrated against a child in her own home and the fear, shame, denial, bitterness, injustice, downhill spirals and opportunities for regeneration that follow. It chronicles both human explosion and implosion, the domino effect of violence, predation, humiliation, secrecy and hypocrisy. It portrays a world populated by innocent victims, lost souls, evildoers and messengers of hope in which home is sometimes just a place where a piece of humanity has died and is buried, and heart is merely a blood pump rather than a font of compassion and courage.
The film begins as a young woman in a white, sleeveless, Sunday-go-to-meeting dress walks into a church service. She has a tattoo on her left shoulder and gradually appears to be in emotional distress. She winds her way to the large altar area, where a minister (Jakes) is slinging a fiery sermon in front of a large maroon-and-gold-frocked choir. She then pulls a gun from her purse and fires point-blank into the camera. Her story and the events preceding this incident are then detailed through a jumbled but compelling series of flashbacks.
The young lady, Michelle Jordan (Kimberly Elise), lived with her single mother, Cassey (Loretta Devine), who was more preoccupied with making dates with men than she was with her child’s welfare. Michelle was passed between aunt and grandmother while her mom plowed through affairs until she met Reggie (Clifton Powell), a human snake who quotes Billy Dee Williams from Lady Sings the Blues with the same oily nonchalance that he later splashes on preteen Michelle before raping her.
Director Michael Schultz (Car Wash, Which Way Is Up? and Bustin’ Loose) and writer Stan Foster vividly capture the social landscape and land mines of the environment in which Michelle is brutalized before slipping into an abyss of drugs, prostitution and prison. Some relationships portrayed here (Michelle is shown interacting with such characters as a divorced male friend, a fellow stripper and her former pusher/pimp) are marred with stilted dialogue and acting and even technical gaffes. But the urgency and power of the narrative generally recoup its strength.
Jakes plays himself and practices what he so charismatically preaches. His energy and commitment are mammoth. Elise personifies the cohabitation of vulnerability and the will to survive. Devine is credible as a physically large woman with a small amount of common sense. Powell is readily chilling and contemptible as the gigolo who uses both charm and intimidation to get what he wants when he wants it. And the supporting roles are hit-and-miss affairs, as a drug dealer validates his profession (“My kid has to get bicycles and PlayStations just like everyone else”) and as Michelle’s aunt is disgusted that Cassey does not recognize Reggie as a parasite (“Even Stevie Wonder could see that”).
Woman Thou Art Loosed is highly charged but humorous at times, too. It prods prison ministries for delivering false hope and then abandoning their clients, reminds us that we all have our crosses to bear, talks about the love of having a first love, and warns of the danger of putting off today what you can do tomorrow. It asks if “the devil” is given too much credit or if we underestimate him. It does not have an answer but, in this golden age of cellular contraptions, does leave us with one final thought: Just because the phone is ringing does not mean you have to answer it.