Herbert J. Cohen
Herbert J. Cohen

Kosher movies: ‘Let Him Go’

A vignette. An elderly couple that I knew had anxiously anticipated a time when they could comfortably retire. Husband and wife, however, had different perceptions of their retirement years. The wife wanted to travel and see the world. The husband was not opposed to travel, but he had been looking forward to downtime after years in a stressful business. Old age for him meant that he could now enjoy life and move at his own pace, not the pace of others. Old age for his wife meant time to actively explore the world. The loving couple communicated well and compromised, both relaxing at home and traveling occasionally for many years.

In Let Him Go, we see a couple that communicates well, each understanding the other even before a sentence is finished. But good communication does not always mean that couples agree with one another. Let me elaborate.

In 1961 Montana, retired sheriff George Blackledge and his wife Margaret live on the same property as their son James, his wife Lorna, and their newborn grandson, Jimmy. On one fateful day, James does not return from riding his horse in the woods. George soon discovers James’ dead body, ostensibly thrown from his horse and breaking his neck.

Fast forward three years and we witness Lorna’s marriage to Donnie Weboy. While out shopping one day, Margaret observes from afar Donnie hitting Jimmy, her grandson, and Lorna, her daughter-in-law. Not long after, Donnie leaves town with Lorna and Jimmy without even saying goodbye. Margaret, concerned for Jimmy’s safety convinces George to journey with her to locate the family.

What they eventually find is a dysfunctional family in which Blanche, Donnie’s mother, rules the homestead with an iron fist, demanding absolute obedience from her sons. She refuses to grant Margaret access to Jimmy, and George and Margaret leave distraught.

However, the next day, the Blackledges try to persuade Lorna to return with them to their home in Montana. Regrettably, a violent confrontation ensues between the Weboys and the Blackledges.

George and Margaret, who in the past found communication easy, now find themselves at odds over how to proceed. George is cautious and realistic. Margaret is more emotional, driven by her desire to reunite with her grandson, the last connection to her dead son.

Their inability to arrive at a shared strategy sets the stage for tragedy. Their conversation at that moment is revealing. George asks: “When will you finally learn that what you want to make happen isn’t gonna happen, then what?” Margaret responds: “Well, then I suppose I’ll learn what I’ve never been able to. Isn’t that what you’ve always told me? Over and over. That I don’t know when it’s time to call it quits.” George then remarks: “And I’ll be the one gets the job of picking up those pieces, huh?”

In a heartrending conversation, Margaret laments what she has lost in losing a son and perhaps even a grandson. George, in a philosophic mode tells her: “Sometimes that’s all life is, Margaret. The list of what we’ve lost.”

George and Margaret Blackledge love one another deeply and communicate honestly with one another. That does not mean that they always comprehend what the other is saying or that they agree with each other.

Emuna Braverman, a Jewish educator, speaks about the importance of good communication in marriage in spite of the fact that there may be times when agreement is impossible. Braverman writes: “Perhaps the most essential quality for good communication in any relationship, and particularly in a marriage, is to be a good listener. Do you comprehend clearly what you mate is saying?

Keep trying to understand your significant other until you get it right. Maybe many of your misunderstandings are because you heard your partner wrong the first time, or you didn’t hear your partner at all.

We have to remember that marriage creates a unity, a oneness. We can use our powers of communication to solidify that unity or, God forbid, to tear it asunder.”

Let Him Go portrays the challenges a loving couple faces in coping with a crisis. They honestly share their conflicting points of view, and their love endures in spite of their different approaches to solving a life crisis.

About the Author
Originally from Mt. Vernon, New York, Herbert J. Cohen served in the pulpit rabbinate in Atlanta at the beginning of his career. After six years, he moved into the educational rabbinate and served for 23 years as Principal of Yeshiva High School of Atlanta. In 2010, he and his wife came on aliyah to Israel. His latest book, published by Urim Publishers, is "Kosher Movies: A Film Critic Discovers Life Lessons at the Cinema." He may be reached at rabbihjco@msn.com.
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