Apparently this film polarizes people. I can see why. It's probably a love it or hate it experience. No meh. I think I loved it. It's so beautiful. It's so strange too. But it immersed me, even absorbed me at times. I can't recall a film that was such an intrapersonal experience for me. The film is so...fraught.
Maybe it was timing but I couldn't stop thinking about my deceased father, my childhood, my personal struggle to be a good father. Moreover, I couldn't stop thinking about my own combination of grace and nature, the concepts on which the film seems hinged. In Mrs. O'Brien's words:
"The nuns taught us there were two ways through life--the way of nature and the way of grace. You have to choose which one you'll follow. Grace doesn't try to please itself. Accepts being slighted, forgotten, disliked. Accepts insults and injuries. Nature only wants to please itself. Get others to please it too. Likes to lord it over them. To have its own way. It finds reasons to be unhappy when all the world is shining around it. And love smiling through all things."
There were several scenes and one recurring image that captured me. First the image: water. Water uncontained and water contained, such as early in the film when Mr. O'Brien kinks the water-hose. In one scene, a dining room chair seems to move on its own. In another scene Mr. O'Brien does repairs underneath a car so very precariously perched on a jack while his son stalks back and forth. That silent scene terrified me. So did the scene where Jack's mother ministers to the criminals. And I still wonder what was going on in the attic?
There's also a tender scene where one brother kisses his kid brother's arm seeking forgiveness for cruelty. His brother wipes his saliva away. He kisses his arm again. Again, it's wiped away.
For me, this scene represents the film's clearest meaning. Humanity. Our inhumanity. Our isolation. Our inter-connectness. And the timeless wayward sad line we all walk in life between tenderness and ruthlessness.