Sunday, April 24, 2011

The Last Brickmaker --- A Movie Review

It might seem a strange thing to be writing about, a movie review on Easter Sunday, but it’s never been said about me that I am not at least a little bit strange.

I write about things here which I have found to relieve my anxieties, and/or might relieve yours. And on Easter Sunday, I know many people are experiencing anxieties which they do not have on other days. It’s just that way with holidays, I think; there is some type of pressure that causes us to worry, even if it’s worry because we think maybe we’re not enjoying things enough. But I think mostly it is on holidays that many people see other people being happy, and they look at their lives and see that they are not. And that is a worrisome thing.

Last night mom and I were watching The Ten Commandments. She enjoyed all the action, and I found ever new insights. And mom’s insightful comments made the old movie somewhat interesting again: “Don’t put that baby in the water; he’ll drown.” “Hey! Don’t hit those people, they didn’t do nothing.” “Wow! Look at those fancy clothes on her. She must have lots of money.” And of course regarding Yul Brennar’s ponytail hair: “Hey mister! Go get a haircut!”

When mom grew tired, the movie was less than half over, and I was getting a little weary of watching it myself. How many times can I stand to see Edward G. Robinson saying negative things to the Jews: “The Pharoah and his army are right behind us; better a slave than dead!” --- and then the pillar of fire appeared to stop the Egyptians. “We’re trapped here; we should surrender!” --- and then God parted the Red Sea. And then “Look! The Pharoah’s chariots are riding through the wall of water; we better surrender quick before we are all killed!” --- and then God released the waters of the Red Sea, and all the Egyptians drowned. Sheesh! Enough! I turned it off and put mom to bed.

Then I put on a movie I had been meaning to watch for a while, The Last Brickmaker in America, staring Sidney Poitier. It immediately struck me that the movie seemed to fit in with what I had been watching earlier. I had seen the Jews making bricks for the pyramids, a heavy hard work, a work for slaves, but from their lowly work came mighty structures, and their work was rewarded with a great freedom, wrought by God. What, I wondered, might this brickmaker story tell, considering how I had chosen to watch it within minutes of watching the Jews make bricks.

Henry Cobb (Sidney Poitier) made bricks all his life, from the age of 16. Now in his seventies, his wife who was the beloved school librarian has died, but Henry still goes to her grave each day and talks to her. He accepted a contract from the school to make bricks for the school expansion --- a new library wing, dedicated to his wife. The contract was awarded largely out of nostalgia, both in memory of Henry’s wife and of the fact that he had made the bricks which were used in most of the buildings in the small town. But Henry felt old, and brickmaking was hard work, and he thought about defaulting on the contract and just retiring, too old to be of use anymore.

Then came 13-year old Danny Potter, a troublesome kid who was thrown out of school. We meet Danny’s parents, on the verge of divorce, separated, and living two very busy lives --- with no time for Danny. A chance meeting between Henry and Danny results in Danny helping Henry to make bricks for the new library. And then more troubles strike Henry, Danny, and his parents --- the rains are falling on all of them, literally. Then Henry, in particular chooses not to give up, as he remembers the promises he made to his departed wife. And despite knowing that things cannot end well, he perseveres, struggling on, to make more bricks, for a contract he cannot hope to fulfill.

Henry’s memories of he and his wife’s life provide lots of sage advice for the Potter family. He mentions how it is sad that people don’t work with their hands anymore, and they don’t talk to the people they work with. He notes the rewards of making something yourself, seeing the completed work of your hands, even if it is something as lowly as a brick. And then as the story progresses, we find that a brick can build many things beyond just buildings.

Henry finds a renewed passion for life. Danny discovers the things which are really important in life. And Danny’s parents find that a marriage is hard work, but working together in hard times can make bricks which will last beyond their lives. And like the Jews, their hard work and trust can lead to freedom and redemption --- and the nay-saying Edward G. Robinson’s of the world can be ignored. People like him place a priority on safety, money, and the things of this world, when the most important things are not of this world.

I enjoyed The Last Brickmaker in America. It was a good family story, and a most fitting reminder of Easter: Much work and pain, and even dying to our old selves, are required before we find happiness and glory, and we find it in ways in which we might never expect, if we but struggle on, and have faith.


  1. My husband and I watched this film today. We loved it and its lessons. Such a good character-building story. Thank you for your post about it. I am inspired by your words!

    1. Well, Anne, I am glad you also enjoyed the movie. If you enjoyed that one, perhaps you might also like one of my Easter "standards" --- I watch it every Holy Week: I Am David. It too is an inspiring movie, one which never grows old for me, and I find new insights each time I watch it.

  2. is there any modern racism in that film ?
    because my thesis is about modern racism
    can u help me ?

    1. I'm not sure what you mean by "modern racism." The word in my dictionary doesn't have two meanings, one "old-fashioned" and one "modern." At any rate, if you are looking for racism, I guess you can find it in this film --- and anywhere. Myself, I find good people, bad people, and most people trying to do the best they know how. And I find that racism, like atheism or any of the "-phobias" of today are largely based on ignorance rather than some animosity against any group. I didn't find that in this movie.