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Algee Smith in Detroit, photo courtesy Annapurna
Algee Smith in Detroit, photo courtesy Annapurna

Larry: Hurt, but Healing

Larry (Algee Smith), the lead singer for The Dramatics, survived that night, but someone very close to him did not. We see the toll that terrible evening took on him. We feel his rage. We understand it—even when that rage filters into racism. At a recording studio, Larry stops singing when he sees a white man enter the recording booth. He refuses to rejoin The Dramatics, not able to stomach the thought of suburbanites swaying to his tunes.

That’s where this horrible Rube Goldberg machine eventually leads to. In one evening, the American myth of law and justice fell around his ears. The system betrayed him, and it destroyed his brother. His brothers. Who—what—can he possibly trust now? Where can he place his hope?

At the very end of the movie, Larry goes to church. He takes a job there as a choir director/soloist, raising his velvet voice to the Almighty. A slide before the credits tells us that Larry’s still there. Still singing.

There’s a lesson in there for me, I think. Or, maybe, it’s just a reminder.

Laws aren’t perfect, no matter how well-intentioned. People will fail us, even the people we depend on the most. We live in a broken world, and sooner or later, in great measure or small, the reality of that brokenness will knock us flat.

The best works we mortals can make fall well short of where we want them to be. Where, sometimes, they need to be.

So what’s the answer? The hard reality is one that, I think, Larry found in the end: There isn’t one. Not really. Not in this world. We fail. We fall. To paraphrase a popular slogan, stuff happens. Most of us carry scars from undeserved injury. We’re a long way from Eden, and we’ll never find our way back without help.

But while we might not ever get the answers or the justice we want—we need—we do have salves. They’re called forgiveness. Mercy. Love. We can focus on God and, with His help, find a way to move on. It’s not easy. We all know that. But it is possible. And the more we try to be the people that God wants us to be, the incrementally better we can make the world around us.

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