Downton Abbey Portrays Reality of Interfaith RelationshipsBy Gerri Miller
Go inside Season 5 Episode 9 where the story line of Atticus and Rose's interfaith relationship comes to a head.Go To Pop Culture
When their father died, suddenly and unexpectedly, Julia and Marc Pimsleur's family unravelled. For the siblings, who were eight and ten at the time, nothing was ever the same again.
At ten, Marc's initial reaction to his father's death was to retreat under his bed and not come out.
We don't know what transpired next in those difficult days, but we do see some of the consequences.
Over twenty years later their mother Beverly has moved to Paris. Julia has carefully constructed a life she is comfortable with in Manhattan, and has a support network of close friends. Marc lives in a Christian community in Alaska called The Farm. That might not be so surprising, except that the Pimsleur family is Jewish, and Marc and Julia were raised in an intellectual, secular Jewish environment.
Why, having been brought up in a Jewish family, did Marc turn to Christianity?
Brother Born Again, the documentary Julia made to help answer this question, does offer theories. The film implies that Marc's long-term reaction to his father's death was a deep sense of isolation and a need to have precise answers to his questions about what had happened to his father after he died. The Pimsleur family was more intellectual than spiritual, more atheistic than believing, and could not give him the definitive answers he needed, answers that he found in his Christian community.
While in college at Berkeley, this brilliant young man who once spoke five languages gradually found himself unable to continue his studies. Searching for meaning in his life, Marc says, one day he picked up a Bible and found a phrase that told him he was loved by God. At that moment he knew it was true, and from then on he saw the world completely differently. He ultimately found his way to the Farm.
When Marc was twenty-two and by then a member of the Farm, he and Julia severed their once-close relationship after she disclosed to him that she was bisexual. Marc was unable to accept this part of her, just as she found it difficult to accept his embrace of Christianity.
After ten years of no communication, Julia decides to reconnect with her brother, to try to break through the wall of their mutual disapproval. At the same time, she chooses to make a film about their attempt to reconnect in the hope that it will help other families in similar circumstances--with a family member who has joined an alien religious sect.
As we observe the reunion of Julia and Marc in Alaska, their sense of natural intimacy and comfort with one another is palpable. Yet their failure to breach their differences is also unmistakable. As they talk, Julia first learns about a breakdown Marc had had years ago in Berkeley, after which he turned to Christianity. The fact that she hadn't known about the breakdown indicates how limited their communication had been back then.
Visiting Marc on the Farm, Julia keeps trying to revive the Marc she had known. She constantly prods him to think for himself, rather than give rote answers to her questions. Marc resists, and one community elder explains that Marc's intellect had to be broken before he could find peace with himself.
Similarly, Marc still can't accept Julia's bisexuality despite his obvious affection for her.
Nevertheless, they have reconnected. And they stay connected. Marc flies to New York for a visit, the first in ten years, and Beverly comes in from France for the reunion. Although Beverly had found it difficult to accept Marc's embrace of Christianity ten years ago, she now defends him to his great aunt, saying that he appears to have found peace. She seems to have taken comfort in the observation of a friend who said, "It could have been worse. He could have become a drug addict."
As the film ends, three damaged individuals are finally able to reach out tentatively to one another, and, at moments, connect across the cultural and religious chasms that divide them.