“Serving Life” is certainly not the easiest movie to watch but it should be considered essential viewing for any student of compassion and humanity.
The first original documentary airing on OWN: The Oprah Winfrey Network, “Serving Life,” narrated and executive produced by Academy Award winner Forest Whitaker, takes viewers inside Louisiana’s maximum security prison at Angola, where the average sentence is more than 90 years. Inmates include everyone from bank robbers and rapists to kidnappers and murderers.
According to press documents, 85 percent of said inmates will never again live in the outside world. Instead, the will grow old and die in Angola. Therefore, the prison obviously needs a working hospice program where hardened criminals care for their dying fellow inmates which, coincidentally, allows them to embark on a journey that may end in personal rehabilitation.
The volunteers are trained, pushed and tested. Some fail, but some succeed and discover that the human touch can reach the soul. In fact, one inmate says, “I thought maybe if I helped somebody else, that would help relieve some of the guilt.” As Whitaker notes, “‘Serving Life’ reveals the humanity that exists inside each and every one of us.”
And that often obscured truth is reason enough to watch the film. “Serving Life” has the potential to open up a great many eyes to the reality that there are no bad people but only bad behavior. Witnessing these individuals whom society has deemed are no longer worth their weight in water do things for near-complete strangers that few of us would likely do ourselves is an extraordinary experience.
Having said that, it is important to note that “Serving Life” includes several scenes that involve death and dying. Only true monsters would have no reaction – or, even worse, a positive one – to seeing the long, drawn out death of a fellow human being regardless if they are a Purple Heart recipient or a child molester. Therefore, one best be prepared to feel a bit uncomfortable.
Then again, the incredible inspiration that producer/director Lisa Cohen evokes over the course of “Serving Life” masks that uncomfortable feeling quite well. Her movie is as heart-opening as it is heartbreaking. Even more poignant, it illustrates that seeking – and accepting forgiveness – from ourselves is both the hardest and most important part of life.
“Serving Life” (NR – 90 minutes) airs Thursday, July 28 exclusively on OWN: The Oprah Winfrey Network.
Listen to Joseph J. Airdo’s “Movie Maverick” radio segment, every Friday morning at 9:30 a.m. during “The Daily Blender with Jeffry O’Brien” on KBSZ – NBC 1260 AM and 96.1 FM.