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What's the story?
FRIENDLY PERSUASION is the story of the Birdwells, a loving Quaker family in the midst of the Civil War. Eliza (Dorothy McGuire), a devout woman, is the moral center of the family. Jess (Gary Cooper) is a thoughtful man, with a strong commitment to his principles. Their children are Joshua (Anthony Perkins), a sensitive young man who opposes violence but feels that he must join the soldiers; Mattie (Phyllis Love), who falls in love with Gord, a neighbor who is a Union soldier; and young Jess, who is fascinated with the talk of war and battles. A Union soldier comes to the Quaker prayer meeting to ask the men to join the army. They tell him that they cannot engage in violence under any circumstances. Even when the soldier points out that this means others will be dying to protect their lives and property, no one will support him. The Confederate army approaches, and Joshua decides to join the Union. As the war gets closer, Jess and Eliza refuse to run away from their farm as others are doing. When Josh's horse comes back without him, Jess goes looking for him. Josh is wounded, and deeply upset because he killed a Confederate soldier. Jess brings him home. In the meantime, the Confederates ride into the farm, and in keeping with her faith, Eliza welcomes them and gives them all her food. Jess and Josh return, and the family goes off to church together, to continue to do their best to match their faith to their times.
Is it any good?
Friendly Persuasion is an exceptional depiction of a loving family, particularly for the way that Jess and Eliza work together on resolving their conflicts. They listen to each other with enormous respect and deep affection, and poses serious questions of faith and conscience.
The movie is a rare one in which someone makes a moral choice through prayer, which many families will find worth emphasizing. Josh, who was able to respond without violence to the thugs at the fair, decides that he cannot benefit from risks taken by others unless he is willing to take them, too. He cries in battle, but he shoots. The issue of how someone committed to non-violence responds to a violent world is thoughtfully raised by this movie.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about how the religious service in the movie is similar or different from their experiences. How was the faith of the characters tested in this movie? What did they learn from the test? How should people who are opposed to violence respond to violence when it is directed against them? When it is directed against others?
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