I had the opportunity to watch an absolutely brilliant movie called Aftershock (2010) about the 1976 Tangshan earthquake (7.8 on the Richter scale) that leveled the city and killed more than 240,000 people in China.
The movie is beautifully filmed and the events recreated with tremendous clarity–I could feel as if I was there and I literally cried for the these poor people.
In the film a women is saved in the quake by her husband who dies trying to go back into the falling building to save their children–twins, a boy and a girl, age 6–who themselves end up buried under the rubble.
The mother begs others to save (both) her children, but a rescuer tells her that when they try to move the concrete slab that’s pinning them down–this way or that–it will mean that one of her children will die.
She cannot choose, but at the risk of losing both children, she finally says “save my son.”
The girl hears her beneath the rubble–and tears are running down her face with the emotional devastation of not being chosen by her own mother for life.
The mother carries what she believes is her daughter’s dead body and lays it next to the husband–she weeps and begs forgiveness.
The story continues with rebirth and renewal…the boy survives but loses his arm in the quake and the girl also lives but loses her memory (first from post-traumatic stress–she can’t even talk–then apparently from the anger at her mother’s choice).
Each child faces a daunting future with their disabilities–the boy physically and the girl emotionally, but each fights to overcome and ultimately succeed.
The boy who is feared can never do anything with only one arm–ends up with a successful business, family, home, car, and caring for his heart-broken mother.
The girl who is raised by army foster parents struggles to forgive her mother–“it’s not that I don’t remember, it’s that I can’t forget”–and after 32 years finally goes back and heals with her.
The mother never remarries–she stays married in her mind to the man who loved her so much and sacrificed his life for hers. And she stays in Tangshan–never moving, waiting somehow for her daughter to return–from the (un)dead–but she is emotionally haunted all the years waiting and morning–“You don’t know what losing something means until you’ve lost it.”
The brother and sister finally find each other as part of the Tangshan Rescue Team–they each go back to save others buried in the 2008 Sichuan earthquake that killed almost another 70,000.
Some amazing themes from the movie:
– “You’re family is always your family,” even despite wrongs that we do to each other, we are challenged to somehow find forgiveness and to love and extend ourselves for those who have given so much to us.
– “Some people are living, others only suffer.” After the earthquake, as with any such disaster, the living question why they survived and other didn’t. Similarly, we frequently ask ourselves, why some people seem to have it “so good,” while others don’t. But as we learn, each of us has our own mission and challenges to fulfill.
– Disabilities or disadvantages–physical or emotional–may leave others or ourselves thinking that we couldn’t or wouldn’t succeed, but over time and with persistence we can overcome a missing arms or a broken heart, if we continue to have faith and do the right things.
I loved this movie–and the progression from the horrific destruction of the earthquake to the restoration and renewal of life over many years of struggle was a lesson in both humility of what we mortals are in the face of a trembling ground beneath us or the sometimes horrible choices we have to make, and the fortitude we must show in overcoming these.
(Source Photo: here)