The Vessel

Posted on September 13, 2016 at 7:07 pm

Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for some partial nudity/sensuality and thematic elements
Profanity: None
Alcohol/ Drugs: Alcohol
Violence/ Scariness: Devastating tragedy (off-screen), some peril
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: September 16, 2016

Copyright New Territory Pictures 2016
Copyright New Territory Pictures 2016
Many people have asked why bad things happen to good people, and many theories have been proposed. Fewer people have explored the more important question: when devastating tragedy happens, how do we find a way to go on? That is the question in “The Vessel,” produced by Terrence Malick and written and directed, in both Spanish and English versions, by Julio Quintana. Malick’s influence or inspiration is felt throughout, from the exquisitely composed images and impressionistic storytelling to the spiritual symbols.

Like Malick, Quintana lets the story unfold slowly, with a dreamy quality, allowing the audience to discover the story rather than serving it to us. There is a narrative voiceover from Leo (Lucas Quintana), a man who lives with his mother, a woman closed off in a deep silence. He cares for her tenderly, patiently. Leo tells us that all of the women in his community wear black in a sort of contest. Whoever puts aside mourning clothes first will lose some unspoken contest. And so we begin to discover she is not the only person in this Spanish-speaking town on the ocean who has had a tragic loss. The entire community has been devastated. They can barely speak. They seem stuck in grief, with no way to return to any part of their lives.

An American-born priest (Martin Sheen, a performance of deep grace and generosity) tries to help. He does everything he can. He listens. He counsels and commiserates. He gently urges. He prays. But nothing changes.

And then, Leo does something. What is a vessel, after all? The word can mean a ship or a container for liquids or a biological or botanical term for a physical delivery system. And poetically it can be used for a human body as the container for a soul. All of the above applies here, with images of water to underscore the metaphor. Leo begins to build something, not sure why or what he will do when it is finished. The priest opposes it; for him it is a distraction, a rival to the church, a golden calf. And yet, the community begins to see it as a portal to a return to themselves. They will never forget. They will never be free from pain. But for the first time, they begin to see the possibility that they might not be numb anymore.

This is a gentle, poetic, touching film, itself a vessel with a message of hope. It does not pretend to answer the question of why bad things happen to good people, but it reminds us that when they do, there are other good people paying attention.

Parents should know that this movie includes themes of devastating loss, some peril, and a brief sexual situation with some nudity

Family discussion: What do we learn from the different ways of grieving? Why did the boat make a difference?

If you like this, try: “The Sweet Hereafter” and “Tree of Life”

Related Tags:


Drama Movies -- format Spiritual films
THE MOVIE MOM® is a registered trademark of Nell Minow. Use of the mark without express consent from Nell Minow constitutes trademark infringement and unfair competition in violation of federal and state laws. All material © Nell Minow 1995-2024, all rights reserved, and no use or republication is permitted without explicit permission. This site hosts Nell Minow’s Movie Mom® archive, with material that originally appeared on Yahoo! Movies, Beliefnet, and other sources. Much of her new material can be found at, Huffington Post, and WheretoWatch. Her books include The Movie Mom’s Guide to Family Movies and 101 Must-See Movie Moments, and she can be heard each week on radio stations across the country.

Website Designed by Max LaZebnik