Every time I’m tempted to believe I’ve encountered a model of healing that will work for people who have been seriously damaged by oppression I”m slapped upside the head by a reminder of just how difficult healing is.

In Ireland during the 1970’s, Catholics and Protestants were attacking and killing each other. People were dying in the streets and in prison. Five Minutes of Heaven is the story of two Irishmen. One, an eleven-year old Catholic boy, witnessed the brutal murder of his older brother. The other, a Protestant at age 17, is the man who fired the shots. More than thirty years later they continue to try to cope with a past filled with extreme violence and psychological damage from which neither has healed.

Much of this story is fictionalized but is based on the true story of Alistair Little and Joe Griffin. In real life the two men have never met but both met with the screenwriter, Guy Hibbert, in a series of separate interviews over the course of three years. The result is a story of the complex relationship between the oppressor and the oppressed and the damage that both experience.

For anyone interested in truth and reconciliation, in the human impact of guilt, thoughts of revenge, and in healing, this film will force you to question things deeply; to test your assumptions. Can all wrongs be forgiven? Should they be? How do we move on when the past won’t let us go? What is at stake? Is healing even possible?

There is nothing simple or predictable about Five Minutes of Heaven. There are definitely no easy answers. This is a classic Shakespearean tragedy of two men whose destinies are forever intertwined as the result of one tragic choice. They both want relief and neither knows how to get it. They are destined to crash into each other. They want relief through revenge or forgiveness; something… anything.

This universal story could just as easily be set in the Middle East, Rwanda, or Montgomery, Alabama. My strongest personal interest in truth, reconciliation, and healing is connected to the legacy of enslavement and racism in the United States. Change the names and location and a few other details and the same story took place in the American South in 1950’s and 60’s. It’s a story about people, their families, their fears, their hopes and their tragic losses. It’s an intense experience for the two main characters and for those of us who witness this powerful film. It reminds me of how complex the impact is from deep damage, of how to repair the damage, and of just how difficult the challenge of reconciliation truly is.

We shouldn’t give up hope; in believing that healing is possible. It is critical to understand how hard it is.