How does someone move on after doing something horrible to another person, or even ending a person’s life? How does someone rebuild a sense of self-worth after being excluded from society for years?
New Australian film Healing promises a lot with its intriguing synopsis, well-established cast and stunning footage by Academy Award winning cinematographer Andrew Lesnie. The only thing undermining its ability to impress is the dragging pace and superfluous length.
Nevertheless, Healing brings the issue of prison rehabilitation and restorative justice to the fore in a way that is both realistic and hopeful. Viktor Khadem (Don Hany) is serving the last few years of a 16-year sentence when he’s sent to a low-security pre-release prison farm with a raptor rehabilitation program at Healesville Sanctuary.
Case Worker Matt Perry (Hugo Weaving) becomes focused on Viktor’s potential and his immersion in the program, which is intended to reform inmates through their responsibility to injured eagles, falcons and owls.
The viewer sympathises with broken men and raptors alike, although the film does not seek to justify the criminal actions of the inmates. Rather it gives substance to the inmates’ stories, detailing complicated past lives and the consequences of their crimes.
Weaving strikes the balance between the hardness of heart that comes from working in a prison, and the transforming power of empathy. The film largely revolves around his friendship with Viktor. Both are forced to confront the past and move on with their lives – clichéd, perhaps, but satisfying nonetheless.
The Vic/Tas synod runs programs centred on the care and rehabilitation of prisoners, as well as employing the therapeutic effects of animal rehabilitation for people struggling with mental illness or the effects of trauma (Horses for Hope, SHARE). While the two elements aren’t yet combined in any of the synod’s programs, this film convincingly demonstrates the power of doing so.
John Nicoll, Trusts Foundations and Grants Manager for SHARE, had some involvement in the development of Healing several years ago through his business ‘John Nicoll Media’.
“Craig Monahan [Director of Healing] and I were working on a number of projects – my role was what they call development executive. Part of what I was doing was moving projects like Healing along. I was able to access people who might be able to help finance the film,” he said.
“I loved Healing – I thought it was his best script. It’s based on a true story; I don’t know if exactly that story happened but the script was prompted by a newspaper article based on the Healesville Sanctuary raptor program.
“There is an interesting connection – in particular what UnitingCare Lentara is doing in Sunshine with the Communal Justice Program, a significant prisoner program.”
The Communal Justice Program supports ex-prisoners to re-enter society by offering material aid, social support and referrals and opportunities for community work.
Prisoner rehabilitation is an important issue. Monahan’s Healing successfully humanises those in the system and demonstrates practical restorative justice. With approximately 30,000 people currently in prison in Australia, our capacity to rehabilitate prisoners is a topic we can’t afford to ignore. Healing not only enlightens but offers hope.
Healing will be in Australian cinemas from May 8.