Like Solomon before him, Christ was a close observer of the world of sunlight and meadow. He used each flower and each blade of grass to draw the eye of man from earth to Heaven, towards the doctrines of His kingdom. If an idea was remote and obscure, He would show His listeners a picture from their daily lives. Galilee being both a garden spot and a place of many farms, He illustrated His deepest teachings with scenes of wheat fields, vineyards, and threshing floors. And sometimes He used strange paradoxes. How does a man gain his life if he loses it? How does a seed live only if it falls to the ground and dies?
Thus it is that the movie "The Green Promise," a simple tale about life on a farm, raises the deepest questions about life. The movie tells the story of a stubborn old farmer, played by Walter Brennan, who moves from the Dust Bowl to a farm bursting with potential. But he disregards sensible advice on how to work the land. All his efforts come to naught, and his farm is ruined.
As he plows and sows and gathers in his hay, his youngest daughter seeks self-expression through her love of God's creation. Her tender young heart desires two newborn lambs she saw in a livestock catalog. But no matter how much she pleads, her stingy father keeps the lambs out of reach until the very end.
There is another source of trouble, and that is sin. On Sunday, the family hears the preacher condemn a new kind of sin - the sin of those who stubbornly cling to outmoded ways of farming. Such men, the preacher says, will be denied the Green Promise, the joy of entering into the Land of Milk and Honey.
And true to the preacher's prediction, the farm is destroyed. A tide of angry water rolls down off the mountain like Noah's flood, and all is swept away in a raging torrent.
If the story ended here, we would have a powerful tale about the power of sin to destroy the land, and the power of love to heal it. But then the movie broadens into a meditation on destiny and divine providence.
The character of the youngest daughter, the keeper of the lambs, is played by Natalie Wood. In her effort to save the terrified creatures, she rushes home through a brutal lightning storm. Halfway across a stream, a foot bridge collapses, plunging her into the water. The scene is harrowingly realistic, and painful to watch, because it is real.
The prop men who built the tiny, creaking foot bridge, designed it to collapse after young Natalie crossed over. But the churning water weakened the structure, snapped the wood, and tossed the terrified young girl into the water. She held on bravely to the broken bridge while the director kept filming.
For the remainder of her life, Natalie Wood would have a fear of drowning. At the age of 43, after a drinking binge, she fell off her boat near Santa Catalina Island. Just as in the movie, she held on for many minutes; then exhausted, she slipped beneath the dark rolling waves and drowned.
How strange, then, that "Green Promise" was also entitled "Raging Waters." The movie raises many unsettling questions. Does God know our ultimate end? Was divine providence at work in the life of Natalie Wood? If we disobey God's laws, will God withhold "The Green Promise?"
Clearly, a simple movie about life on a farm contains a fascinating and somewhat uncanny message.
"The Green Promise" (1949) (DVD), starring Marguerite Chapman, Walter Brennan, Robert Page, and Natalie Wood, can be purchased from Amazon.com.