In The Christian Future or the Modern Mind Outrun, Eugene Rosenstock-Huessy suggests that if you want to know a man, you have to talk to him on the drive to work. The Modern world has drawn thick, heavy lines between the home and the workplace, dividing a man’s livelihood from his bedroom, his office from his kitchen. The irrationality of women and children must be sectioned off from the rationality of the factory so that the factory can be safe from the chaos of emotion and sentimentality, which have no place in progress. And yet, Rosenstock-Huessy argues, a man is always torn between these two worlds. A man is always torn between past and future, between progress and regress, between spirit and flesh. This tearing apart is his Cross, the Cross of Reality, the Cross which must be taken up daily. The Modern demand for progress wants to defy the danger of the Cross and make the world safe, but the Christian life must be dangerous. The Christian life is the Cross upon which a man is torn apart— stretched between past and future, home and work, natural and supernatural needs, flesh and spirit. It is only when a man is stretched apart that he can die as Christ demanded. And so, Rosenstock-Huessy suggests, if you would find a man at the apex of humanity, you must talk to him in that place between worlds. In his car.
If all this is true, Steven Knight’s Locke is the most humane film ever made.
Locke is the story of Ivan Locke— which is to say John Locke, the Enlightened English philosopher whose Second Treatise on Government proved a formidable critique of aristocratic government— caught between the stable world of his old life (reputation, family, paycheck) and an emerging new life of honest, humble confession of sin. The whole of Locke takes place on the road between Birmingham and London. In Birmingham, Ivan Locke (Tom Hardy) is wrapping up prep work for the pour of a concrete base for a massive building, and in London, a woman with whom he had a one-night stand is about to give birth to his bastard child. While he is to supervise the pour in the morning, he leaves Birmingham suddenly to be with his former lover, and while on the road he must appoint a successor to the job (as he will not be present) and confess his sin to his wife, all over the phone. The situation is not ideal, obviously, though it seems Locke wanted to inform Katrina, his wife, in person, but his lover Bethan has gone into labor prematurely.
Hardy plays Locke with a taut and focused intensity— a counter-intuitive manner given that his whole life seems to be crumbling around his ears. Before the drive is over, Locke has lost his job and his wife has declared him unwelcome in their home, though Hardy keeps his voice steady and low and methodical while trying to counter the chaos he perceives on the other end of the line. Hardy seems to understand that Locke is not a perfect man, but a man trying to make straight what he has made crooked, and his clarity of thought and speech derives not from a cold and uncaring heart, but the lucidity which settles about a mind willing to accept its own limitations. Locke has no genius for damage control, and his marriage may be rightly over. If so, it may be wept over and mourned later, but past failures are no excuse for present faltering. Locke knows he will be fired long before he begins putting a successor in place, though after his boss lets him go, he carries on his arrangements for someone to be on-site the following morning, though he has no contractual obligation to do so.
Neither has he a contractual obligation to be with Bethan, his one-time lover, as she gives birth to his child, though he is driven by a moral burden even while no legal burden weighs upon him. He wants the child to come into the world in the right way, much as he wants the pour of concrete to settle properly. As this theme unfolds, the birth of the child and the base of the skyscraper briefly become one, but no sooner have we seen the parallels between the two than we understand the birth of the child more important.
Locke’s namesake is an ironic one, then, as Locke behaves as a man with blue blood who obeys a higher moral call than reason could possibly make upon him. Streetlamps light up the dark M1 and burnished automobiles are shot in streaks of gold and dark blue and grey hues so that every frame seems regal, tony, fitting for the high-minded screw-up at the film’s center. Locke is a man caught between control and surrender, duty and freedom, fine reputation and infamy. He finds a resting point here, no longer forced to hide his sin inside or stuff his workplace brilliance under the rug. He is torn apart so that he might be put back together again.