By Scott Elliott
April 23, 2012
It's hard to believe it has been over 30 years since the death of reggae legend Bob Marley—and yet a quality documentary has never been made about his life. Sure, there have been other films made, but none of them were able to show the real Bob Marley—until now.
Although Marley has been a long time in the making (Martin Scorsese and Jonathan Demme were involved early on, before Kevin Macdonald was hired to direct), it was well worth the wait. This documentary, approved by the Marley family, gives us a glimpse into the life of Marley. It is a film that is not afraid to show us the good as well as the bad of this iconic musical hero. It is a genuine and honest portrayal of a man who is still revered and respected in many parts of the world.
Some may be frightened away by its lengthy running time (144 minutes), but Marley doesn't feel like a long movie. It is a very intriguing story about a boy born in the poorest part of Jamaica who grew up in the slums of Trenchtown—a boy who was an outcast because he was half-black and half-white. These are things that shaped Marley into the person he was to become. The film opens with a quote of Marley's from later in his life, talking about how he is neither black nor white, but he is from God. The film also portrays Marley's love for the poor people of Jamaica. Poor people would come to his house for handouts because they knew they would receive some help. Although he did not seek power and often avoided politics, he soon became the most powerful man in Jamaica.
Bob Marley did many good things—but this film is careful not to make an idol out of a man. The film also portrays the dark side of Marley, mainly his infidelities. Marley fathered 11 children with seven different women. His wife knew about these relationships and allowed them to take place. He was also not the best father, being gone for long periods of time and sometimes harsh to his children. Perhaps the most common negative association with Marley is his use of marijuana; the film explores this as well. (Although Marley was open about his marijuana use, this was something that became exaggerated by the media and others.)
Marley was a very spiritual man who took his religion seriously. He practiced Rastafarianism, an odd form of Christianity (and the reason for his famous dreadlocks). Although Rastafarians have a strange view of Revelation and some unorthodox practices, many Christians will be familiar with the themes and stories that show up in Marley's music, such as the narrative of Exodus. What is evident in the film is that Marley was devoted to his faith. Today many celebrities claim some sort of religion, but few strive to live it out. This was not so with Marley.
Bob Marley's influence is enormous. He is known all around the world, even to this day. This is due not only to his musical talent, but also to who he was—a man of the people. When asked if we has rich, he replied "What do you mean?" He wanted to know if they were talking about money, possessions ... or something else. He saw beyond himself, and the film Marley does a great job of getting to the heart of that sincerity.
Scott Elliott is a minister living in La Grange, Texas, with his wifeand son. He graduated from Oklahoma State University and is nowattending Austin Graduate School of Theology.