What would cause you to give a movie the title, “The Greatest Movie I Have Ever Seen?”
Would it be the cinematography? The acting? Would it be the character development? Controversial subject matter? Seamless fictional storytelling? Maybe you’re into special effects? Perhaps the greatest movie you have ever seen was so conceptually mind-blowing that it warped your understanding of the Universe as it exists.
My criteria is pretty simple; I’m looking for one thing. Just one. It has to change my life.
That’s right, the greatest movie I have ever seen will be one that changes my life. One that cuts through the layers of superficiality and touches me. Right here (me thumping my chest.) Deep down. I think I saw that movie tonight (and if not, I can’t tell you when I did.)
Soul Surfer, a “chick” movie about a white, Hawaiian teen caught in a sudden shark attack, changed my life. It was not something I expected at all. In fact, I was pretty much “taking one for the team” by tagging along to a movie that my wife wanted to see. From the first moments of this film, however, I was met with real, genuine emotion; People who were unafraid of their faith. A family filled with love and support. Brothers and sisters who cared deeply for each other. Challenges that were overcome and celebrated communally.
Not to belabor the point, but that type of authentic, organic emotion struck a serious chord with me. There is so much synthetic emotion in the media these days – shoe manufacturers who “manufacture” inspiration in 30 second doses, insurance mega-giants lauding the virtue of helping old ladies cross streets, and more – that I found myself unprepared to experience the real thing. Real emotion, and that of real people. A pleasant and heartfelt surprise.
As the movie went on, there were more happy (yet very real-life) moments leading up to the tragedy that was obviously looming. Then, just before the attack, the movie reveals that Bethany, its main character, was slated to travel on a church mission trip that would have surely taken her out of harm’s way. She opted out of the trip, citing a need to remain home and focus on training. As an observer, my reaction was simply, “Wow, what if…all of this could have been avoided.” Finally the attack is portrayed. Frenzy gives way to mourning, mourning gives way to grief, confusion, and mostly frustration. A teenage girl has had her greatest gift and her greatest passion stolen from her in an instant. Her family struggles to support her, themselves searching for a reason behind the tragedy. Loss takes over where joy once abounded.
Luckily, as Bethany searches for meaning in her new life, a second chance arises for her to travel with her church group and give volunteer service to the devastated tsunami survivors of Thailand. She opens her heart to a grieving people, discovering that “love is more powerful than any fear, bigger than any tidal wave.” She finds the meaning she was searching for.
Upon returning home, she discovers that young people from all over the world have been sending her “fan mail,” expressing respect for her courage and sharing what her perseverance has meant to them. She determines that she must press forward and push through the fear and uncertainty that surrounds her. She takes her new life head-on with a resolution to overcome any hardship that she may be facing! Her journey is incredible, and her faith, miraculous.
To the filmmakers’ everlasting credit, they end the movie not with a grand-prize first place ultimate finish, but with a moral victory greater than any surfing title. I was moved to tears (well, my version of tears is mostly welling up…) on multiple occasions, and changed for the better. I was introduced tonight to a wonderful young woman of courage and faith, and her story left me a better person. Her words, in the aftermath of trauma: “I remember most clearly what the Kauai paramedic said to me in the ambulance: He whispered in my ear, ‘God will never leave you or forsake you.’ He was right.”
Tonight I watched the greatest movie I have ever seen.