Unless you’ve been living under a rock in the past few months, you’ve probably heard of the latest inspirational family flick to come out of Hollywood: Soul Surfer. Based on the true story of surfer Bethany Hamilton’s inspiring struggle to overcome the tragic loss of her arm in a shark attack, it’s been marketed to and largely accepted by a Christian audience. Since I rarely go to the movies, I’ve been relying on detailed reviews and short Youtube clips to give me a sense of the film.
I’ve seen enough to inform me that I don’t need to waste any time on it. One of the most insightful negative reviews I found came from, interestingly, a non-Christian perspective. There are many different reasons why I would advise other Christians not to bother with the film, but one of the things that bugs me most about it is its hopelessly generic treatment of the religious. It’s taken the real-life Christianity of Hamilton’s family and turned it into little more than insipid… inspirationality. I think Ebert At the Movies really puts it in a nutshell. They’re completely right: In order for the film to work even just as a good film, it needed to either leave Christianity entirely out of the picture, or go all the way with it. The tepid, mushy middle stance it ultimately took should not only make it less appealing to firm Christians, but it should also make it less appealing to those of us who appreciate good art and good film-making. As it stands, “cynical and calculated” is sadly not far from the mark as a descriptive phrase. Watch the review.
See also some solid words from a Christian perspective here. This snippet just about nails it:
It seems, too often, Hollywood uses Christians for free marketing. If they can produce a movie that shows enough flesh to sell in the secular market, all they have to do is convince the Christians that it has a godly message and we’ll find a way to excuse the immodesty.
First, they’ll need a good moving story (we Christians like to cry…thinking like a movie promoter here). If they can find a story where someone does an amazing good deed, or an athlete (we love our sports too) becomes a hero by overcoming some huge obstacle–especially if it’s true–they’ve hit the jackpot. Now all they have to do is throw us a few bones to make it “Christian” enough for us to tell our friends and buy the tickets.
In the case of Soul Surfer, all they needed were two verses, a female youth pastor, a worship song, and the flash of a Bible. Throw in a deeply moving (true) story about a sweet Christian girl who pulls herself up by her bootstraps (or bikini straps) and we’re hooked.