A Few Words on Soul Surfer

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.


17 thoughts on “A Few Words on Soul Surfer

  1. Beth

    Ya, I’ve wondered for a while what’s happening to Christians as far as accepting, excusing, or overlooking the modesty issue in Christian films.

    1. In this case it’s a little knotty because the entire film is about a sport that by nature involves skimpy clothing. But the film also shows girls flirting with boys, e.g. one scene where a girl is modeling provocatively in a bikini and draws catcalls.

      I *might* have been able to get past the modesty issue if the film had tried much harder to present solid gospel truth instead of watering down the Christian message. As it is, the combination of a lukewarm message, plus the immodesty, plus a couple questionable moments regarding how parents should raise their kids… it all adds up. And it doesn’t even have much to redeem it from a technical angle—cheesy acting, cheesy script, sloppy special effects, etc.

      1. Amy Herrera

        I personally believe that when a sport by nature involves skimpy clothing … it should raise some eyebrows.

      2. Yeah, I’ve never been fond of “bra and bikini” bathing suits. Guys’ swimming shorts that are practically falling down don’t jive with me either.

        I’m not against swimming or surfing, but there are more and less modest ways to approach it. Even something as simple as a full-piece versus a two-piece suit can make a big difference. I get especially freaked out when I see really little girls walking around in two-piecers.

  2. JSR

    Whats the difference in a little girl and big girl? Except for the training issue, it seems to me we should be more worried about covering up the big girls. They are the ones that are the issue. Just sayin…

    1. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t approve of either. It’s just that when I see little girls doing it, I think, “I can’t believe they’re already starting at such a young age.” It’s so taken for granted that these immodest dressing patterns are just a part of girls’ lives from earliest childhood on up.

      1. JSR

        True. I’ve often said that parents shouldn’t be upset if their daughters grow up to be sluts when they’ve been dressing them that way since they were 3 years old…

  3. I could go on and on about Christianity in mainstream films…..but I will say this. If someone were to make a film about a Christian, complete with the redemption, odds are it would be rated R and probably banned in most churches.

    1. Kyle, there are ways of portraying sin and redemption, and there are ways of portraying sin and redemption. At a certain point, you have to ask the question of whether something is appealing to the heart or just to the gut. This is not just a religious question—it’s an aesthetic question. I speak as somebody who knows something about what makes great art in general and a great film in particular. People complain about overtly Christian films because they often come off one-dimensional and tidy. They have a valid point. Christians complain about mainstream films because of disgusting and gratuitous sexual/violent/language content. They have a valid point too. The greatest art achieves greatness without aiming for the viewer’s stomach. Somehow, John Ford and Elia Kazan managed to make do while the Board of Censorship was still in place. It’s the darnedest thing.

  4. YES! A blogpost that doesn’t need a computer with sound. LoL.

    I am with you on the modesty issue. I wouldn’t mind bikinis at all (even though I kind of do), if the message itself was really strong. A female youth pastor of course! I haven’t seen the movie. Really I’ve only heard of it, but there are SO many more things I’d rather do.

    1. Yeah, the female youth pastor makes me a little nauseated.

      I’m with you. And if you want movie recommendations, we haz got recommendations. Timeless classic, this ain’t. Money and time are much better spent elsewhere, though I suppose there are worse ways you could do so.

      1. The film was based on a true story. Would it really be right to change it from a female to male youth pastor just to please some who feel women shouldn’t hold positions of authority in the church?

        Watch the movie. No it doesn’t have a down-your-throat spiritual message, but Bethany Hamilton’s life story is living proof of Christ’s miraculous powers.

      2. Perhaps the female youth pastor was based on a real person. In that case, I can only say that it’s regrettable that we have female youth pastors at all.

        You should watch Chariots of Fire some time. That’s based on a true story too, and it’s a much better movie.

      3. AmyH

        You lost me on this one. You think a female youth pastor is usurping authority over men? I guess I didn’t get your earlier comment.


      4. Someone else was noting that of COURSE the youth pastor is female, I was grumping in agreeing reply, then Josh noted that the youth pastor was actually based on a real person.

        As for what’s wrong with female youth pastors, there are many reasons. Chief among them is the fact that there’s something wrong with calling any woman a “pastor,” even if it’s a youth pastor. That signifies something that’s simply un-biblical. But there’s also the important fact that teenage boys absolutely need male Christian leadership, and when practically every other authority figure in their life is a female (school teacher, Boy Scout leader), the last thing they need is yet another female role model.

      5. AmyH

        OK, I get the male role model part. Of course girls need female role models too, and our church has always had mostly women Sunday School teachers without any seeming detriment, but we certainly have many males in many (read: most) key leadership positions (pastor, SS superintendent, song leader).

        Some day I will argue that Biblical part with you over email, but it would be unseemly to do it in public. 🙂 And I am trying to catch up on the last ten months (since I got married) of housework since leaving my job last week. Our church doesn’t have youth pastors anyway, so I don’t know why I would pick this to argue about after all. :rolls eyes:

        Have a nice day! Wish me well in my dishwashing!

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