Charlie St. Cloud – Movie Review

Charlie St. Cloud – Movie Review

Review by Stacey Tuttle

“Why you?  Why did you get a second chance?
God doesn’t just show off for no reason.
Don’t squander this gift you’ve been given.”

Charlie St. Cloud was a miracle.  He and his brother died in a car crash.  Charlie should still be dead.  But as the paramedic who beseeched St. Jude (the Patron Saint of Lost Causes) to spare his life pointed out, his resuscitation was a miracle…and a gift.  But Charlie St. Cloud didn’t see it that way.  He spent the next several years tending the grave yard, playing baseball with his brother’s ghost and generally hiding from the living world.  Granted, the baseball scenes with his brother were heart warming enough to make us all sympathetic to his situation.  In fact, so sympathetic that most viewers, if placed in the story, would likely become enablers.  However, the paramedic was right when he gently chastised Charlie for squandering the gift of life.  While the movie is obviously a bit fantastic, I actually think it has a lot to say.

Charlie had a great, no—let’s go ahead and say it, idyllic life.  He was the darling of the community, adored by his family, full of talent and promise and looking into a bright and exciting future.  And then it all changed.  The fatal car crash.  It wasn’t his fault.  But, like any of us, he still felt responsible.  He was driving and his little brother was dead.  Actually, they both were initially, so he felt doubly guilty—not only did he feel responsible for his baby brother’s death, but he felt guilty that he didn’t die, or at least stay dead.  Survivor’s syndrome they call it.   Charlie lived saddled with a false sense of guilt, and it paralyzed him.  He didn’t want to go on.  He felt he had no right to go on. 

A false sense of guilt – we have all felt it at one time or another.  Sometimes it’s at least understandable, caused by something significant enough to throw anyone off kilter a bit.  Other times it’s caused by the smallest, most insignificant, ridiculous and even imagined events.  In either case, the point is that it is a false sense of guilt.  I’m not at all saying that all guilt is false.  One of the signs of a healthy conscious is that you feel a proper sense of guilt.  But guilt should drive you to Jesus, forgiveness and eventually freedom.  When you let your guilt paralyze you, something is wrong.

Another reason Charlie couldn’t move forward is that he didn’t want to.  There was a time when Charlie looked forward.  He was excited about the future.  But suddenly, his future wasn’t quite what he imagined and he quit looking forward.  Instead, he dwelt on the past.  He lived in the graveyard, both literally and metaphorically.  He hung out with his dead hopes and dreams rather than searching for new ones.  He polished the headstones and kept the birds away.  Acid from the bird’s poop would eat away the writing on the tomb stones, diminishing the inscriptions, the memories.  Charlie was desperate that nothing tarnish or diminish the memories of the past—he was committed to preserving it perfectly.

I don’t think I am alone in confessing that I have had my own disappointments with the way things have turned out, or haven’t.  I have known many people who have had moments where, driving along on the highway of life, they were hit by something completely unexpected and their dreams were killed.  Maybe you are like me and haven’t had such a dramatic collision; it’s been a slower, more gradual process.  The speed of it is not really the point.  The point is that most of us, at some point or another, wake up one day to realize that we miss something of the past…and we want to go back.  Since we can’t go back, we do the next best thing, or so it seems.  We stop going forward and we practice.  We don’t practice baseball (like Charlie and his dead brother did), we practice our memories, rehearsing them to ensure we keep them, undiminished.  And we fight off with a vengeance anything that might tarnish our memories, hanging on for dear life to a dream world.  It takes so many forms it can be easy to miss.  It can be extreme and take over your life, or it can be subtle and compartmentalized into a small corner of your life.  It can be voyeurism, escapism, depression… and it can even look a lot like dreaming.  But whatever the form it takes, it is avoiding life, not living life. 

Then comes along the paramedic, the life saver, with a different point of view.  You see, in his pain and disappointment, Charlie had completely missed the miracle.  He felt it was a mistake, not a miracle.  But what Charlie saw as the end, the paramedic saw as the beginning.   What Charlie saw as an accident, the paramedic saw as purposeful. What Charlie saw as awful, the paramedic saw as wonderful.  The paramedic wasn’t blinded by suffering and disappointment so he could see Charlie’s life for what it was …it was an answer to prayers.  And it was wonderful.  It was a gift.   It was a second chance—one that should not be squandered.      

How many of us are like Charlie?  Blinded by disappointment, pain and suffering we cannot see what a gift life is, especially not our life.  You may be tempted to think that to yourself, “Well, that’s fine for someone who had a near-death experience and survived it, but I wasn’t given a second chance at life.  I wasn’t even given a good first chance at life.”  Then I would say this applies exactly to you.  You are just like Charlie, not recognizing at all the miracle that your life is.  In fact, we are all ignorant of the multitude of close calls and near-death experiences that daily surround our existence.  And worse, the ones we are vaguely aware of, we don’t truly recognize for what they are.  Like Charlie, we focus on what we lost and not what we are given.  How might our lives be transformed if only we lived with a heightened (much more an accurate) awareness of the innumerable miracles which have spared our lives over and over again?  How might they be transformed if we could focus on what we are given, and let go of what we have lost?  What gratitude we would have!  What zest for life! What zeal to live with purpose! 

The paramedic asks Charlie why he was given a second chance.  The truth is, we are all given a second chance, and a third, and a fourth…whether we recognize it or not.  We ought to be asking ourselves the same question – Why us?  Why me?  That question implies two key things:  1. There is a higher power which chose to give that second chance.  2.  We are responsible to that power.  Charlie was being irresponsible.  It’s like in some cultures where, if someone saves your life, then you are now in their debt.  (That happened in The Count of Monte Cristo with James Caviezel and in Robin Hood – with Kevin Costner and Morgan Freeman.)  You are responsible to them, indebted to them.  We ought to have that same sense of indebtedness and responsibility to our maker, our savior.  He gave us life.  He offers us eternal life.  And He is ever saving our mortal lives.  If you consider that last category only once (when really it is incalculable), then we are thrice indebted to Him. 

The paramedic didn’t just say that Charlie should feel indebted for his second chance at life.  He said something so much more wonderful.  He reminded Charlie that God doesn’t just show off for nothing.  He didn’t save Charlie’s life thoughtlessly.  No, God gave Charlie a gift, one that had purpose.  It’s bigger than that though; God has a purpose for every life he creates—from the very beginning.  Not only that, but God shows off with every creation.  We are all fearfully and wonderfully made. 

When these truths finally began to sink in, Charlie was finally able to look forward, to live forward.  Not only did he live, but he made a difference.  He did something meaningful with his life, he saved someone else’s.  We ought to be the same.  When we begin to grasp that God showed off when he made us, and that he gave us life, and keeps giving us life, when we grasp that we have been given a gift and feel a sense of responsibility and indebtedness for that gift, when we truly grasp that our lives have a purpose – it should be transformational for us too.  And just like Charlie, we ought to find ourselves saving lives.  No matter what course we take, we ought to be giving life to others by pointing them to the God to whom they also owe everything.

Questions for Discussion:

  • Which point in Charlie’s story do you find is most like where you are at at this point in your life?
  • What disappointments have you faced?  Did your dream crash or was it a slow process? 
  • Do you struggle with guilt?  Is it a false sense of guilt, or a healthy guilt which brings you to Jesus?
  • When the future you planned on doesn’t quit turn out that way, do you adjust and plan for a new future?  Or do you focus on the past and what might have been, or in your opinion should have been?
  • When you are tempted to focus on the past, what form does that take for you?  How do you preserve the past (or your past dreams) and avoid the future?
  • Have you had any near-death experiences that you are aware of?  If so, how did that affect you?
  • Do you think that living with a heightened awareness of how “lucky” you are to be alive would affect your sense of gratitude and purpose?
  • Do you feel like God showed off when he made you?  Or, would you say as the man said about his blind date, “I’m sure she was some of God’s handiwork, but she wasn’t one of his masterpieces.”
  • Do you believe that there is a higher power who created you and to whom you are responsible and indebted?
  • Do you have a sense of purpose in your life?