Soul Surfer – Movie Review
Soul Surfer – Movie Review
Review by Stacey Tuttle
I like a lot of movies, and I think a lot of movies do a good job of making some interesting point or worthwhile message clear. But while you can get good out of a movie, it is a very rare movie that I would make a blanket suggestion that people ought to see it. Soul Surfer though is such a movie.
Generally, I try to find some connection to spiritual matters that movie watchers may or may not have seen, something that will help them use that movie to bridge the gap between culture and spiritual matters. For those of you who have seen Soul Surfer, you won’t need my help—the spiritual applications are so clear and so powerful (without, in my opinion, being “preachy”) that my pointing them out here is simply redundant. However, the truths were so beautiful and inspiring, I doubt if anyone who saw it will mind the redundancy. For those who haven’t seen it, I will happily point out some of the great moments in the film so that you can dialogue more easily and meaningfully with others about it…but please, I beg of you, do not think that because you have read this review you should therefore skip seeing the movie. Take some time and take some friends to go see it…and while you’re at it, take a few Kleenexes and few extra bucks for a coffee and a long talk afterwards!
You Give and Take Away…But my Heart Will Choose to Say…
The movie opens with Bethany rushing in off the surf for church service. While she slips a sundress over a bathing suit and wet hair, the church is singing…Blessed Be Your Name In the land that is plentiful Where Your streams of abundance flow Blessed be Your name Blessed Be Your name When I’m found in the desert place Though I walk through the wilderness Blessed Be Your name Every blessing You pour out I’ll turn back to praise When the darkness closes in, Lord Still I will say Blessed be the name of the Lord Blessed be Your name Blessed be the name of the Lord Blessed be Your glorious name Blessed be Your name When the sun’s shining down on me When the world’s ‘all as it should be’ Blessed be Your name Blessed be Your name On the road marked with suffering Though there’s pain in the offering Blessed be Your name Every blessing You pour out I’ll turn back to praise When the darkness closes in, Lord Still I will say Blessed be the name of the Lord Blessed be Your name Blessed be the name of the Lord Blessed be Your glorious name You give and take away You give and take away My heart will choose to say Lord, blessed be Your name
I know the song, and I knew what was coming, Bethany was about to lose her arm in a shark attack (no big surprise, as that’s the true story this movie is based upon)—so I should probably admit, the tears welled up and I began stifling weepy sobs in the very first scene of the movie…like I said, bring your Kleenex. Ugh – I think I need them handy now as I write this. “You give and take away, still my heart will choose to say LORD, BLESSED be your name.” “When I’m found in the desert place, though I walk through the wilderness…when the darkness closes in… On the road marked with suffering, though there’s pain in the offering…STILL I will say blessed be the name of the Lord.” Can we really say that? Is that how we live? Do we bless the Lord with our mouths, our attitudes, our actions when the darkness comes? Bethany did. When her arm was bit off and life as she knew it was forever changed, still she blessed the name of the Lord.
QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION: What about you? What is it you are facing? How would you fill in the phrase: “When THIS happens…STILL I will say…”? Probably more importantly, if you are honest with yourself, are there things which you think, “If this happens, I don’t know if I can bless the Lord”? It’s a choice. My heart will choose to say blessed be Your name. For those things that you feel might be too much, ask the Lord to help you with those. He wants you to be able to bless his name, He’ll empower you to do it—but it begins with your resolve, (my resolve!) to bless Him, no matter what.
A Matter of Perspective
In a youth group meeting, Bethany’s youth group leader (Carrie Underwood in this case!) showed two pictures very close up and asked the kids to guess what they were pictures of. The first looked maybe like a close up of a basketball…it was orange and textured. In reality, when she zoomed out, it was a fly’s eye. The second, equally unrecognizable, was a walnut. She shared how sometimes it’s really hard to see something (events in our lives, for example) for what it really is because you are too close to it. Sometimes you have to get some distance to get a proper perspective. She shared Jeremiah 29:11, “For I know the plans I have for you, plans to prosper and not to harm you, to give you a hope and a future.” She explained to the kids that, when it comes to their lives, everything doesn’t always make sense at first. Sometimes you need the perspective that comes with time, but in the meanwhile, you can trust that God loves you and has a plan, a good plan, for your life.
When Bethany lost her arm, she clung to this message. She sought to find some perspective and when she couldn’t see why, she took comfort in trusting that God was in control and he had a plan for her life, a good plan. It took a while before she understood that plan, but in the end, she agreed—the plan was good. So good that, when a reporter asked if she could go back in time would she have not gotten in the water that day the shark bit her arm off, Bethany answered that she wouldn’t do it any differently. WOW!
Bethany chose to praise God and bless his name even before she could see how good was going to come from it all. She chose to do that because she trusted He was good and in control and full of love and good will for her. And in the end she had to agree with him, He had good plans for her, to prosper her and not to harm her, to give her hope and a future. His plan was better than she imagined.
I love Isaiah 61:3. It says that God wants to “To console those who mourn in Zion, To give them beauty for ashes, The oil of joy for mourning, The garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; That they may be called trees of righteousness, planting of the LORD, that He may be glorified.” He can make the ashes in your life into something beautiful. Take heart. Be patient. Bless His name.
QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION: Are there circumstances in your life which seem awful at the moment? Events which you cannot possibly imagine could turn out to be good in the end? Can you patiently ask for some perspective on those things? Can you choose to believe in the promise of Jeremiah 29:11, even though you cannot see how God’s going to do it? Can you possibly trust in God’s character to be bigger than your circumstances?
I Don’t Need Easy, I Just Need Possible
It was one of the great lines of the movie…of any movie. One-armed Bethany has decided she wants to surf. Her Dad cautions her, it’s not going to be easy…translation: “It’s going to be really, really hard. Are you sure, honey?” And this is her brave, determined reply, “I don’t need easy, I just need possible.”
The night before I saw Soul Surfer, I was thinking and praying about the story in John 5 where Jesus asks an invalid man (of 38 years) by the healing pool, “Do you want to get well?” It seems like such an obvious answer—who doesn’t want to get well? But then, I realize, I don’t want to get well. Not if I’m really honest with myself. I mean, I do want to BE well, but I don’t want to GET well. There’s a difference. I want the end result but I don’t want to go through the process of getting there. I’d like to be in better shape, but I don’t want to diet and exercise to get there. I want healing in some relationships in my life, but I don’t want to forgive. I could go on, but you get the idea. This applies to every area of life, finances, relationships, health, work…etc. In Bethany’s language, I am guilty of only wanting what’s easy, and not being willing to fight for what’s possible.
But there is good news! If you are like me and you are tempted to stop short of possible and settle for what’s easy, for whatever reason, God is willing to fill in that gap. In John 5, Jesus did ask the man that tough, probing question. I am not sure what to think of the man’s response, to be honest. He said he had tried to get into the healing pool but couldn’t do it. I don’t know if he sincerely had done all he could do and wasn’t able to, or if he had come to a comfortable co-existence with his excuses. I don’t know. But I do know that whatever it was, Jesus had compassion on him and helped him. “Jesus said to him, “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.” At once the man was cured; he picked up his mat and walked.” Jesus is the difference between impossible and possible, between possible and easy.
QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION: Are you discouraged? Have you done all you can do and you simply cannot? Or have you grown comfortable with “easy”? Are you possibly afraid that when you find healing you won’t have excuses any more for where you fall short? Or are you like Bethany and you don’t need easy, but you sure need to know that the difficult is at least possible? Whatever it is, Jesus can help you. He can heal your heart so that you don’t need easy any more, you can brave the possible. He can you help you make the impossible possible. He may give you the strength to struggle and fight and accomplish great things, or he may tell you simply to GET UP! Either way, it is in Jesus that we find our healing and our possibilities.
Surfing Wasn’t the Most Important Thing in the World
After Bethany lost her arm, she struggled with feeling, understandably, like she had lost everything. She lost her arm, her ability to do the most basic things, things like putting on her own bathing suit, cutting a tomato, etc. Most things took two hands and it was going to be a huge adjustment to learn to get along with only one. But above all, Bethany felt the most her inability to surf competitively. She had tried to get out there and be competitive, but she just couldn’t keep up with the others.
In the wake of this reality, Bethany went on a mission trip which would provide some much needed perspective on her trials. She worked with people on an island who had been devastated by a tsunami, losing friends, family, homes, livelihoods, pets…and sustaining personal injury as well. The people were still shocked and devastated and reeling emotionally from the tragedy. And, they were all scared of the water. The water had just attacked them. People who formerly swam and surfed wouldn’t go anywhere near the water. It was here where Bethany, thinking she would never surf again, discovered a new reason to surf.
Bethany got out a board and went into the water and coaxed a shy young boy who had not spoken a word since the tsunami out into the water. He was the first of his people to get back into the water. And Bethany said that “teaching some boy to surf taught me that surfing isn’t the most important thing in the world. Love is.” Bethany saw that losing an arm or the ability to surf wasn’t the worst the thing in the world, losing loved ones would be way worse. She also saw that getting out in the water and surfing gave hope and encouragement to these people whose lives were so devastated.
Then, having a new perspective on surfing (that her life didn’t depend upon it) Bethany returned home to discover stacks and stacks of mail from people around the world. Children (of all ages) who had heard her story were writing to say that she had given them hope to face their own challenges…and they were cheering for her in her next competition. Bethany was shocked! She had tried that one competition, but had sworn off competing after that, she felt like such a failure. “Why?” she asked her mom. “I totally blew it at regionals. Why would they want me to compete?” “Because you TRIED,” her mom wisely replied. This is when Bethany found courage to surf competitively again—when she realized that surfing was no longer just for her. Bethany had realized that love was more important than surfing, but she saw that, for her, surfing was a way to love so many people. It was a way to encourage and give hope and be an inspiration to others. And that made surfing worth doing again.
QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION: What about you? Have you made some job or activity the point in your life? Or have you, like Bethany, realized that the things you do are all just a means to a greater end, a way in which you can love others? And when you try to do something, do you get discouraged by negative results, or are you able to be encouraged that the process is often more important than the result? My dad used to say that 90% of life is a matter showing up. Bethany felt that she failed at regionals, but by just showing up, by simply trying, she inspired thousands of people. Can you feel good about the fact that you showed up and tried, no matter the results? If it didn’t go as you hoped, can you find the courage to show up and try again?
What if They’re Watching?
Bethany had been avoiding the press since her accident. She didn’t want to be the center of attention, she simply wanted to go on with her life. But that all changed when she realized that she was being watched. She had a stack of mail back home from people encouraging her, saying how she had encouraged and inspired them, and wishing her well in future surfing competitions…they were going to be watching. That changed everything for Bethany. Not just that people were watching her to see if she did well, but that what she did was making a difference in the lives of others. Suddenly, surfing and responding to the press wasn’t about Bethany Hamilton anymore. It wasn’t just a matter of what she wanted to do. Now it was about the kids who had written to her, who looked up to her.
Bethany’s brother was doing his best to ward off the press after her astonishing comeback in a competition when Bethany intervened and said it was OK. She was ready to face the press. “What about Dillon, Logan or Stephanie?” she asked him. “What if they are watching?” And with that, she willingly faced the press, ready for whatever questions they might ask.
It reminds me of Hebrews 12:1, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.” Bethany was acutely aware of the great cloud of witnesses, and ennobled by it.
QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION: Are you aware of the great cloud of witnesses around you, watching you? Are you aware that, as Gladiator said, “What you do in life, echoes in eternity?” If you were more aware of the people who are observing you and hoping for you and believing in you, would you act any differently? Do you think you might be more motivated and courageous to face the challenges ahead with grace and fortitude?
I Wouldn’t Change a Thing
When Bethany did finally face the press, they asked a tough one—they asked her if she would do things differently. If she could go back in time, would she have not gotten into the water that day? Bethany’s answer is as shocking as it is poetic, humble and inspirational. “I wouldn’t change what happened to me because I wouldn’t have this chance to embrace more people than I ever could with two arms.”
Bethany previously said that surfing wasn’t the most important thing, love was. Surfing and talking to the press were just ways in which she was able to love others better. And her arm…well, in her eyes that was a small sacrifice to pay for the ability to love more people and do it better…a sacrifice she would willingly make again. Can you imagine? To say that you wouldn’t want your arm back because you were able to love and encourage more people without it? “Greater love has no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). Surely a close second is laying down a limb for people you’ve never even met.
QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION: What sacrifice would you consider worth it to be able to positively impact the lives of others? Would you be willing to give up your time, your money, your lifestyle, your health…if you knew that through the loss of it your life counted for something bigger than yourself? Have you ever longed to know that you could make a difference in the world?
God has a plan for you. Sometimes it takes some perspective to see it. But when you do see it, you will find that any small sacrifices you have made along the way are worth it. At least, that is what you will find if you love God and are called according to His purposes. Are there things in your past that you are still angry, bitter and hurt about? Trust God to transform those ashes into a thing of beauty. He longs to make good on his promise to “work all things together for good for those who love God.” God does have a plan for your life, and it is a good plan…and until you have the perspective to see it, take heart, be encouraged and know that a great cloud of witnesses is watching you to see how it all turns out.
 John 5:8-9
 Ugh! Grab the Kleenex…AGAIN! Nothing makes my tear ducts open up like an inspirational moment like that one.
 Romans 8:28
 Romans 8:28