Instructions not Included: Movie Discussion


These movie discussions are intended to help you connect your Christian faith to the modern world by:

1.  Helping you learn to see echoes of redemptive truth all around you.

2. Challenging you to help other Christians see that their relationship with Jesus cannot be confined to church but must invade our every activity…even our movie-watching.

3. Equipping you to speak Christ into culture by pointing out entry points for significant discussions with non-believers.  Many non-believers won’t accept an invitation to come to church, but they will talk about a movie they’ve seen recently…so we want to help you turn that conversation into an eternally significant discussion.

Instructions not Included is a refreshing indie break from the summer action blockbusters.  While it does start out a little cheeky, cheeky quickly becomes quirky (in a good way) and heartfelt.  It’s the story of an irresponsible playboy, Acapulco native who has to grow up fast when an American drops a baby off at his door, claiming it’s his.  Actually though, if I want to be accurate, I would have to say that’s the plot, while the real story behind the plot has to do with how we judge our parents and their methods because we don’t have all the data behind their why’s.  And it’s that story line that provides us so much to think about, as we relate to our own parents, and as we relate to God.

The story begins with John “Johnny” Bravo teaching his son, Valentin, to conquer his fears.  He urged his son to look his fears in the eyes, to face them, and gave his son opportunity after opportunity to do so.  It felt cruel to the young, timid Valentin.  He didn’t want to cliff jump, to be locked in a closet, to let tarantula’s crawl on him, etc…  He didn’t feel his father’s love; he felt tortured.  So he left, and he and his father never spoke again.

When Valentin suddenly found himself a parent, he naturally adopted some very different parenting methods, and while no one could accuse him of not being loving, they did accuse him of being too soft and spoiling her.  Maggie skipped a lot of school; their house was a child’s dream—it looked more like a kid’s amusement park than a home; he wrote her fantastical letters that she believed were from the mother who abandoned her (she, of course, did not know she was abandoned); and the list goes on.

Two different parenting extremes; two parents whose methods seem questionable to the outside world, and even, at times to their own children; and two parents who are doing everything they do because they want to do what is best for their children.  Two parents who know more about life and what is to come than their children do.

Even though Valentin adopted very different parenting techniques, as Valentin raised Maggie, he began to appreciate what his father did.  He realized that life was a lot like his Dad, forcing him to face any number of fears, the biggest being the fear of commitment.  Life didn’t ask if he was ready for a daughter—he was forced into parenthood.  Then he was forced into the roles of provider and protector—it was never a question of whether he was ready for or comfortable with those roles.  Just like growing up with his father, though he may scream and cry and resist and plead not to, he still had to face his fears.  Ironically, Valentin became a stunt man for a living—not because he wanted to, but because it was the only thing he really could do—and that forced him daily into situations he was afraid of.  While he was afraid, he did it anyway, and to Maggie, he was the bravest man alive.

As Valentin matured, he realized that “all my dad wanted was to prepare me.  It was his way of making me, loving me.”  He began to be thankful for the hard lessons his dad taught him.  He may have hated his Dad for them, but now he realized how much he needed those lessons, how much they prepared him for the life that was to come.

I mentioned before that Valentin received a lot of criticism for his own parenting methods.  I’ll be honest, even though you can’t help but love him for the way he parents his daughter, even the audience has to pause for a minute and question some of his decisions.  School is important, right?  I mean you love that he values their time together so much that she is allowed to skip all the time to spend time with him—and yet the voice of reason comes in saying you can’t just live life any way you want.  You have to have some responsibility and structure and kids have to go to school, and you can’t just disappear with your child when the court says you should give her to her mother, no matter how unfair the court order may seem.

It’s so easy to question and to criticize what he does (even if we may sympathize), but we don’t have all the data.  You see, Valentin had a secret.  He knew something that affected the way he parented.  He knew that time was short.  He knew that he only had a little time with Maggie, and in light of that, school and court orders weren’t so important.  It’s not that he minded that she be with her mom (in fact, he was very supportive of that), but that he wasn’t willing to give up his own precious, limited time with her.

At the end of the movie, when you finally know what Valentin knows, all his decisions make perfect sense.  Not only do they make sense, but you know they are the right decisions, without a doubt.

God is a lot like Johnny Bravo and Valentin.

Sometimes things happen in our lives (or in the lives of people around us) that seem harsh or cruel.  We get angry that a perfect God, our heavenly Father, could allow them to happen.  We respond just like Valentin did—we assume we know what He’s doing, we get angry and we leave.  We cut God off from our lives, never speaking to Him again.  We just know that God is a cruel taskmaster, getting some sort of sadistic pleasure out of our suffering.

And then there is the other extreme, when we see God being ridiculously kind and loving and generous with someone.  Their lives look like Maggie’s, free from the struggle and responsibility that most of us face, dream-like in their abundant blessing—and we get jealous.  We assume God is irresponsible or playing favorites, or that He doesn’t parent them well because they aren’t going to grow up properly.  Maybe we resent God.  Maybe we get sad, and wish God loved us like he loved so-and-so.

The thing is, in either case we have limited information.  We don’t know how things are going to turn out.  We don’t have God’s bird’s-eye, all-wise and all-knowing, perfect point of view.  God is both Johnny Bravo and Valentin.  He is strong and fierce and wants us to grow and has a ferocious sense of justice.  He is also tender and loving and generous beyond measure and full of humor and patience.  He is all these things in perfect harmony and balance, and all of those things (and so many more) are working themselves out on our behalves at all times, with the benefit of knowing what the future holds.  His perspective, His ability to know what we cannot, to see the future and all the compounding factors influences all that He does and all that He allows.

Valentin came to appreciate all that his father did and he saw that it was good.  Maggie’s mom (and we as an audience) came to see that all that Valentin did for Maggie was also right and good.  But they couldn’t see those things until they had more information, until they began to know what the father knew.

It’s the same for us and our relationship with God.  We need to be careful of our assumptions.  We have limited information and a limited perspective.  In time, we are sure to see that God was using all things to the good of those who love Him, and are called according to His purpose. We are sure to realize, as Hudson Taylor, missionary to the Chinese once said, that “all things are necessarily the kindest, wisest and best, because either ordered or permitted by God himself.”[1]

If we are tempted to be angry when God seems harsh, or to be jealous when He seems soft on someone else, we would do well to remember that the story isn’t done yet, and God knows things we don’t.  We would do well to assume the best of God (this is after all, according to I Corinthians 13, what love does) and wait, for the best will surely prove true in the end.

Questions for Discussion:

  • What was your experience with your own father?  Who did he more closely resemble, Valentin or Johnny?
  • Do you tend to see God as a bigger, more powerful version of your father?  How so?  Have things happened in your life which make you question / think that maybe God is different than your dad?
  • Have you ever judged your parents for a decision they made, and then later been glad for it, and seen that it was the right call?  Has this ever happened in your relationship with God?
  • When you think of God, do you see him someone more like Johnny Bravo, or Valentin?
  • How would things change in your life and emotions if you began to assume and believe that God was working our everything for good, even if it didn’t feel like it in the meanwhile?

Click here to read quotes from Instructions not Included.

Here’s the trailer to the movie.  It’s an indie film, so you may not have seen the preview.  I really thought it was a gem overall and the little girl was beyond adorable.  Like any movie though, it wasn’t “perfect”, so please check the ratings and parent advisory, always, before you see it…

by Stacey Tuttle

[1] This is quoted from memory…may not be exact.