The Ultimate Life-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
The Ultimate Life is the sequel to The Ultimate Gift with James Garner. It’s directed by Michael Landon, Jr. (the first was directed by Michael O. Sajbel –and some of the actors have changed, so you might feel a little lack of continuity) and is heartwarming and inspiring, although it feels a little more like a Hallmark movie than a blockbuster. It has some good, family friendly themes, literally—the basic idea of the movie is that family is more important than money. But, and this is where I get really critical, the good sometimes get in the way of the best—and I’m afraid this is the case here.
I want to first off clarify that I am thankful when movies come out that are clean and wholesome and have good messages. I went to this one, fully expecting that it may feel a little shy of Hollywood, but willing to forgive knowing that these films usually have significantly smaller budgets and resources (i.e. if I’m not mistaken, Facing the Giants was made with just one camera). I know the “Christian” films get a bad rap for the production quality, but if we honestly compared apples to apples, and compared those “Christian” films to a “Hollywood” film with the same budget and comparable resources, we may find the “Christian” films are surprisingly on par, if not above. So I went to this see The Ultimate Life because it makes no apologies for being a movie that has something to say about how to life the ultimate life.
I left a bit disappointed however, not because of the quality of production, but because of the quality of the message. It was a good message, but not the ultimate message it promises to be. The movie is all about a good man who lost sight of what mattered in his pursuit of money and success, and about how he came to realize that family and friends were what really mattered. It’s a message we’ve heard a million times, and often done with better nuance and sensitivity. This one felt a bit trite and shallow. Maybe it was too black and white…overly simplistic.
Ultimately though, I think the real failure was that the message fell short of God. It’s very politically correct, I’ll grant you, and not likely to offend anyone. It’s also not likely to have any great impact on anyone. Most everyone will agree that relationships are more important that accumulating hoards of wealth (his all-consuming goal was specifically to make two billion dollars). All in all, it’s a good message. I guess I’m just not certain that it’s one we don’t already kind of know, or that it was said in a way that was really meaningful. More importantly though, I’m actually very certain that it’s not the BEST message. I’m quite sure that there is a lesson that’s more important, and that this movie is getting in the way of that.
If people actually believe what this movie says, that the “ultimate life” comes when we put family and friends first in our life, then they will stop looking for the real key to the ultimate life. The good message can get in the way of the best message if we aren’t careful. This is all the more likely when the good message doesn’t admit that it’s only that – the “good” –and calls itself the “ultimate.”
The “ultimate life” only comes when we put God first. It’s the greatest commandment: Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength (Luke 10:27). Love your neighbor as yourself is the second commandment. We won’t find the ultimate life if we don’t put God first. That’s not how our lives were designed.
I admit that I am tempted to be significantly more critical of this movie than the main stream movies. Why? Because I expect more from it. As a Christian, I’m not surprised to find that I don’t agree with everything a Hollywood movie tries to say, especially when it’s produced by non-Christians and not making any claims to be Christian. When, however, a film that seems to be “Christian” in nature promises to tell you how to live life to the full, claims to be able to help you life the ultimate life, and yet doesn’t put God first, I am surprised (and disappointed, and maybe even a little angry).
Now, to be fair, I haven’t seen it said anywhere that this was a “Christian” movie, but it does seem to imply that it is. There is some mention of God and the characters seem to be God-fearing people. And I know Michael Landon, Jr. is often involved with “Christian” type projects. Even if it made no claims to be Christian, it did make claims to have some answers about the ultimate life. Those are some bold claims. The movie doesn’t try to be opaque or mysterious, or to leave you with deep questions to ponder, or to present you with the many conundrums that make finding the ultimate life a challenge…the movie is unapologetically preachy. It’s a parable, created to drive home a point.
So, Christian or not, it gives me a little more license to judge it by those terms. Did this movie do what it set out to do? Was it a parable that made it clear how to reach the ultimate life? Was it a sermon that really preached? Frankly, I don’t think so. If they had simply called it “The Good Life” I would have been Ok with it. Because yeah, choosing not to sacrifice your relationships to the pursuit of money is a good thing and will help you live a good life. BUT – if you want to live the ultimate life, this movie won’t help you get there. (Let’s just hope it won’t distract you from getting there.) To live the ultimate life, you have got to put God first.
I’m not saying not to see the movie. It’s a wholesome movie with some good values. I am concerned though that it doesn’t tell the whole truth. We’ve all heard it said that the best lie is one that has a lot of truth in it. This movie has a lot of truth in it, but it doesn’t admit that it’s not the whole truth. It’s good, but it’s not the best. My concern is that it will mislead people, give them a false sense of security about their life and make them feel good for putting people first, never reminding them that God must come first. This is where you and I come in—because it’s a great opportunity for us to enter the discussion and remind people about what the ultimate life is REALLY all about.
Questions for Discussion:
- What did “The Ultimate Life” say was the key to living the ultimate life?
- Do you agree with that?
- What do you think is the key to living the ultimate life?
- What do you think God (the Bible) says is the key to finding the ultimate life?
- How would you describe the ultimate life? What is your idea of the ultimate life?
- Based on the movie, what does the ultimate life look like?
- What do you think God/ the Bible would say constitutes the ultimate life?
By Stacey Tuttle
 I focused primarily on the absence of God in the movie, but the reality is it doesn’t speak much to what the ultimate life should really look like either – other than a happy family and marriage and friends. This too leaves MUCH to be desired. I think, if we are honest, most of us would say that living the ultimate life wouldn’t mean the American dream and our comfort, but would involve doing something that made a difference in the world. There is no sense of mission in the movie, of really helping the poor and downtrodden and suffering in the world.