Tristar Pictures, FilmDistrict and Enticing Entertainment present
In Association with Island Film Group and Affirm Films
A Brookwell McNamara Entertainment, Life’s A Beach Entertainment and Mandalay Vision Production
“Soul Surfer” Starring Annasophia Robb, Helen Hunt and Dennis Quaid
Soul Surfer is an inspiring film, great for family viewing. Early in the film, its protagonist, Bethany Hamilton (Annasophia Robb) declares how her passion in life, surfing, gives her great joy. Obviously, this is an essential message for viewers of all ages.
In case you missed Hamilton’s story when it was a major national television news item … she was a teenage champion surfer living in Hawaii with her champion surfing family. One day, a shark bit off her left arm. Fortunately, she was rescued quickly and survived. The remainder of the film details her efforts to regain her competitive surfing status, with a brief side-trip to Thailand as a member of the World Vision mission assisting survivors of the Phuket tsunami.
It’s all uplifting triumph over adversity stuff. The real question from the GATE perspective is – is triumph over adversity necessarily transformational? I don’t think so, but that’s up for discussion. What is transformation? What does it take for a film to be truly transformational? I believe there’s more to transformation than triumph over adversity. Of course, transformation can certainly include that kind of triumph, but that triumph doesn’t always denote transformation.
In the film, Bethany led an idyllic life on the beach in “”paradise,” surrounded by physically beautiful, wonderfully good brothers, friends, and parents (Helen Hunt, Dennis Quaid). Mom and dad didn’t work, presumably because they lived on their winnings as surfing champions, but this was never addressed. Reared as a competitor, to be a champion, in a competitive, championship family, Bethany met her traumatic challenge as a champion would. But was there really a transformation in her life? Or was it simply a serious challenge, successfully met? There’s very little complexity or nuance in the film, almost no inner struggle. Very basic, straightforward emotional content; nothing challenging for the viewer. As close as we get to transformation is Bethany’s discovery, while volunteering in Thailand, that love is more important than winning, serving more meaningful than surfing.
Still, if the choice for film fare is between destruction and devastation, or inspiration and transformation, we opt for the latter.
David Langer is President of GATE.