Film Review: “Soul Surfer” by David Langer

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.

About John Raatz

Founder & Board Chairman of the Global Alliance for Transformational Entertainment (GATE). GATE is an evolving membership community of creative, business and technical professionals in entertainment and the media, and others who realize the vital and expanding role the media and entertainment play in creating our lives, and who aspire to consciously transform that process for the benefit of all.
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5 Responses to Film Review: “Soul Surfer” by David Langer

  1. The question you raise in this post about true transformation, and whether triumph over adversity necessarily leads to it, is one that deeply engages me in my own life and work. Thanks for this insightful review, and keep up your great work, so vital for our transitional time.

  2. Elspeth says:

    Watching Soul Surfer- this movie has to be the best true story based I’ve seen..Love it!!… Soul Surfer just finished downloading. Watching a movie alone kinda sucks sometimes -..-.

  3. Transformation is a process we each go through, kicking and screaming until we trust the process has our highest interest in mind. In my experience, it is not overcoming adversity. It is a rare-gemmed process, and if we wish to propel it into our experience and relations with any kind of regularity, we must be willing to go very deep and wide, beyond “right and wrong”, inquiring into any assumptions we have made about it, flailing into the unknown, giving up control. Transformation is a magical, alchemical process, available to all of us yet not possible unless we go directly into the flames of our resistance.

    Many of us are all too aware that there is something called “awakening” going on now. And it is so much more in our hands than we realize. Even more than this, it is so much more available than we have ever imagined. It is now. And now. This present moment “now”, regardless of the conditions and meanings we place upon it is the secret portal…opening us to inner-wisdom which transcends any advice or conditions for happiness we have been given. Getting real and intimate with the ACTUAL experience of the now–raw as it is and very often not how we believe it should be–is where our liberation and unity as a people lies. However, touching into it takes serious tenacity. For me, it took demanding the truth from my bones! (I want to know what story my blood, my heart, my bones tell me of this existence!) We are being invited, right now, to be bare-ass honest with reality. What we see and feel may not be pretty. But it is through this ugly looking-glass that all things become clear again. A fierce willingness of spirit to go where most fear to tread is the true mark of transformational potential.

    This moment, as it arises–this is the very last place we think will deliver us meaningful answers to our unresolved conflict and confusion. This moment, in all of its messiness, its beautiful human-ness, chaos, attachments, judgments and repression, IS the doorway. The doorway is the very feeling of rising threat–as the potential of being absolutely deconstructed faces us; Every role, identity and sense of worth we have ever constructed may fall. Yet in the shadows, the misunderstandings and even deeper–in the dark, earthy, empty recesses of our primal and spiritual natures—lies who we are. We must go into our own madness to realize the infinite gift of return the madness offers.

    What makes a truly transformational film?

    The film, “Life is Beautiful” took me on a deeply transformational journey. I am still processing it and know this process never ends, only deepens. I remember walking into the dimly-lit theater, finding a seat and observing the people around me, casually, but with vested interest in their experience. I didn’t know much about the film. Yet, I was ready to be moved, already having some awareness that it held the potential of transforming my life and others’. I know that conscious film has the power to reach people long before they even see it. It is within the vibration of integrity and devotion to the truth–ONENESS– which timelessly travels, touching us even when we don’t know what and how we are receiving.

    During the film I was enraptured by the sheer level of honest humanity presented…the humor, the fragility, the fear…the base crudeness of our ego-drive, the ugly innocence of unconsciousness and the resilient strength of our determined and powerful human spirit. It brought grief and rage but most of all a primal and heart-centered recognition: We all desire to feel safe and loved, to be free, to create a kind and beautiful world for our children and each other. I still cry tears of love when I recall the film. Somehow the lines between what is real in the film and what is not are completely blurred; I still believe the lead actor was not an actor, but the character he played! (I am still convinced that he died that day in the camp, while his son played hide-and-seek in a box) How does this happen? Because his experience is inseparable from my experience. I knew his fear, his love; I knew the unconditional drive of protecting his child. As he looks into his child’s worried eyes, he looks into mine. He calms me. He reassures me everything is going to be alright. Through our shared trials, through the most unfathomable suffering, we never leave one another. We know what it is to be human, to misunderstand, to hurt, to return to love. We are clasped together. We are inseparable. One heart. I am also the guard who pulls the trigger. I see his misery. I know his self-hate. It is mine. We are all impressionable. And guilty. Guilty of innocently believing what contradicts our true nature, our true experience, convinced that it will bring us closer to each other, closer to who we are, closer to god. Mostly we are all love, waiting to be received as who we are. I am you. You are me.

    When the credits rolled (I’m choking up now) I felt washed with tears, raw and gaping-open. It was then that I looked away from the screen and up at the other people in the theater. Everyone was moving…differently…more slowly…more deliberately. There was a sacred quiet to the room…a reverence for this human experience, a deep, unspoken recognition of who we really are to ourselves and each other. A pause from assumptions. A soft touch on the arm. Upon walking out, people gazed into each others eyes, touching strangers, speaking gently, tears still rolling. I was so moved! This has been to date the most powerful film experience I have ever had.

    The potential for transformation lies just as much in the attitude of the one receiving the film as the one sharing it…just as the courageous, devotional attitude of the main character deeply served his child remaining in an attitude of trust and playfulness. The life-affirming attitude of “life is how you perceive it”, created a work of transformational art; delivering the accessible wisdom that we too, as the audience have permission to fully participate in our own beautiful life.


  4. I watched this film and was deeply touched. Potent message. Media will transform the world.

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