“Soul Surfer” Movie Review: Shred… On

Posted: April 12, 2011 by pastorerichann in Music and Movies
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I had the privilege recently of checking out the new film “Soul Surfer” (which opened April 8, 2011). The film is the story of Bethany Hamilton who, in 2003 – right after placing 2nd in a professional surfing competition – was attacked by a shark resulting in the loss of her left arm. She went on not only to recover but to, astoundingly, be able to surf again at the same level of professional competition as before. The trailer for the film can be viewed right here.

After watching the film, what do I think of it? I think this movie is a triumph. I know that a typical film review would include subjects such as “cinematography, screenwriting, quality of supporting cast” – etc ad-infinitum. Without going into all that, and at the risk of overstatement, I’m going to say that this might be the most inspirational film I have ever seen. On the “inspiration” scale, think somewhere along the lines of “Rocky,” “Blind Side” and “Chariots of Fire.”  

Granted, I’m a little biased. One of my obvious, admitted biases pertains to being a Christian. It’s always refreshing for me to see a film portray a professing Christian (along with her family, church, etc) in a positive light (News alert: The positive impact of Christ and Christian practice is a reality for many people even if so many “big-screen” portrayals regularly run this theme in other directions). Imagine that – Christian parents with an awesome relationship with their teenage daughter, a supportive church, and an impactful influence of a church youth minister. Certainly there are no “real life” stories about such things, are there? I know this is hard for many to fathom… but at least try : ). Kudos to mainstream actors (including) Dennis Quaid, Helen Hunt, and Craig T. Nelson for being willing to be part of this project.

Another bias for me in connection with this film is having a daughter who is only a little older than Bethany, and a son who is just a bit younger. This is an exceptionally meaningful film for not only young people but also their parents. If you fit that demographic, don’t bother bringing a “hanky” into the theatre. Just cart in several boxes of kleenex tissue. You will need them, especially if you’ve ever had any “trials” to deal with in your family* (*and who hasn’t? Our own son had a 4-wheeler accident several years ago with a sizable stick being lodged in his right eye-socket. The accident threatened his life and we were also told he would probably lose his eye “globe” and would “definitely” never see out of that eye again. We went through hours of prayer and reflection about what our son’s life was going to be like having only one eye. As with Bethany, in our situation God had definite plans. The depiction of Bethany’s crisis moment, responses, subsequent fall-out and doubts we found to be a virtual replay of our own experience. The presence of God in the midst of it all was also a meaningful parallel to our own situation. For others who haven’t experienced the same kind of “comebacks” – many will note that God does still remain faithful). When I think of my own family, young people from our past, as well as many in our current church home – I get pumped about how God is working in lives. I’m one person who gets tired of hearing naysayers smack “kids these days” and what a “hopeless” future there is for Christianity and the world at large. Maybe the world of Christians (or entire world, period) as we know it will come to an end soon, but I know countless young people within our past and current churches who… rock. The courage, tenacity, and faith exhibited by Ms. Hamilton (portrayed in the film and in real life interviews) reminds me of many of the really great Christian young people I know.   

Another bias for me relates to the particulars of my past. Growing up in Southern California – and having been a novice surfer at one time, I can relate somewhat to that “scene.” At one point the film portrays Bethany going surfing before Sunday church. There was a time in my own life when I lived that reality along with some friends (I had to chuckle at that point in the movie). Having some personal background in surfing makes Bethany’s comeback, from my own perspective, that much more incredible. Note: Surfing is not easy. It is not easy with two arms, even when you’re in great shape. There were countless times in my So-Cal “surfing years” (middle/high school – 1980’s) when I was too out of shape (and too out of breath!) to be able to do a lot of catching and “dropping into” waves. Just “getting outside” to the breaking point in large surf can be completely taxing. For someone to be able to do this with one arm… well… it’s one thing if you’re riding long-boards just for fun on 1-3 foot waves – but to do this on short boards, in intense Hawaiian surf, at a level of professional competition (?) (check out the link right here including actual footage of her surfing. Note that she’s not just surfing, she’s… um… shredding). I would have previously considered this to be impossible. Ms. Hamilton, in essence, says – scrap that, I’m going surfing, and we’ll let God work things out according to His plans. 

I love that.

I… really… love that. 

There is an element of the “spirit” of this story and main character which actually reminds me of one of my long-time heroes “Eric Liddell” who was portrayed in the classic film “Chariots of Fire.” Watch out for Liddell. He’s running for reasons that people like coaches don’t understand. The same can be said for “Hamilton.”

Without “spoiling” it by my description, my personal favorite moments of the film take place during the final 8 – 15 minutes, along with the transition into the closing song (the movie has an appropriately killer soundtrack that I hope to get my hands on in the future). During this time there is the inclusion of actual footage (surfing / Bethany and family footage/shots). It is an incredibly upbeat series of moments, and it’s as if the film says… “so what’s your problem?” “With God’s help… “Get up and get on with it.”

I love that.

In light of that, I want to say to Bethany Hamilton, and all the other “Bethanys” (or “Brians” – or whomever fits the kindred likeness)…

In God’s strength and for His glory…

Shred on.

Shred… …on.


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