Chris Pratt (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) had it all: a star athlete, young, handsome, and charming. He's driving a convertible at night along a country road, and wants to show his date, and his best friend in the back (with his date), how amazing it is to drive with the lights out and watch the luminescent fireflies. They are at once enchanted, thrilled, and frightened, which is exactly the emotional rush Chris Pratt had intended for all of them. But as he speeds up to heighten the sense of danger, the others start "freaking out," begging him to turn on the headlights, and as he does, they all see the enormous combine inexplicably parked on the road, just before they collide head-on with it.
It's four years later. Chris Pratt is still adjusting to his head injury. He lives in a kind of Halfway House with Lewis, a middle-aged blind man (Jeff Daniels). He gets up every morning and goes to "school," which consists of occupational therapy sessions with the other "students." He has trouble sequencing, so he has to write everything down, in order: Wake up. Take a shower, with soap. Get Dressed. Eat breakfast. Go to school.
The simplest tasks frustrate him. He can successfully grasp things with his right hand, but still has difficulty with his left. He has trouble opening a can, or chopping vegetables, so Lewis does most of the cooking. He struggles with remorse about the accident, and guilt about causing the death of his friends (one girl survived, with her left leg amputated, but he has yet to gather the courage to contact her). He grieves over the loss of his great personal potential, and his apparently unlimited future. He works as a night janitor in a local bank. The graveyard-shift policeman brings him donuts, but Chris finds himself resenting the patronization more than he appreciates the attempt at friendship. Holiday dinners at the home of his wealthy parents merely remind him of how much he has lost and will never regain. They seem so smug in their success, and so condescending to their poor little damaged boy, as they are to everyone beneath their social station. Bringing Lewis with him only intensifies the Pity Party. How does he recover his sense of manhood?
Enter a very clever con man named Gary Spargo (Matthew Goode). He immediately sizes up Chris Pratt, sipping an O'Doul's by himself at the local watering hole. (He's not supposed to combine alcohol with his medications.) Spargo first chats up his "mark," then, from the pool table, sends his accomplice, Luvlee (Isla Fisher), posing as a hot chick with an eye toward the handsome stranger at the bar. Poor Chris Pratt is completely infatuated (how long has it been since any good-looking young woman has shown an interest in him?). He is immediately, gleefully, and gratefully seduced. And then the serious seduction begins; Spargo trying to interest him in this bank heist they're planning, and all they need is for Chris Pratt to be their Lookout.
Of course, desperate for friends, attention, excitement, and the near presence of danger, he easily succumbs to their cynical blandishments. Too late, he realizes that they are just ordinary thugs who are using him. And when everything starts going horribly wrong, Chris Pratt must somehow make some very difficult decisions while under an enormous amount of stress.
But maybe that's part of what growing up, really growing up, is all about. And maybe being a real adult is also encountering people whose motives are not pure, and learning to deal with their betrayals. And maybe part of being a real adult is adapting to one's own limitations, and embracing the friendship of those who are sad or unlovely, but fiercely loyal. And maybe part of being a real adult is accepting the consequences of previous mistakes, however catastrophic, and resolutely facing forward, where the future is. And maybe part of being a real adult is to not expect family to be any more than who they are, or friends to be any less than who they are.
Chris Pratt carries a card around that says, "My name is Chris Pratt. I have had a serious head injury." In a way, we all wear our limitations, some more evidently than others. Redemption is not necessarily in overcoming obvious obstacles. It's more in developing the integrity of the character within.
Questions For Discussion:
1) Have you known people who experienced a serious head injury? How did it affect them? How did it affect your relationship with them?
2) Have you ever befriended people who did not have your best interests at heart? Have you ever befriended people who encouraged you to do something illegal with them?
3) How do you deal with guilt? Remorse? Loss of personal capacity?
4) How have you experienced personal redemption?
Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, Pastor, First Presbyterian Church, Terrell, Texas