When “127 Hours” came out, people
immediately said, “Oh, that’s the one about the hiker guy who had to saw
off his hand.” And despite all that
the producers and directors tried to say about how it was much more than
that…..the same is true here. People
hear about “Soul Surfer” and say, “Oh, that’s the one about the
surfer girl who lost her arm in the shark attack and survived.”
And that’s exactly right, that’s the one-sentence synopsis.
Now the challenge will be to convince people that “Soul Surfer”
is more than that.
Actually, to be critically honest, the
movie begins sort of awkwardly, and feels formulaic.
Bethany Hamilton (AnnaSophia Robb) is a teenage girl in a southern
community next to the ocean, where surfing is a way of life.
Her parents and her two brothers are all surfers, and all her
friends, too. She grows up around the
water, and is most comfortable in a swimsuit with a surfboard tucked under
her arm. But she’s not just a
posing wannabe, they’re serious. They
videotape each other and study technique. They
enter competitions. They’re
But it’s not their whole life.
They’re serious about religion, also.
The family goes to worship together---fittingly, in a bungalow by the
beach with a praise band leading the singing.
attends bible study with the youth group, and is close to the Youth Pastor.
She can’t go on the mission trip because she’s entering the
regional surfing competition, but she helps send off her friends with
prayers and good wishes. Her faith is
Whether it’s the direction or the
screenplay or the acting, up to this point it feels kind of syrupy-sweet to
the point of cloying. Like a perfect
person living in an idyllic world. Perhaps
it was done that way to contrast with the devastation of the accident, but
let’s face it, losing an arm doesn’t need overstating.
But it’s at this point that the movie starts getting real, and
begins to involve the emotions of the viewer.
She could have died, of course, but
the quick reactions and immediate rescue of her fellow surfers saved her
life. When she physically recovers,
she still has a lot to deal with emotionally.
It takes her a while to say, “Why me?”
It takes her even longer to ask her Youth Pastor how this is in
God’s plan for her. Fortunately,
the Youth Pastor is sensitive and savvy, and says, “I don’t know.
But I think something good is going to come out of this.”
can’t wait to get back in the water, but discovers, to her chagrin, that
it’s very difficult to surf one-armed. It’s
harder to get up off the board, and it’s harder to stay up on the board,
particularly during the difficult cutting maneuvers of competitive surfing.
begins to wonder who she is if she’s not a surfer.
But then she goes on a mission trip to
, to help out the tsunami victims, and there she finds a calling---to help
the frightened children get back in the water.
She returns to stacks of mail from strangers, also telling her that
are inspired by her example of never quitting, so now she throws herself
into her training with new resolve. And
she does, in fact, become a successful competitor again.
And along the way she inspires a lot of other people.
For a person of faith, this is an
important film, because it’s a true story about someone who would have had
every reason to abandon a shallow success-and-prosperity-based religion, but
her faith was more mature than that. And
so is she. Just try seeing this film
without being moved, yea, even inspired by the true grit of this one-armed
surfer girl who never stopped believing.
Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, Co-Pastor,
United Presbyterian Church,