For a young person to develop faith and courage requires a loving family, spiritual guidance and challenging circumstances. This is certainly demonstrated in the life of Bethany Hamilton, a young surfer who lost her arm at the age of 13 to a Tiger shark attack in Kauai. Having been brought up to believe in Jesus Christ, when this tragedy occurred, Bethany not only approached this loss with faith but also with the loving and wise support of her family and church. Her 2004 autobiography Soul Surfer: A True Story of Faith, Family and Fighting to Get Back on the Board, has now been brought to the big screen by director and screenwriter Sean McNamara.
Told with an elegant blend of faith and family, this cinematic portrayal of Bethany's (AnnaSophia Robb) life allows us to experience a courage that is inspiring. With two protective older brothers, Noah (Ross Thomas) and Timmy (Chris Brochu), Bethany is also blessed with parents who pass on their love for surfing and Christ to their daughter. Her father, Tom (Dennis Quaid) is her coach on the waves and her mother Cheri (Helen Hunt) is her teacher in their home school. This family of five allows her to face life with assurance, even when tragedy strikes.
In addition to her family's support, Bethany has a lifelong friend in life and on the waves, Alana Blanchard (Lorraine Nicholson). Alana also comes from a surfing family, and it is during an early morning surf trip with Alana, her father and brother that the attack occurs. With her calm determination and their heroic efforts, Bethany survives even with her 60% blood loss.
Also supporting Bethany is her pastor Sarah Hill (Carrie Underwood). Recognizing that there are no answers to her questions of why the attack happened, Sarah nevertheless provides hope that God will use even the hardest circumstances to accomplish something good. This eventually proves itself to be true in Bethany's life.
The antagonist in the film is Malina Birch (Sonya Balmores). Bethany's primary competitor in surf competitions, Malina is shown to be ruthless in her desire to win. This actually proves to be a helpful motivation for Bethany as she strives to return to surfing competition, as she must push herself to attempt a victory over Malina.
"Soul Surfer" is an authentic portrayal of how a person can face tragedy and not only survive but also thrive. The fact that Bethany did not do so alone is also clear. Surrounded by family, friends and her church, Bethany's beliefs encourage her to also have faith in herself discovering a strength and determination that she would not have otherwise known she had. Her faith in God and courage to be all she can be in spite of life's circumstances inspires us all.
Discussion for those who have seen this film:
1. If you were attacked by a shark and lost an arm, how would your life change? Where would you turn for support?
2. The importance of a strong faith and a loving family is unparalleled in creating a person of self-confidence and courage. If a person does not have faith in God or is not blessed with a supportive family, what do they need to survive a trauma like this?
3. It could be argued that since Bethany experienced this trauma at the young age of thirteen that she found it easier to believe that God could work in her life. Do you think young people have more ability to have faith in God? Why do you answer as you do?
Cinema In Focus is a social and spiritual movie commentary. Hal Conklin is former mayor of Santa Barbara and Denny Wayman is pastor of the Free Methodist Church of Santa Barbara. For more reviews: www.cinemainfocus.com.