Movie Review: Soul SurferQuick Plot Summary: Cinematic showcase of the story of Bethany Hamilton, the young teen surfer girl who lost her arm in a shark attack in Hawaii.
Suggested Ages: 9+
If you don't remember or know the story of Bethany Hamilton, in 2003/2004 her story made international headlines when she had her arm bitten off by a shark. She and her family are Christians and used the media opportunity presented to them to lift up the name of Jesus whenever they could. Eventually, a feature-film was created and Soul Surfer is the result. This film tells the story, both the lead-up and subsequent events. It is a hopeful and encouraging movie that will leave you inspired to really believe that with God all things are indeed possible, just as His Word declares.
It is a well-made, well-acted movie that has some notable talent such as Helen Hunt, Dennis Quaid, and AnnaSophia Robb. With plenty of surfing shots, you'll find yourself drawn into the world of surfing in a way you may not have ever seen on the screen if surfing's not typically your thing. Since most of us don't live on the beach in Hawaii and have a family that constantly goes surfing, it may seem like this might be a hard film to relate to. But, it actually does quite a good job of drawing you into "their story". It was also a joy to see that enough Christianity was left in the movie that you will not be left wondering where Bethany and her family stand - it is clear that they are Christians and that they live out of that worldview.
I only have 1 real concern with this movie, and I'm just going to be blunt and honest here. I know many other Christian reviews have kind of skirted around this issue (the elephant in the room), but I'm just going to lay it out. Much of the screen time goes to Bethany and her close surfing friend. Both are beautiful, blonde-haired, teen girls wearing what you'd expect such girls that are surfing to be wearing. In other words, there's a lot of skin. I don't particularly find this a problem in-and-of-itself, but this combined with some of the scenes in the movie, I do feel could very much send messages to other girls watching this film that might not be the best for them. For example, there's a scene with Bethany and her friend where her friend wants to buy a real skimpy bathing suit that barely covers her breasts because it's "hot" - they even joke about how she's going to have to be careful or it might come off in the water. Then there's the scene with the same friend later on doing a photo shoot which honestly vaguely reminded me of a Sports Swimsuit Edition type shoot. The photographer was telling her "that's gorgeous" etc. as she does all her different poses, etc. The message that I worry that gets sent to young impressionable girls is just plain concerning to me as it reinforces the cultural messages that for girls it's all about showing skin & looking "hot". I know that part of it is just a byproduct of the fact that if you're going to make a movie about teen surfer girls surfing, there's pretty much going to be a certain hard-to-escape "tone" along these lines. But it just seems like it got accentuated in a way that I wish it didn't. I can understand why there's been an interest among some girls that have seen this movie in surfing, because after all, I'm sure they want to be "cool" girls that have lots of fun and "look hot" too, just like what was portrayed on the screen to them. If this is being shown to any girls (I'd say any age under 18), I'd say some good follow-up discussion might be in order. On the flip-side, I can fully understand why there might be some guys where lust is a real battle for whom this might not be the best film to watch simply because of the amount of skin/beach scenes, etc. (although there is definitely nothing sexual in the film). So there you go. That's the elephant in the room with this movie and I've just pointed it out.
One of the concerns I thought I might have in regards to this movie, I was pleasantly surprised to find that it really wasn't nearly as much of an issue as I thought it might be. That is the issue of whether God CAUSED Bethany to lose her arm by the shark so that He could then do all that's happened subsequent for His glory. That is an implied and somewhat minorly discussed theme in the movie, but it's much toned-down from what I was worried it might be. I know different people have different theology on stuff like this, but I just think that to ascribe any tragedy of any kind to God's doing is quite a bold move. Now, we know that God specializes in taking tragedies and bringing good out of them - Romans 8:28 is indeed a promise that Christians that love Jesus can genuinely hold on to and believe. But knowing that God can work things out for our good and saying that God brought about or "wanted" the initial tragic event are two different things. There is hurt and pain in this world. There are sharks that will eat a human's arm if they see it in the water and they're hungry. It's part of the sin curse seen throughout our world, and sometimes those effects touch us. In other words, to say that it was God's WILL that Bethany lose her arm, I just think is quite the bold thing to say and really isn't fair to God. Just because God allows something to happen to me in the natural course in this world to me doesn't necessarily mean that that's actually what He WANTS - and I think sometimes we make that easy-to-make mistake.
Make sure after you watch this movie that you watch the 30-minute "Heart of a Soul Surfer" documentary that's on the Special Features part of the disc. It really shows more of the heart and Christian aspects to the story beyond what you see in the movie.
All in all, this is an inspiring movie that will likely cause people to really evaluate whether they are really making a difference and using their God-given talents for His glory.
Reviewed by Christopher Long,