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Soul Surfer Movie Impresses

By Meg Korpi and Rusty Wright
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Kauai, 2003. A 14-foot tiger shark bursts through the waves and tears off 13-year-old Bethany Hamilton’s left arm. She loses 60 percent of her blood, and faces the end of her pro surfing dreams. Three months later, the unstoppable young teen is surfing competitively again.

If you’re looking for inspiration to thrive in tough times or to appreciate life more fully, Soul Surfer - the movie based on Hamilton’s brush with death and remarkable comebackwill knock your socks off. The Sony Pictures release, starring AnnaSophia Robb, Dennis Quaid, Helen Hunt, and Carrie Underwood opens across North America April 8th.

Fantastic Surfing, Tough Competition, Heart-stopping Tragedy, Strong Character

The film’s breathtaking surfing footage and heart-pounding athletic competition will entertain sports enthusiasts. But Bethany’s true story of gut-wrenching tragedy, driven character, and hard-won victory is what makes Soul Surfer worth seeing.

Pre-attack, Bethany (Robb) is a lighthearted kid and skilled surfer. (At 13, she ranked 2nd among 18-and-under females in the USA.) After the attack, Bethany emerges as poised and determined, with a well-grounded spirit. Where does a 13-year-old gain the fortitude to overcome a missing limb and rebuild athletic prowess, while remaining surprisingly good-spirited?

Why This? Why Me?

After the attack, Bethany struggles with the mundane (ever try slicing a tomato with one hand?), the profound (how could God allow this?), and the young-teen weighty (will a boy ever like her with only one arm?). But in addition, as a champion surfer, driven by love of the sport, Bethany confronts the likely loss of her career: How could she possibly paddle a surfboard, one-armed, through the impact zone (roughest part of the surf), much less re-conquer championship surfing maneuvers?

“I don’t need easy; I just need possible”

But a love of God also drives Bethany. Her youth group leader, Sarah Hill (Underwood), helps her gain perspective after the tragedy. Gradually, Bethany learns to rely on the biblical assurance: “‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ says the Lord. ‘…plans for good and not for harm, to give you a future and a hope.’”

At the film’s NYC premiere, director Sean McNamara offered insight. “Her faith was amazing, I watched her overcome adversity and [attribute it to her] faith in Jesus Christ ... I’d been through years of Catholic school, but it’s different when you actually see someone walk the walk and talk the talk.”

With remarkable determination, Bethany decides to tackle surfing again. She seeks her father’s help. “It’s not going to be easy,” he cautions.

“I don’t need easy,” replies Bethany. “I just need possible.”

Inspiring Role Model

This film will not please moviegoers who expect dark drama and gore from a shark-attack film. Skeptics will likely scoff at the portrayal of Bethany’s resilience and positive attitude as too good to be true. In fact, the filmmakers appear to have toned down the real Bethany’s indomitable spirit for fear audiences would find her unbelievable. “They tried to portray her as being sad in the hospital,” Bethany’s brother Noah told us, “but she wasn’t like that. She was always upbeat.”

Good teen role models are hard to come by. Thirteen-year–olds who inspire adults to act more courageously are virtually unheard of. If you’re humble enough to accept that admirable and wise-beyond-their-years youth do exist (and we’ve met one), you could learn a lot from this movieno matter what your age.

Soul Surfer is thought-provoking PG entertainment. The Hamilton family’s strong faith is portrayed as integral to the characters, not preachy. The shark-attack scene shouldn’t upset the squeamish. We found the movie hard to leave in the theater, and instead carried it in our heads for days, reflecting on the individuals’ choices, wisdom and character.

Some of the real Bethany’s insights are so selfless and profound they are indeed hard for the rest of us to understand. She once said,

“If I can help other people find hope in God, then that is worth losing my arm for.”

Amazing. Grace.

Meg Korpi studies character development and ethical decision-making through the Character Research Institute in Northern California. She holds a PhD from, and formerly taught at, Stanford University.

Rusty Wright is an author and lecturer who has spoken on six continents. He holds Bachelor of Science (psychology) and Master of Theology degrees from Duke and Oxford universities, respectively.


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