Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Soul Surfer Movie Review

Like I said in my Ride the Wild Surf movie review, I like to think I was a surfer dude in another life. I think surfing is amazing to watch and more specifically that surf photography is beautiful. Actual narrative surf movies typically aren’t all that different from any other sports movie. Then along came a Christian independent film called Soul Surfer (2011) which was more of a story about a struggle with faith than beating competition.
13-year-old Bethany Hamilton (AnnaSophia Robb) is a dedicated surfer who was born to be in the water. But after a fun night out surfing and what should be a fun day in the water, she is attacked by a shark and loses her left arm. As Bethany is rushed to the hospital, she remains calm, and maintains her faith in God. Refusing to play the role of a victim, Bethany has to relearn how to do everything with only one arm, including how to surf. With the help of her friends, Alana (Lorraine Nicholson) and Holt (Kevin Sorbo), her parents (Dennis Quaid and Helen Hunt), and her Christian faith, Bethany tries to find a way to get back into the water, if that is what she is meant to do.
Possibly the most interesting aspect of this film is that it’s all based on true events. Bethany Hamilton is a champion surfer who nearly died from a shark attack that took her arm. In less than a month she was back on a surfboard and has since won several championships. She’s now 22 (as of writing this) and is a professional surfer. All of these are remarkable facts, and are remarkable feats for anyone to accomplish. However, in spite of Soul Surfer’s good intentions, the story just didn’t seem as dramatic as the real events.
The major flaw in the storytelling is that it doesn’t make Bethany easy to identify with; everything just seemed far too easy for Bethany. As a character in this movie, Bethany seems almost eerie in her optimism. Not once is her faith shaken or brought into question. She has a huge community who offer aid and support, her family bends over backwards to help her though this trying time in her life, she is sent huge bundles of mail from all over the country showing their support and sympathy. Everything just seems too happy and easy such that it doesn’t feel very natural.
Bethany is even offered a free arm from a prosthetics company which no doubt is seeking publicity, but the arm seems no more useful than the arm she rips off her Barbie doll earlier that day in a rare moment of depression. It was a bit uncomfortable to watch Bethany try to adjust, initially pretending nothing has changed. But she can’t even slice a tomato to help her loving family prepare dinner together. The whole recovery from this trauma seems over simplified.
Light at the end of the tunnel.
Similar to the shot used in Soul Surfer.
The surf photography was really incredible! It was gorgeous to look at and really captivated the feel of being on the waves. It made me want to hit the surf myself (and I tend to swim like a brick). In an extraordinarily creative bit of cinematography, Bethany has reached the hospital after losing lots of blood and she sees herself surfing through a tunnel created by wave with the sun visible at the end; she’s seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. It’s almost poetic as a depiction of near-death for a soul surfer.
The Christian faith theme of the film seemed a bit dry to me. It seemed the depth of these characters’ faith was limited to quoting a scripture and wondering what God’s plan was amidst tragedy. Certainly that is a reasonable thing for a religious individual to wonder. But rather than showing us Bethany praying, seeking answers in the Bible, or relying on God to help her through her trials, the character is shown exercising self-determination, confidence, and seeking strength within herself. That’s fine and indeed makes for a strong character, but it makes me wonder why religiosity was included in the film at all.
Possibly my favorite religious scene is when Bethany is feeling hopeless (such as it is, given her unwavering happy optimism), and mentions the Bible verse Philippians 4:13 which reads, “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.” She ponders about how she is supposed to be able to do all things, such as surfing, through Christ when God’s plan apparently intended for her to lose an arm which makes surfing nigh impossible. We never get a conclusive answer to this, but it was interesting scene.
Soul Surfer was not a bad film. More than anything I loved the surf photography and how the film captured surf culture. I felt that the religious aspect seemed to flounder a bit. It seemed to me more like a simple, family-friendly drama then a faith-building tale. The low production value is brazenly obvious and sets the movie up for some sarcastic jabs from the audience. Soul Surfer is an innocent inspirational parable more than it is a harrowing story of personal tragedy. It’s a fun surf movie, a mediocre Christian film, and a sub-par drama. I’m glad I saw it, though. I enjoyed it, though I don’t think I’d bother seeing it again; it’s a renter. I’d recommend seeing it if you enjoy Christian films or surf movies. If you don’t fall into either of those categories, you probably won’t enjoy it.

Have you seen a particularly impressive faith-building movie? What was it, and what was so impressive about it? Comment below and tell me why!


  1. great review. and no i haven't. I'm less Christian type of guy. I watch good rated movies

    1. I'm not really a fan of Christian movies. Most of them seem to be trying too hard to convince me that I should be having a spiritual experience by watching it. I haven't really seen a religious movie that actually made me feel spiritual in any way, but I can still appreciate some movies that attempt to do so. Soul Surfer would have been much more lackluster if not for the surfing aspect and surf photography.