“Soul Surfer” is a based-on-fact film about the life of Bethany Hamilton, an optimistic, blissful young girl who rode lots of waves, lost an arm, and rode lots of waves some more. Back in 2003, when she was just thirteen years old, Bethany’s left arm was bitten off by a shark. Now she is a champion surfer, renowned in her field of sport and admired by people worldwide who share similar disabilities.
What we have here is an incredible, inspirational story that’s overshadowed by lazy, uninspired moviemaking. In “Soul Surfer”, Bethany’s life has been reduced to formula, filtered through a lens of familiarization. The raw power of her story becomes covered with so much bland, Hollywood melodrama that very little of it makes is retained in the final product. Aaron Ralston should be pleased with what Danny Boyle did with his story; “127 Hours” was one of the best movies of 2010. However, if I was Bethany Hamilton, I’m not so sure if I would be pleased with what Sean McNamara did to my story.
There is the distraction of another surfer named Malina. She appears in the same competitions that Bethany participates in. She is that character who is selfish, and mean, and willing to play dirty if that’s what it takes to win. Malina is only here to fill the role of a villain in a movie that doesn’t need one. Is there really room for a character like her in a film dedicated to Bethany Hamilton? Another problem is the dialogue. Because the movie’s aim is to inspire, we understand it for engaging in its epiphanies and being vocal about them. The mistake is in the decision to prolong them. It extends simple insights into lecture’s length, as if we need extra space to get its point.
Behind the blatant errors of the movie lies a topic that deserves more discussion than it is generally given. Many critics were troubled, even dumbfounded, by the unmatched optimism of Bethany and her family. They found it hard to believe that a girl could lose an arm and barely develop a speck of cynicism because of her, well, faith. I failed to see the mystery in this. Maybe my advantage is that I share the same faith as Bethany. I understood her smiles, her contentment, her undying hope. Believe me; I’ve known people like us who have smiled through a lot worse things.
The Hamilton family was reported to be always present during filming. They wanted to ensure that their faith was never dismissed from the movie. Some of the producers and scriptwriters were not in favor of this, advising the family to let them tone down the religious subtext. The Hamiltons was probably told numerous times that religion doesn’t sell. Because the studio was said to be too hesitant to mention “Jesus” in “Soul Surfer”, they just used “God” as a… compromise. It’s weird how “Jesus” can’t be used in its intended context when you see how it’s commonly uttered as a substitute for curse words in order to achieve a PG-13 Rating.
Learning about Bethany Hamilton for the first time reminded me of Nick Vujicic, a motivational speaker whom I’ve listened to several times. Nick, whose faith is also no different than mine, was born without arms and legs. His physical abilities are limited beyond our imagination, yet there are very few people I can think of right now who are happier than Nick. His hobbies include traveling, fishing, golfing and swimming. I would watch a movie about the life of Nick Vujicic. Maybe such a film could cause Bethany’s “doubters” to do some rethinking. It truly mystifies me how people could choose to see an absence of cynicism rather than the presence of joy.
Well, what do you know…