Film review: Soul Surfer

posted at 10:30 am on May 15, 2011 by Ed Morrissey

Sometimes, we have to step back to gain perspective — perhaps especially when it’s most difficult to step back at all.  That’s a lesson we learn at the very beginning of the film Soul Surfer, before tragedy strikes young Bethany Hamilton, a promising amateur surfer who nearly lost her life at age 13 from a shark attack that took her left arm off at the shoulder.  Hamilton not only survived, but eventually learned to adapt so well that she fulfilled her dream of becoming a champion amateur surfer and successful professional as well.

The film emphasizes how Hamilton and her family relied on their Christian faith to struggle through the aftermath of the attack.  This is the film’s main draw, and AnnaSophia Robb gives an excellent and vulnerable performance that shows how deep that struggle became.  Unlike most films of this genre, Hamilton doesn’t suffer a single crisis of faith and then experience an epiphany; instead, she’s seen as perhaps being too determined to prevail at first, and disillusioned when she discovers she can’t compete, at least not the same way as she did before.  Hamilton briefly walks away from her dream, but through her volunteer service in tsunami-ravaged Thailand, is finally able to step back from her tragedy and gain some perspective — and a newfound drive to pursue her dream.

Like most surf films, the cinematography is breathtaking, and even non-surfers will appreciate the action scenes (Hamilton herself performs the surfing stunts).  It features a top-notch cast, including solid supporting performances from Dennis Quaid and Helen Hunt as Hamilton’s parents, and another from Kevin Sorbo as the father of Hamilton’s lifelong best friend Alana Blanchard (another world-class surfer), whose quick action saved Hamilton’s life.  While the film has some standard Hollywood tropes, especially when it comes to the “big game” aspects of the movie, at least some of the presumed Hollywoodisms were actually true events.  As a bonus, there is a fair amount of footage of Hamilton herself at the end.  To find out more, read Hamilton’s web site, or her book.

It’s not without its flaws. The film is almost relentlessly optimistic; Robb’s Hamilton doesn’t seem to grieve much for her loss (which, of course, may have been true in real life), and after reading the timeline at Hamilton’s site, the film seems to have put the trip to Thailand out of sequence. Still, the film rings true for me, as it did for my wife, who also struggled with faith after losing her sight at 24. Quaid’s mainly understated performance as a father who feels compelled to “fix” his daughter’s life to the point of denial was especially poignant.

Soul Surfer has been in release in the US for a few weeks, but it’s definitely worth watching.  There aren’t too many Hollywood films which focus on faith, and this is both uplifting and entertaining.  Try to see it before it disappears entirely from the screen.  You’ll be tempted to do so to support the effort to make positive films about faith, but you’ll be glad you saw this film on its own merits.

Addendum: I also saw Thor this weekend, and enjoyed it more than I thought I might.  I’d recommend it to anyone not put off by the comic-book genre; this is one of the better entries in that field, perhaps because Kenneth Branagh helmed it. It’s a visual masterpiece, especially in 3-D.

Update: For those interested in my wife’s thoughts on faith and struggles, she has a weekly column at Patheos called Guided Sight.


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Very inspiring and solid movie.

CynicalOptimist on May 15, 2011 at 10:34 AM

This movie is awesome. I have seen it three times because
I keep dragging people to see it! I am taking my grandchildren because I think they will love the surfing
and also get a great message from the story.

Amjean on May 15, 2011 at 10:46 AM

She’s the girl alien in the new Disney’s Witch Mountain with Dwayne Johnson.

ProudPalinFan on May 15, 2011 at 10:57 AM

Loved this movie, finally something to take a 12 year old girl to that wasn’t full of sex scenes or hopping from bed to bed or hooking up for one night stands.
I have also heard that the Prom was good clean fun, we are going to that after church today.. Of course the “critics” hate it for that.

reshas1 on May 15, 2011 at 11:06 AM

The answer to the question of why bad things happen to good people never changes. It is in these tragedies when angels wings and saints are created in those of us who care for those who have been stricken. Sounds like a must see movie.

fourdeucer on May 15, 2011 at 11:08 AM

Cool. Thanks for the post about this, Ed. I had no idea the movie was even out there. She’s an awesome kid and an inspiration in many ways.

Benaiah on May 15, 2011 at 11:09 AM

She also starred in Bridge to Terabithia, another fabulous movie in my opinion, however, I found this statement in Wikipedia to be somewhat ominous:

Robb has been confirmed to star as ‘Wendy’ in the new ‘dark’ take on Peter Pan, directed by Helmer Ben Hibon, tentatively titled ‘Pan’.

Knott Buyinit on May 15, 2011 at 11:15 AM

I really love inspirational flicks like this. Heck, I was even moved by “Ice Castles”

The take-away is belief.

Now, I really believe that sharks are mean MFs

But why did jesuslordgod make that shark bite her arm off.

Oh, I forgot, it was a test like Haiti and tsunamis but just on a smaller scale.

esnap on May 15, 2011 at 11:20 AM

Looks good, I just cannot justify $30 to see it in the theater these days.

astonerii on May 15, 2011 at 11:26 AM

adding it to my netflix queue. Looks good.

unseen on May 15, 2011 at 11:29 AM

Looks good, I just cannot justify $30 to see it in the theater these days.

astonerii on May 15, 2011 at 11:26 AM

And the $10.00 in gas to get to the theater

unseen on May 15, 2011 at 11:31 AM

Excellent and inspiring film. Took my daughter to show her how you can overcome anything through faith and hard work.

davek70 on May 15, 2011 at 11:33 AM

She’s the girl alien in the new Disney’s Witch Mountain with Dwayne Johnson.

ProudPalinFan on May 15, 2011 at 10:57 AM

O/T:

Have any of you guys ever seen Mike Gray’s movie “Wavelength” from 1983? It stars Cherie Currie and Robert Carradine. Kind of a different take on the Witch Mountain formula.

gryphon202 on May 15, 2011 at 11:34 AM

The Husband and I usually go see these movies to promote the genre. I forgot about this one. I’m going to check the movie listings.

Cindy Munford on May 15, 2011 at 11:37 AM

But why did jesuslordgod make that shark bite her arm off.

Oh, I forgot, it was a test like Haiti and tsunamis but just on a smaller scale.

esnap on May 15, 2011 at 11:20 AM

It’s called living in a fallen world. For some reason, though, your statement causes me to suspect you aren’t interested so much in an answer as scoring points against Christian beliefs.

theotherone on May 15, 2011 at 11:40 AM

How long before the the anti religion starts?

But why did jesuslordgod make that shark bite her arm off.

Oh, I forgot, it was a test like Haiti and tsunamis but just on a smaller scale.

esnap on May 15, 2011 at 11:20 AM

They just can’t resist.
By the way, what did he make you eat yesterday? Being you seem to think he controls everything.

Greed on May 15, 2011 at 11:41 AM

But why did jesuslordgod make that shark bite her arm off.

Oh, I forgot, it was a test like Haiti and tsunamis but just on a smaller scale.

esnap on May 15, 2011 at 11:20 AM

While you may not believe in Him, He believes in you.

darwin-t on May 15, 2011 at 11:43 AM

The movie City of Angels with Meg Ryan and Nicholas Cage also comes to mind. Hollywood is certainly capable of producing high quality movies.

fourdeucer on May 15, 2011 at 11:44 AM

astonerii on May 15, 2011 at 11:26 AM

We’re lucky, Regal has a multiplex in our area that has all movies for $5 on Sunday.

Cindy Munford on May 15, 2011 at 11:54 AM

But why did jesuslordgod make that shark bite her arm off.

Oh, I forgot, it was a test like Haiti and tsunamis but just on a smaller scale.

Clearly, the only thing outstripped by your total lack of wit is your inability to grasp basic theology.

englishqueen01 on May 15, 2011 at 11:56 AM

Greed on May 15, 2011 at 11:41 AM
theotherone on May 15, 2011 at 11:40 AM

No, I just don’t see where Ancient middle eastern mysticism has a d^mned thing to do with cause and effect especially in relation to shark attacks.

But I can’t wait to see the movie, I am a sucker for movies like that and try to support them seeing them in a theater.

esnap on May 15, 2011 at 12:11 PM

wow! thanks for reviewing this Ed. I saw this with the kiddos about a month ago and echo your sentiments. Soul Surfer will be surely one that will go into my DVD library once it gets released. It is really that good and I heartily endorse it.

ted c on May 15, 2011 at 12:12 PM

1 God saw the shark attack happen and did not care

2 God made the shark attack happen to test her faith

3 God tried to stop the shark attack but failed

4 There isn’t any God

One of these is true.

Dave Rywall on May 15, 2011 at 12:12 PM

5. Things happen of our own free will, and God is there to assure us there is a purpose to things, even if we can’t see it immediately (or worse, have the hubris to think we have it all figured out and promptly show our blindness with sophomoric blog posts).

John the Libertarian on May 15, 2011 at 12:51 PM

1 God saw the shark attack happen and did not care

2 God made the shark attack happen to test her faith

3 God tried to stop the shark attack but failed

4 There isn’t any God

One of these is true.

Dave Rywall on May 15, 2011 at 12:12 PM

Your Anger with God is noted for the record.

Find peace with it, or it will eat you up.

You are in my prayers.

portlandon on May 15, 2011 at 12:53 PM

Dave Rywall on May 15, 2011 at 12:12 PM

Also, God is not a traffic cop/lifeguard/magic genie. He doesn’t bend to our every need.

portlandon on May 15, 2011 at 12:54 PM

I see Rywall made bail yet again.

trigon on May 15, 2011 at 12:59 PM

1 God saw the shark attack happen and did not care

2 God made the shark attack happen to test her faith

3 God tried to stop the shark attack but failed

4 There isn’t any God

One of these is true.

Dave Rywall on May 15, 2011 at 12:12 PM

Your Anger with God is noted for the record.

Find peace with it, or it will eat you up.

You are in my prayers.

portlandon on May 15, 2011 at 12:53 PM
———

If there actually was a God, he would most certainly prefer if you picked up some garbage off the side of a highway or volunteered in a soup kitchen instead of wishing things to him with your eyes clamped shut.

Dave Rywall on May 15, 2011 at 1:03 PM

Dave Rywall on May 15, 2011 at 12:12 PM

Also, God is not a traffic cop/lifeguard/magic genie. He doesn’t bend to our every need.

portlandon on May 15, 2011 at 12:54 PM
——-

I would call not getting attacked by a shark as a 13 year old not too big of a need.

Dave Rywall on May 15, 2011 at 1:04 PM

I see Rywall made bail yet again.

trigon on May 15, 2011 at 12:59 PM
——
It is God’s will.

Dave Rywall on May 15, 2011 at 1:06 PM

If there actually was a God, he would most certainly prefer if you

Dave Rywall on May 15, 2011 at 1:03 PM

Stand back, everyone. Our resident Einstein knows what God prefers.

John the Libertarian on May 15, 2011 at 1:07 PM

Looks awesome. Haven’t seen Helen Hunt in a while. She looks great.

Ted Torgerson on May 15, 2011 at 1:09 PM

If there actually was a God, he would most certainly prefer if you picked up some garbage off the side of a highway or volunteered in a soup kitchen instead of wishing things to him with your eyes clamped shut.

Dave Rywall on May 15, 2011 at 1:03 PM

Gee, it was such a nice conversation going until this guy showed up.

Dude, I do not by any stretch of the imagination pretend to have a full understanding of God but if you’re going to scoff at the faithful at least make an attempt to be knowledgable on what it is that Christians believe.

This is a good place to start (although I would eat my hat if you actually picked it up).

turfmann on May 15, 2011 at 1:12 PM

If there actually was a God, he would most certainly prefer if you

Dave Rywall on May 15, 2011 at 1:03 PM

Stand back, everyone. Our resident Einstein knows what God prefers.

John the Libertarian on May 15, 2011 at 1:07 PM
——
Fact: you claim to know what God prefers every day of your life.

Dave Rywall on May 15, 2011 at 1:15 PM

Drywall is just trying to get the attention that mummy and daddy never gave him as a child. It’s sad, really. You’d think an adult would behave like one.

kvader on May 15, 2011 at 1:27 PM

Stand back, everyone. Our resident Einstein knows what God prefers.
John the Libertarian

On the other hand, I enjoy the Absurdist humor of someone claiming not to believe in God while, at the same time, also claiming to an Oracle who reads God’s Mind and shares with us God’s preferences.

Even better – the lad doesn’t see that irony. It’s just a **ZOOM!!** sound over his head. :D Great good humor!

whatcat on May 15, 2011 at 1:41 PM

Thanks for the review. We took our munchkins to see it, and enjoyed it.

cs89 on May 15, 2011 at 1:46 PM

I’m looking forward to seeing this – there’s just not enough surfing movies made any more – I love ‘em all. Although I’ll kick myself for wishing this someday, it’s high time Gidget got a remake, ya.

elcapt on May 15, 2011 at 1:56 PM

One of these is true.

Dave Rywall on May 15, 2011 at 12:12 PM

You left one out, Dave:

5. There is a God, but not everything happens for a reason.

gryphon202 on May 15, 2011 at 2:22 PM

God doesn’t owe you an explanation. If He did, He wouldn’t be God.

CurtZHP on May 15, 2011 at 3:20 PM

She’s the girl alien in the new Disney’s Witch Mountain with Dwayne Johnson.

ProudPalinFan on May 15, 2011 at 10:57 AM

I thought that is where I saw before !

Damn ! She is cute too !

cableguy615 on May 15, 2011 at 3:41 PM

Maybe God allowed it to happen so the rest of us could be reminded that many atheists can’t help being asses while demonstrating their ignorance – again.

aikidoka on May 15, 2011 at 3:46 PM

One of these is true.

Dave Rywall on May 15, 2011 at 12:12 PM

Actually, none of them are true, presuming, as you do, that your tidy version of meaning defines everyone else’s.

But hey, I’ll add to gryph’s number 5:

5. There is a God, but not everything happens for a reason.

with other possibilities, not limited to:

6. God created sharks to be nasty beasts that eat many things, including people, and therefore swimming in the waters they inhabit is a human-made risk God did not force upon anybody.

7. This is an unredeemed world and we are subject to its cruelties and uncertainties as long as we live in it. God’s plan was to redeem us out of it, not fix what’s here.

8. The event of the shark attack was tragic and life-changing, but the resulting godly message of Bethany Hamilton’s life, which now includes this movie, is far greater than anything she might have done simply being a pro surfer who never suffered this fate.

somewhatconcerned on May 15, 2011 at 3:54 PM

8. The event of the shark attack was tragic and life-changing, but the resulting godly message of Bethany Hamilton’s life, which now includes this movie, is far greater than anything she might have done simply being a pro surfer who never suffered this fate.

somewhatconcerned on May 15, 2011 at 3:54 PM

As far as Number 8 may be true, I think Bethany Hamilton gets a lot of credit for that herself. Whether or not tragedy leads something better or not depends to a large extent on how we use choose to use the future. It’s called “free will,” atheists. We Christians believe in it too.

gryphon202 on May 15, 2011 at 4:16 PM

Ed’s review of Soul Surfer is spot on. What a refreshing change to see a movie that includes so many positive messages!

There is some tension during the early portions of the movie because you know there is going to be a shark attack but you don’t know when it will happen. So I was nervous every time she got near the water. But the actual attack scene was well done and quick so it was not too scary for the tweens and teens in the audience.

This is a movie that will become a staple in the libraries of church youth groups for years to come.

wren on May 15, 2011 at 4:22 PM

O/T:

Have any of you guys ever seen Mike Gray’s movie “Wavelength” from 1983? It stars Cherie Currie and Robert Carradine. Kind of a different take on the Witch Mountain formula.

gryphon202 on May 15, 2011 at 11:34 AM

Nope…will check it out, I have all the Witch Mountain movies and I watched The Bridge To Terabithia…my gosh I cried at the end…!!!

ProudPalinFan on May 15, 2011 at 5:04 PM

The movie City of Angels with Meg Ryan and Nicholas Cage also comes to mind. Hollywood is certainly capable of producing high quality movies.

fourdeucer on May 15, 2011 at 11:44 AM

That one drives Mr. PPF crazy because on the OR scene, his job is done by this guy where he claims the machine can’t re-start quickly (for drama effect so the patient dies,) so every time he sees that he yells, BULLS***!

the ONLY movie where we get to see a glimpse at what he does and he feels cheated because it’s just not the way it happens. Heck I am surprised they put that guy there in the first place. Heart surgeon works the magic, Mr. PPF keeps the patient ALIVE. ‘Nuff said.

ProudPalinFan on May 15, 2011 at 5:09 PM

gryphon202 on May 15, 2011 at 11:34 AM

Now that I read the IMDb, reminds me of “The Last Mimzy” which we got here too. My kids look like those kids. Miss PPF cries when the girl in the movie does-cute to watch.

ProudPalinFan on May 15, 2011 at 5:13 PM

http://vodpod.com/watch/5691787-cherie-currie1983-in-wavelength

If you helped escape three nekkid little aliens, would you take them to a Catholic church? They do look creepy.

ProudPalinFan on May 15, 2011 at 5:26 PM

The Husband and I saw it this afternoon. Thanks for the nudge Mr. Morrissey. It was very good. Bring Kleenex.

Cindy Munford on May 15, 2011 at 6:07 PM

If you helped escape three nekkid little aliens, would you take them to a Catholic church? They do look creepy.

ProudPalinFan on May 15, 2011 at 5:26 PM

That’s an interesting way to put it…considering that’s one of my favorite scenes from the whole movie.

gryphon202 on May 15, 2011 at 6:22 PM

Dave Rywall on May 15, 2011 at 12:12 PM

Though not a spiritual person myself and I generally don’t adhere to the thinking that God interferes one way or another in our daily lives, if faith is what helps others cope and overcome challenges then I wont take that away or try to dismiss it. My being a deist/agnostic is a personal choice just as the faith of others is their choice. I don’t impose my belief on them and so long as no one tries to impose their beliefs on me, then I’m good.

Yakko77 on May 15, 2011 at 6:53 PM

1 God saw the shark attack happen and did not care

2 God made the shark attack happen to test her faith

3 God tried to stop the shark attack but failed

4 There isn’t any God

One of these is true.

Dave Rywall on May 15, 2011 at 12:12 PM

5. We deserve much worse than having an arm bitten off by a shark. We all deserve death because of our sinful nature, and it is by God’s grace alone that we are alive and able to be redeemed by the blood of Christ.

TheRiddler on May 15, 2011 at 11:54 PM

1 God saw the shark attack happen and did not care

2 God made the shark attack happen to test her faith

3 God tried to stop the shark attack but failed

4 There isn’t any God

One of these is true.

Dave Rywall on May 15, 2011 at 12:12 PM

I think this is 5:

His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”
“Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life.”
-John 9:2-3

redeye on May 16, 2011 at 3:31 AM

I know Ms Hamilton and her Orthopedic Surgeon and she is dedicated to life and has the deepest belief in a higher being that is guiding all of our lives.

As her mother stated, “We can not explain why things happen, but must discover new ways to do what she wants to do. Ms. Hamilton has done much to overcome her minimal limitations and when you meet her you would not believe she she has any limitation.

We on Kauai view her as an inspiration and her future is bright.

MSGTAS on May 16, 2011 at 10:11 AM

Thanks for the inspirational heads up C’apn Ed. You and Marcia are a spiritual oasis in a desert of secular obsession.

Hawking needs to consider that belief in a higher spiritual order has provided a key survival asset to the winners. Bethany Hamilton and the Morriseys are examples which benefit us all.

DaMav on May 16, 2011 at 4:10 PM

It sounds like a good flick-but my problem is that I love sharks. I’m glad the young lady overcame being noshed on by a tiger shark-but my interest is sharks-not shark attack survivors…unless we’re talking about Rodney Fox.
It’s part of my Asperger’s. I feel great empathy toward animals-less so people that encounter them.

annoyinglittletwerp on May 16, 2011 at 5:56 PM