When one door closes, a window opens . . . when life gives you lemons, make lemonade . . . when you get bucked off, get back in the saddle. As uplifting as they sound, those phrases are all really nothing more than well-intentioned cliches. At least, that is, until you see someone like real-life surfer Bethany Hamilton truly embody the never-give-up attitude that made her a world-wide inspiration as she courageously rebounded from a tiger shark attack that took her left arm just below the shoulder when she was 13. The recently released movie Soul Surfer brilliantly tells her story of loss, triumph and forgiveness and reminds us all, as Bethany’s dad reminded her . . .”all things are possible through Him who strengthens me.”
The cast of Surfer is uniformly excellent, with AnnaSophia Robb showing great range in portraying Bethany in her pre-attack moments of carefree teen life, as well as in the overwhelming immediate grief and despair following the attack and, ultimately, in her triumphant return to the passion she refused to let the shark take from her. Dennis Quaid and Helen Hunt give strong performances as Bethany’s parents, both of whom want to support their daughter, while not always agreeing on the best way to do it. Kevin Sorbo, as the father of Bethany’s friend and surfing buddy, Alana Blanchard (Lorraine Nicholson), is beyond solid. And his calm handling of the attack itself, just moments after he and his daughter had been enjoying a surfing outing with Bethany on a gorgeous Hawaii morning, ultimately made the life-saving difference for Bethany. The always believable Craig T. Nelson turns in another strong performance as the family friend and doctor who treats Bethany just after her injury and tells her in her hospital room, “Those things you’re not going to be able to do? So small.” Bethany eventually proves him right as she overcomes obstacle after obstacle before finally declaring, “I don’t need easy; I just need possible.”
Along the way, the faith displayed by Bethany and her family is portrayed honestly and unapologetically as the true foundation of their lives, the way it is with so many other Americans. How refreshing to see a film that presents Christians in a positive light.
And newcomer Carrie Underwood (pictured), in her first big screen role, holds her own with a cast of seasoned pros as she portrays the youth group leader of the open air church attended by both Bethany and Sarah. Called upon to dig deep during several emotional scenes, Carrie is totally believable in sharing Bethany’s pain and offering loving support, even when she might not have all the answers to some very tough questions. It’s the perfect first role for Carrie, who has openly professed the importance of faith in her own life.
And the film’s theme of overcoming adversity with faith and resolve may just be the perfect message for these or any other times. On those days when the rest of us may not feel like going to work because we have the sniffles, or perhaps our back is a little sore and we don’t want to mow the yard, it might be helpful to remember that Bethany was back in the water within a month after the attack, trying to find a way to surf with one arm. And, within six months, she finished 5th in a national surfing event. Today, she’s worked to become one of the top surfers in the world. So, while there truly is a powerful message of faith and spiritual inspiration in Soul Surfer, the much more basic underlying message for those of us with two good arms and two good legs is to quit whining and letting minor inconveniences keep us from living life. If Bethany can came back from her horrific encounter with a tiger shark, surely the rest of us can pick ourselves up and move on when things don’t go our way in life. Thanks to Bethany for being a living example of courage and perseverance. Kudos to all involved in the making of this wonderful film.—David Scarlett