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ON FAITH & MEDIA View Comments

Soul Surfer

By
Joseph McAleer
Source: Catholic News Service

The true story of a teenage girl who overcame a horrific shark attack to rise to the top of her sport is translated to the big screen in "Soul Surfer" (Tri-Star), an uplifting film about the power of faith and perseverance.

Bethany Hamilton (AnnaSophia Robb) is a happy, ordinary 13-year-old living in Hawaii with her parents (Helen Hunt and Dennis Quaid) and two brothers. The entire family surfs, but Bethany shows the most promise, winning competitions and gaining a sponsor.

When not at the beach, Bethany's family is often in church, where sermons are given by youth-group leader Sara (country singer Carrie Underwood in her film debut).

Sara's message? Trust in the Lord and his purposes, as revealed in Jeremiah 29:11: "For I know well the plans I have in mind for you, says the Lord."

No one could have predicted God's plan for Bethany on Halloween morning 2003: While paddling out with friends to catch a wave, Bethany is attacked by a 14-foot tiger shark, which bites off her arm. In a flash, her life and dreams are changed forever.

The depiction of the attack and its aftermath, while not overly explicit, is nonetheless disturbing.

Surprisingly, while her family and friends fall to pieces, Bethany is serene and composed. With only a few "Why me?" moments (including one where she snaps the arm off her Barbie doll), Bethany accepts her fate and is determined to surf again, whatever the odds. Faith in God remains her anchor, and the fuel for her inexhaustible determination.

"You can do all things through him who gives you strength," Sara reminds Bethany. "You pray and you listen for what comes next. Something good will come out of this."

And it does. Soon Bethany is competing—and winning—at surfing events again. And she uses her newfound celebrity to inspire the disabled and others to follow their dreams.

Bethany also travels to Thailand with her church to aid tsunami victims. "Love is more powerful than any fear, bigger than any tidal wave," she says.

Directed by Sean McNamara ("Raise Your Voice"), "Soul Surfer" is that Hollywood rarity: a film that is not afraid to talk about God or to show a happy, well-adjusted family that makes faith its foundation.

The cinematography is stunning. The Aloha State has never looked so beautiful, and the surfing scenes are thrilling, putting viewers out on the water and inside the waves. Digital effects convey Bethany's disability and her efforts to overcome it.

Despite the intensely emotional (but nongraphic) shark onslaught and its aftermath, "Soul Surfer" can be enjoyed by parents and mature young people alike. The Catholic News Service classification is A-II—adults and adolescents. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG—parental guidance suggested. Some material may not be suitable for children.

*****
Joseph McAleer is a guest reviewer for Catholic News Service.



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Augustine of Canterbury: In the year 596, some 40 monks set out from Rome to evangelize the Anglo-Saxons in England. Leading the group was Augustine, the prior of their monastery in Rome. Hardly had he and his men reached Gaul (France) when they heard stories of the ferocity of the Anglo-Saxons and of the treacherous waters of the English Channel. Augustine returned to Rome and to the pope who had sent them—St. Gregory the Great (September 3 )—only to be assured by him that their fears were groundless. 
<p>Augustine again set out. This time the group crossed the English Channel and landed in the territory of Kent, ruled by King Ethelbert, a pagan married to a Christian, Bertha. Ethelbert received them kindly, set up a residence for them in Canterbury and within the year, on Pentecost Sunday, 597, was himself baptized. After being consecrated a bishop in France, Augustine returned to Canterbury, where he founded his see. He constructed a church and monastery near where the present cathedral, begun in 1070, now stands. As the faith spread, additional sees were established at London and Rochester. </p><p>Work was sometimes slow and Augustine did not always meet with success. Attempts to reconcile the Anglo-Saxon Christians with the original Briton Christians (who had been driven into western England by Anglo-Saxon invaders) ended in dismal failure. Augustine failed to convince the Britons to give up certain Celtic customs at variance with Rome and to forget their bitterness, helping him evangelize their Anglo-Saxon conquerors </p><p>Laboring patiently, Augustine wisely heeded the missionary principles—quite enlightened for the times—suggested by Pope Gregory the Great: purify rather than destroy pagan temples and customs; let pagan rites and festivals be transformed into Christian feasts; retain local customs as far as possible. The limited success Augustine achieved in England before his death in 605, a short eight years after he arrived in England, would eventually bear fruit long after in the conversion of England. Augustine of Canterbury can truly be called the “Apostle of England.”</p> American Catholic Blog When we go through pain it is easy to feel abandoned or forgotten, but suffering doesn’t mean God doesn’t love us, He does. Even Jesus suffered, and He was completely without sin.

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