Soul Surfer is based on the biography: Soul Surfer: A True Story of Faith, Family, and Fighting to Get Back on the Board. Both the book and the movie are about Bethany Hamilton, a 13-year-old girl who survived a shark attack while surfing in Hawaii. Encouraged by the love of her parents, Tom (Dennis Quaid) and Cheri (Helen Hunt), and supported by her youth minister Sara (Carrie Underwood), Bethany refuses to give up and begins a daring return to the waters that almost killed her.
From the beginning of the movie, Bethany (AnnaSophia Robb) makes it very clear that surfing is her life. She seems to sleep, eat, and breathe surfing, so much that she even sneaks out of her house one night to surf under the full moon. Her life and her passion for surfing were both threatened on October 31, 2003, when Bethany was attacked by a 14-foot tiger shark, which bit off her left arm. For a surfer, the loss of an arm can be devastating: paddling to waves, swimming, standing up, and balancing all become nearly impossible. With great determination, Bethany endured several surgeries and physical therapy to be back in the water surfing within a month and competing within two months.
While it may not be the driving force of the film, it is clear that Bethany’s Christian faith is the driving force of her life and her recovery. Sprinkled throughout the first part of the movie are a few scenes with Bethany attending youth group and being invited to attend a mission trip that she cannot make because she is preparing for a major surf competition. After the attack, her faith helps her find meaning in her new life which allowed her to inspire thousands around the world. As a youth minister myself, it was affirming to see Hollywood portray Bethany’s youth minister Sarah in such a positive light.
What I loved about this movie is that it gave a realistic view of Bethany, a young teen, working through her struggles to come to terms with her loss. Life is not suddenly 100% better as she begins to surf again. We see her question her Christian faith (“Why do bad things happen?”) and wrestle with whether or not she should indeed surf again.
Soul Surfer is also a great reminder that our true identity is not in what we do, but in whose we are – sons and daughters of God. For Bethany, her life was consumed with the desire to surf and compete in the sport she loves. As she deals with learning to surf with only one arm, she also learns that there is more to life than just surfing. On a mission trip to Thailand, Bethany encounters people whose lives have been devastated by a tsunami. She comes to understand that “love is bigger than surfing.”
My biggest problem with the movie: the shark. I have to admit, I was a bit nervous watching parts of the movie because of my own fear of the ocean (I have Jaws and Shark Week to thank for that). Thank goodness that the shark makes a minimal appearance – just enough to let you know what happened to Bethany.
My take? Go out and see this movie! This is a good story told on the big screen that is not afraid to talk about faith. Stay through the ending credits to see real footage of Bethany surfing and competing. Talk about it with your friends and share your own struggles and your faith with each other.
Read more about the movie and Bethany’s life and faith at www.soulsurferthemovie.com.