Soul Surfer: Christian Pandering That Pretends It Isn't

Adapted from the memoir-ized 2003 tragedy-to-triumph of Hawaiian teen surfer Bethany Hamilton—who famously returned to her board a few weeks after a tiger shark snapped off her left arm—Soul Surfer offers a ghastlier sight than your wildest 127 Hours–meets-Jaws nightmare: barefaced Christian pandering that pretends it isn’t. Tween-flick director and co-writer Sean McNamara (Bratz) sets up his glorified movie of the week as a series of obstacles to be neatly overcome through blind optimism and trust in God, as Bethany (AnnaSophia Robb) struggles with her body image post-attack and her desire to surf again, and a mean-spirited nemesis on the waves must be thwarted with kindness. Nearly every conflict is built on market-tested platitudes of empowerment and registers as insincere, especially a spurious re-creation of Bethany’s visit to Thailand to aid tsunami victims. Congratulations, Holly-wood, for commissioning your own modern parable about a strained family questioning their faith, in which marquee names Dennis Quaid and Helen Hunt hardly break a sweat as our heroine’s picture-perfect folks. Young Ms. Hamilton’s story is inspiring, but if you need it spoon-fed by American Idol winner Carrie Underwood’s youth-group leader, you’re better off lost and godless.

 
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69 comments
ChristineS
ChristineS

What a pathetic review! Mr Hillis sounds angry and upset at anything that vaguely resembles a christian perspective. Just chill out and realize that this is a true story of a young woman who overcame a challenge. Do you really think this is predictable and "built on market-tested platitudes of empowerment and registers as insincere?" I think you'll find the majority of viewers heartily disagree.

Mark Workhoven
Mark Workhoven

Hey Greg. Yeah, I agree that it was all Bethany. If I asked God to help me surf, I'm sure I would still suck and I'd fall into the water. She could do it because she was talented and worked hard at it. However, I think the point of the film is that her faith taught her to be grateful for what she did have, which allowed her to excel at surfing and not spend her life feeling sorry for herself. That's not just faith in a talisman or a magic object, that's faith in an entire philosophy of life.

Mark Workhoven
Mark Workhoven

Hi Patrick. I'm sorry you suffered abuse. Whoever abused you was not a Christian, just a hypocrite. Not every Christian is abusive or intolerant. Just look at Martin Luther King Jr., or Mother Theresa. Please don't judge everyone in the faith as being the same. I'm sorry for what happened to you, and I don't blame you for being angry.

Mark Workhoven
Mark Workhoven

I'm sorry you suffered abuse. Whoever abused you was not a Christian, just a hypocrite. Not every Christian is abusive or intolerant. Just look at Martin Luther King Jr., or Mother Theresa. Please don't judge everyone in the faith as being the same. I'm sorry for what happened to you, and I don't blame you for being angry.

Mark Workhoven
Mark Workhoven

Hey, Graywolf. When you saw the Sixth Sense, were you also mad when you found out that Bruce Willis had been dead the whole time? They didn't reveal that in the advertising, either. This film, however, had the word "Soul" right in the title and is based on a true story of a well-publicized Christian girl.

Mark Workhoven
Mark Workhoven

When you saw the Sixth Sense, were you also mad when you found out that Bruce Willis had been dead the whole time? They didn't reveal that in the advertising, either. This film, however, had the word "Soul" right in the title and is based on a true story of a well-publicized Christian girl.

Mark Workhoven
Mark Workhoven

Wow. What a cynical review. I saw Soul Surfer and while I thought the film had flaws, instead of talking about those, you decided to go right ahead and just attack the whole idea of faith altogether. But the film is based on a true story of a girl who really did find strength from her faith in God. Just because you don't agree doesn't make the story fake.

Angie Johnson Harris
Angie Johnson Harris

You must not have followed Bethany Hamilton's story from 2003 like some of us did. This movie, though not 100% word for word accurate, is a true depiction of what happened to this young lady and her response to it. I loved the movie and am so proud of Bethany for rising above this tragedy and the way she shares her faith in the One True God!

Patrick Carr
Patrick Carr

what the hell is "aethism"...do you mean atheism? Could you at least spell that which you ignorantly mock? Oh yes the life of a christian is SO brave. You fear death so much that you have to worship a cult with so many repugnant doctrines. Shame on you

Patrick Carr
Patrick Carr

america is a land of many belief systems and also non-belief. and yes that's freedom FROM religion. Force our beliefs LOL.

Patrick Carr
Patrick Carr

Look at your religion's doctrine first before you criticize us. Xianity is the most intolerant belief system out there.

Patrick Carr
Patrick Carr

if christians want respect they have to also offer it back in return

Patrick Carr
Patrick Carr

LOL. Oh yes the "persecution complex". Sorry you don't get a free pass anymore for your religion to run over us.

Guest
Guest

I haven't even gone to see this movie yet but wanted to read the reviews first. But as to bashing Christian movies, I agree.... you need a new career if you cannot be objective. Many people, Christians and non Christians find it refreshing to have a movie every once in a while that is not full of violence, sex, or rude language. I agree that they should put ratings that is a Christian movies... I am a Christian. And when I see the label, I can be pretty sure it is appropriate for my children to watch. Thank you to the filmmakers for some family appropriate movies in addition to Disney and animated movies.

Bill T
Bill T

Pretty sure most people who see Soul Surfer will disagree with this review. The shots of Hawaii are beautiful and the surfing scenes are terrific. The gore of the shark attack is held to a minimum. The chemistry between the actors is excellent. Some people will be upset that christianity is portrayed as a positive thing. These people should have watched the reviews to see what is in the move and gone to see something else.

Wlwccg
Wlwccg

A mention of God and Christianity in a movie,and look out!!! No mention on how hard it is to surf with two arms sometimes, but to do it with one is amazing.. Thank you, Lord, for an inspiring movie, and we will pray for this critic!!!....

Patrick Carr
Patrick Carr

Surprised? Why? We have your religion pushed on us constantly. We're not at all interested in seeing a movie we have to pay for with it. Get used to it. Many people are not interested in "everyone who doesn't believe in my deity goes to hell" cult. Have a nice day

Graywolf
Graywolf

Christianity is highly offensive to many people, for many reasons. The makers of most "religious/christian" based/made movies have had the decency to mention on their movie posters/previews that "this is a religious/christian film". One such movie was "Winn-Dixie". I, and many other movie watchers, thoroughly appreciate this being done. Why? because we should not have this "secretly presented" only after the movie has started (playing at the theatre, or after getting home from purchasing/buying it on DVD). Would you like to be surprised and offended in being forced to watch what you did not plan/want to watch in a movie, that you spent money on to see? No, you would not, and do not act like you would "just sit there and watch it, because it might be beneficial" - the advice you would give, for someone to see a movie like this one.

I did not mind that the second scene in the movie was about the main characters attending an outdoor tent church service. But what I did mind was that the fourth scene in the movie had the children indoors in a church bible class. I knew immediately that the main purpose of the movie was "to promote religion/christianity", and that the movie was merely the vehicle (of little importance) to get this message across to the viewers. How underhanded and devious is that? Answer: extremely! Unlike the movie elements that you mentioned, which you do not want to see, unfortunately there is no rating warning to let movie watchers know in advance "This movie contains extreme religious/christian content for the purpose of promoting the views about how all people should live their lives exactly as christians/religious people do". Hopefully, there will one day be such a warning - to prevent another movie like this one from "sneaking it's true message" to unsuspecting movie watchers. How can you, or any religious/christian person, claim that "the bible is the truth' when you support the devious method of not being honest about a movie like this?

For your information, I left the auditorium and told the concession employee how I did not appreciate having to find out what kind of movie it really was in that way. She had no idea, but also mentioned "Now that you mention it, I have noticed that there has been an unusual amount of large religious groups been coming to see this movie". She had me talk to the manager on duty, who also agreed with me that this was wrong and he refunded my full ticket price. This is further proof as to what kind of movie it truly is.

Patrick Carr
Patrick Carr

Well said. As an ex-christian and one that suffered abuse in that religion I would have found this extremely offensive. I am glad i read IMDB's page on this movie before going. Thank you for your post Graywolf and I'm glad you got a refund. We have to put up with enough of this religion's obnoxious pushing and aggressive evangelizing as it is without being made to pay for it!

Empiremom
Empiremom

i guess you would prefer her high and pregnant. wow what a gem of a loser critic.

Lily Johnson62
Lily Johnson62

Ummm...this is based on a true story...her faith helped her through this. So does that mean they aren't allowed to include it in the movie because oh my gosh! They mention having faith in God! Her faith and her youth director were major factors in helping her and so it deserves to be in the movie. If you can't appreciate that then I don't think you even deserve to write reviews of movies because this proves that you believe in twisting plots and stories to make it "better" by your standards. People with your mindset are the same kind of people who slaughter books when they are made into movies. Get a life and stop hating on people with Faith.

Nilbog44
Nilbog44

i'm glad he pointed out the christian pandering. most people are scared to mention stuff like that and religion always gets a free pass. there is nothing more annoying than christians getting so offended when anyone says anything about their "loving" god

Billtrav
Billtrav

This comment is pure bs. Religion --at least christians -- never get a free pass. They are constantantly attacked by people on the left. It seems that they are happy only when christians are being ridiculed. I was pleased that this was not the case in this movie.

Dkl1007
Dkl1007

A huge majority of current films glorify mindless sex, over-indulgent violence, enough profanity to choke a horse, and, in general, "gloom, despair and ag-o-ny!" Christian or not, who can't believe in hope and courage and faith and perseverance, and cheer it on? God forbid there should be anything made that actually emphasizes someone believing in Something bigger than themselves and their little piece of the gutter! Sad for this reporter because he seems to be content in his dark, lost world! I'll have to find another review outlet from now on....can't trust this dude's viewpoint- not about life, or about people, or about courage, or about fatih, or about struggles, or about commitment, or about talent, or about passion....let's see, that leaves what? Oh yeah, mindless narcissism!

Bmoorefree
Bmoorefree

Bitter little man, much? All of a sudden I feel the need to run out and see this film.

Foredfore
Foredfore

By the way, you really get a better sense of what to expect by reading these comments from REAL people who live in the REAL world rather than some overpaid self important "critic" who thinks he knows everything and speaks for all of us. How many times have you read a movie critics review and agreed with it? Enoughbsaid the only reason I come to these review sites is to hear from actual people who have seen the movies. Thanks be to god. Amen!

Foredfore
Foredfore

You must be an atheist Aron hills! You are a bit af a me monster if you ask me. Can't imagine why you gave such a bad review . I will be praying for you

Michaelfrancis82
Michaelfrancis82

Complete waste of time reading this review. Do we really need another angry enemy of God?

Judge Deb
Judge Deb

Just saw it. What a wonderful faith affirming movie. Yes, it is true -- with God's help, all things are possible. Go Bethany!

T M
T M

They picked the wrong religion. Had this been a story about a young Muslim girl it would have won all the major festival awards.

Michaelfrancis82
Michaelfrancis82

What's the weather like in your fantasy world?

Billtrav
Billtrav

Hopefully better than in yours. Hollywood demonstrates true cowardice when it comes to attacking religion. We should respect the good muslims--the ones that aren't trying to kill us only cheering on the ones who are. They never mention a good christian. To Hollywood all christians are bad.

Greg_A_Peterson
Greg_A_Peterson

Regarding this: "Just because it is God irks you. Funny how God can do that. ANY other means would not have caused the same reaction." Setting aside that this assumes that there is one single god that we can talk about (I can assure everyone that if the source of inspiration was any one of thousands of gods from hundreds of faith traditions, my reaction would have been exactly the same because there is NOTHING special about the Christian god referred to in this movie), what the writer says is simply not true. I would have been just as irked if the source of Bethany's determination was a magic feather, and it never came out that the POWER WAS ALWAYS IN BETHANY AND HAD NOTHING TO DO WITH THE MAGIC FEATHER. Fine. Some people think they need some talisman or myth or invisible friend to give them the power to achieve and overcome. But that's not good news. The good news is that this was ALL BETHANY. No matter what Bethany might say about the magic feather (and to be clear, I'm referring to the one in the Dumbo story that he thought he needed in order to fly--but it was always all him)--and I'm sure she'd say it helped give her confidence, and I'm sure she'd be right about that--but it was still all her. I know we've been trained never to take credit for anything good. Anything good must be a god's doing, while all failures are ours alone, and disasters like tsunamis are the orphan bastards of the universe that no one can claim. But if humans have the power to screw up, then maybe, just maybe, we have the power to do amazing things on occasion as well. Here's to Bethany.

Trust516
Trust516

It is sad that you take such a strong position against a hope filled message. What is the point. Whether it is God that gives Bethany determination to overcome, or something else, it is the fact that she overcomes that matters. Just because it is God irks you. Funny how God can do that. ANY other means would not have caused the same reaction. That's why God is GOD.

Ddoty
Ddoty

Wow......sounds like you need Jesus my friend. Praying for you Aaron. Aaron is a strong biblical name.....look him up in the Bible.

Greg_A_Peterson
Greg_A_Peterson

No, elhombre and others--that's just fine. You can love the heck out of your inspirational Christian movie. But don't expect everyone to respect it just because it's Christian, especially if that's not one of our hobbies. I like Star Trek, hate Star Wars. But I don't get the sense that if I criticized Star Wars for being hokey space opera with terrible science and a story arc I just hate that I would be called out for being a bigot, or disrespectful of something sacred, or any such thing. That's what some of you Christians don't seem to understand. OK, so you have a favorite story. You have a hobby. You're big fans of a character, and you identify with his other fans. That's all fine. But don't expect everyone else to be nice to you because of that. As far as I'm concerned, it might as well be Star Wars you're talking about. This might as well be a movie about a kid who was inspired by Yoda to continue surfing. That's fine. But what on earth gives you the right to demand respect for that view, or to wail and whine if anyone doesn't?

elHombre
elHombre

Yeah. Bethany and her family should have pretended that her comeback and life have nothing to do with her faith. After all, the point of their lives and the movie ought to be to avoid offending the irreligious. LOL!

Amy Jo Hendershot
Amy Jo Hendershot

Thanks for saving me 8 bucks and time I don't really have, I am glad the voice still can call them like they see them...that review is all I need to see to put this on the netflix cue some time when I have an afternoon to waste. I am always picking bad movies and I am glad I was spared in this one.

Kristen
Kristen

If this critic had an open mind like most hollywood people say they do...he wouldn't criticize this movie for being Christian. Are there cheesey elements? Duh. Is there some bad acting? Yep. But it's a fantastically inspiring film, that was well made. All the elements of the story is true.

Beth
Beth

The critic completely misses the point, Bethany Hamilton and her family were and are devout Christians. To leave that out of the story, would be akin to leaving out how she lost her arm. The family's faith and trust in Christ (as well as her deep passion for the sport, of course) is what got them through the event. (In fact, the movie made up the part about her briefly losing faith and giving away her boards....she states that she always had faith that this was her path.) If they left out the family's faith, the movie would be pandering to intolerant critics.

Bajohnson1
Bajohnson1

honestly folks, would you expect anything different? Critic's disdain for (life, God, himself - pick one) permeates each paragraph. It also diminishes credibility. There are moments that are at best, sappy....and a situation or two uncomfortably contrived...but Christian "pandering"? Really??

Entertaining and inspiring.....go see it.

Teastingemail
Teastingemail

This is rediculus I can't believe a critic would make such comments about god! I know it's america and you have the right to say what you want but it's also called respect and this critic should have some of it! I thought the movie was great and inspiring.

mp13
mp13

it's a christian based movie.........I think that's great. They make movies for every other sector of the population; critics are morons honestly. We can tell who out of the critics is a believer and who isn't. Hold on, maybe a movie coming out soon will glorify homosexuality and this critic will love that one.

 Jan
Jan

Wow, open season on anything Christian? People must have been held hostage and forced to see this movie to stir up such angst. Who didn't know this was a Christian themed film reflecting the people it was based upon?

Greg_A_Peterson
Greg_A_Peterson

Panic? Citation needed. I think I have been the most outspoken atheist to post here, and what I did was almost entirely to react to attacks on atheism, and I think I made it quite clear that my distaste for Islam is much greater than it is for Christianity--but in case I failed to make the point sufficiently, it's on orders of magnitude greater.

I don't see how you get panic or disgust out the comments. I expressed distaste for pandering in all its forms--including atheist pandering like that found in "Invention of Lying" (which is perhaps at least an ANALOG to "Paul," which I have not seen--but may now, thanks to your "recommendation"). I am HAPPY to see thoughtful, well-done movies with Christian themes. To this day among my favorite movies is "Tender Mercies," with a lovely, low-key promotion of faith and forgiveness. I loved "The Mission." I even liked the odd-ball apologetics of "The Ninth Configuration." I have need of neither panic nor disgust--I am quietly confident in my own position, and will defend your right to whatever position you care to hold. It simply is not fair to interpret any criticism of something that has Christianity within it as an attack on all persons of faith, or all art with Christian themes, or any such thing. You cannot read into criticism for propaganda disgust with every expression of faith. I will give an example: I listened to This American Life this past Saturday (April 9), and it began with a wonderful story that was ultimately very faith-affirming. Far from feeling panic or disgust, I was moved to tears and felt I really understood something important much better than I had.

You certainly have every right to your point of view, but I do not find your comments to be especially on-target. They seem more like fragility. I understand that Christianity comes in for some unfair, wanton savaging by ignoriant hooligans sometimes. But that's no reason to be hypersensitive about other more thoughtful forms of criticism.

Gues
Gues

It is inconceivable to me that so many of these posts deal with the argument over Christianity, and either how good it is for you or how bad it is for you . . . with very little relevance to the subject at hand--the film itself. True that the message was a little heavy handed. On the other hand, where were all of you when "Paul" opened up? That is, without doubt, the least funny "comedy" released this year, and the most abhorrent with respect to it's treatment of Christianity--and yet no one complains, and nary a mention in reviews. Had "Paul" chosen Islam to lampoon instead of Christianity, then people might, quite literally, have died in the process--that's how severe a savaging Christianity took in that film. And yet no uproar.

A good-hearted, well intentioned film opens up with Christian themes at its core, and all naysayers panic. Trust me, you won't be converted if you watch this film. Most others won't either. You come to your faith through your own experience and belief, and through ultimately a personal relationship with God, not through well-intentioned (if poorly executed) films. At least not in general. How enlightening, however, to see so many people--from non-believers to avowed atheists--nearly panic in disgust or outrage that a conventionally-released film might talk about Christianity. Boo hoo. If you don't like it, don't go. But give those of us who believe, those of us who don't, and those of us who will always questions, the ability to judge for ourselves. Or at least realize that Christianity is not you enemy, even though the extremists might turn you off. There are a lot more extreme religions out there, but you'd probably go overboard in their right to exist and preach. But Christianity scares you. Curious . .

Greg_A_Peterson
Greg_A_Peterson

Regarding the post that implies that atheists are necessarily liberal, and that liberalism necessarily involves tolerance: A big no on both points. For one thing, atheists such as Ayn Rand and Penn Jillette (of Penn and Teller magician fame) are decidedly NOT liberals...and the most conservative person I know, a military man with some pretty far-right views, happens to be an atheist. And as far as tolerance goes, let me not equivocate: I am intolerant as hell, and also extremely elitist. I look down my nose at mediocrity and ignorance, feel no need to tolerate its existence, and will work side-by-side with anyone who shares that view and will act humanely and kindly to remedy it. I am violently intolerant of bullying people for things they in all likelihood cannot help, or even things that they could perhaps help (bad fashion sense, say) but choose not to. I make no pretense at being especially tolerant or particularly liberal, and this frequent canard--"I thought you were supposed to be so tolerant"--is a waste of good electrons. It's not true, it should not be true, and it makes the writer look painfully uninformed and out of tough with reality.

Greg_A_Peterson
Greg_A_Peterson

Amigo--regarding this:

"Atheism is a cowards way of life."

No, it really, really isn't. Neither is Christinianity. Both take their own brand of courage. For example, I have no guarantees that all things work together for good--sometimes bad stuff just happens for no apparent reason I have to live with it. I have no assurance that to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord. I think that physical death equals the extinction of the personality, so that whatever I may get out of life, it must be in the here and now. I have to struggle with moral issues in order to live well and do right--no one has handed me and off-the-rack-list of ethical instrutions I can fall back on when the going gets gray. I will not call you a coward because I am well-aware of the brand of courage it takes to be a Christian as well, but implying that I am cowardly is not only mean-spirited, but it is factually incorrect.

"It's far easier to not believe than to believe and then live your life defending what you believe."

This is really pretty silly. I don't deny that defending one's beliefs is almost always uncomfortable, but we live in a culture (I assume you're an American) that still accords ENORMOUS privilege to the Christian faith in particular, and to theism, religion, and spirituality in general. You can't honestly believe that it's that much harder being a Christian than it is to be a member of the most disrespected minority in the country (check out the University of Minnesota study that demonstrates that among all categories including Muslims and homosexuals, only atheists would receive less than a majority of support for running for president if otherwise qualified).

"If you were to truly study Christianity and study the proof of the truth of the Bible, both old and new, there would be no way for you to continue to deny that truth."

My degree is in biblical studies from a smallish conservative evangelical college near St. Paul, MN. I was a devout evangelical Christian for 20 years, and was well-known for my apologetics skills, which I used in debate against, for example, atheists and "evolutionists." I helped with a new translation of the Gospel of Mark from the Greek into a more gender-neutral (but still linguistically accurate) NIV text. I worked for the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association for a few years, in their marketing department, and met Dr. Graham (whose overall integrity I still admire). I will put what I know about the Bible, theology, apologetics, doctrine, biblical languages, and so forth up against your experience any day. Let me be crystal clear on one point: I WAS VERY HAPPY AS A CHRISTIAN, I HAD GIVEN UP MUCH TO BE A CHRISTIAN AND TO WORK IN MINISTRY, AND IT WAS MY CONTINUED STUDY OF THE BIBLE AND SCIENCE, ARCHEOLOGY, ETC. THAT RESULTED IN MY BECOMING AN ATHEIST. I don't usually resort to all-caps like that, but your statement is just so incredibly off-base that I felt like I had to stand on my tip-toes and raise my voice a bit.

"It's interesting that you state you agree with the morals shown in the movie "FireProof". Those are the same morals taught in the Bible."

Of course there are moral teachings in the bible that coincide with general human morality about kindness, fairness, justice, love, and so forth. It hardly would have survived this long as an inpspirational text if it didn't contain at least some decent moral instruction. On the other hand, there are plenty of immoral things in the bible as well, including acceptance of slavery, genocide, and so forth. It is in fact not interesting when your morals agree with mine--it is what we should expect given that we share an evolutionary past and cultural heritage. What is slightly more interesting is that you think you need a book to tell you that you should treat someone you love well.

"...a life inflicting inaccurate opinions and an eternity filled with remorse."

I have zero concern about an eternity filled with remorse. If I could enjoin you, though, my friend, put down your Ray Comfort books, or your Josh McDowell books, or your Lee Strobel books (or DVDs), and see what others are saying. See, for example, some of Bart Ehrman's works. Read "Why Evolution is True" or "Your Inner Fish" to see how inaccurate the Bible is about how life got to its present state. Read some philosophy, like maybe David Hume. And that's just the snowflake on the tip of a mountainous ice berg. But don't imply that I am "inflicting inaccurate opinions" when I know both my side and yours much better than you do. I can all but guarantee it. There is no shame in ignorance--it's an exiciting state to be in, with a clean slate to fill up with new knowledge. But there is shame in ignorance PLUS arrogance. I'm afraid that this is the position I find you to be in at this point.

Humanist
Humanist

Nearly walked out multiple times during this flick. Clearly christian propaganda at its most obvious. The story is great at its core, but the film didn't let the audience be inspired by the HUMAN spirit. Instead it force fed us the same old "God works in mysterious ways" baloney.

God didn't cause or allow a shark to bite off her so that she could inspire others. That thought is disgusting in and of itself, and proves how sick the whole concept of religion and God is.

 

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