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Monday, August 15, 2011

Monday Matinee - Soul Surfer

To truimph over hardship is to build great character.  To take that same hardship and use it to your advantage shows great character.

The featured movie today is based on a true story about a female surfer whose life changed in one split-second moment.  Yet, she managed to deal with it, overcome it, and rise from it with such grace and poise that it's easy to regard her as an icon and a hero.  She was someone that young girls could look up to, and someone that managed to make the sweetest tasting lemonade from the most bitter lemon trees in the citrus grove.

The woman up above is Bethany Meilani Hamilton.  She was born in Hawaii on February 8, 1990, making her 21 years of age.  She looks like the typical sun-kissed young blonde women that you typically see on beaches and piers all over coastlines in the world.  Bethany's main goal in life was to become a professional surfer, and in her early teens started to compete in local surfing contests.  She was well on her way to achieving her dream, and already had a sponsorship deal with Rip Curl surfwear, along with her friend Alana Blanchard.  Things were progressing very well for the then thirteen-year-old Hamilton.

Then came the early morning events of Halloween 2003.

At around half past seven in the morning of October 31, Bethany and Alana went surfing along with Alana's father and brother along Tunnel's Beach.  There was one point where Bethany was lying on her surfboard with her left arm dangling underneath the water.  A tiger shark approached Bethany and bit off her left arm just below her shoulder.  Quick thinking on the part of Alana and her family helped Bethany survive the attack.  Alana's father made a tourniquet out of a surfboard leash to stop the bleeding, which was credited to saving her life.  By the time they made it to Wilcox Memorial Hospital, Hamilton had lost over half of her blood supply.  Ironically enough, Bethany's father was at Wilcox, scheduled to undergo surgery on his knee.  When Bethany was brought in, the surgery was postponed, and Bethany was brought in for immediate care.  After a week of hospitalization, she was released.

It is here that Bethany's future as a pro surfer came into question.  With only one arm, it seemed unlikely for Hamilton to continue with her dream of being a pro surfer.

That's why I find it so amazing that Bethany not only didn't let the loss of her arm stop her from going after her dream, but instead found a new self-confidence and self-assuredness that maybe was lacking before the attack.  She took her hardship, found ways to overcome it, and ended up becoming a huge star in the pro surfing world anyways.  In fact, in 2005, just two years after the attack, Bethany Hamilton came in first place in the NSSA (National Scholastic Surfing Association) National Championships, a dream that she wanted to achieve before the attack.  By 2008, she began to compete in the ASP (Association of Surfing Professionals) World Qualifying Series, where she ended up placing a very respectable second place in her first competition.

The attack prompted Hamilton to write a biographical account of the shark attack in 2004 entitled Soul Surfer.  The name takes on a couple of meanings.  Obviously, the title fits because surfing became Bethany's passion, so why wouldn't she want to write about it.  But it also has a religious tinge to it, as Bethany relied heavily on her faith and belief system to help her deal with the blow she had received and to rise above it.

That account helped bring forth the creation of the film of the same name.

Soul Surfer was released in theatres in April 2011.  The cast of the film was mighty impressive.  Dennis Quaid and Helen Hunt were cast as Bethany's parents, and the film marked the first feature film appearance of past American Idol winner, Carrie Underwood as Sarah Hill, a youth ministry leader, who serves as a mentor to Bethany.

The role of Bethany was portrayed by actress AnnaSophia Robb, who as you can see in the image above bears quite a striking resemblance to Hamilton.

I first saw this movie at my workplace of all places.  In our employee lounge, we had a television and DVD player set up, and each Tuesday (as a sort of in-store promotion to the employees), we'd have the brand new DVD/Blu-Ray releases available for us to watch during lunch breaks, if we felt like it.  Now, because lunch breaks are only an hour long, my viewing experiences of the film were kind of choppy, and I didn't get to watch the whole film in its entirety.  Fortunately, I happened to watch the most important plot lines during the few days that it did play, so I can come up with a basic review of the film. 

I honestly thought the film was brilliant, and the cast worked really well together.  I also have to give AnnaSophia Robb props for accurately portraying every possible emotion that could be seen in a film of such caliber.  Anger, sadness, pain, and eventually joy, acceptance, and strength.  All of those emotions could be seen in this film and more.

The movie stays true to the course of what exactly happened to Bethany Hamilton.  We see the events which inspire Bethany to get into competitive surfing, and we see the actual shark attack, as well as the aftermath behind it.  The movie does show quite a few scenes that people who only read about the shark attack might not have been aware of.

There's one scene at the beginning of the film before the attack which shows Bethany and Alana competing in a surfing competition.  The results of the competition have Bethany coming in first and Alana coming in third.  The second place winner, Malina Birch, was Bethany's fiercest rival in the surfing world, and wasn't too happy to come in second.  In a show of good sportsmanship, Bethany invites both Alana and Malina to come up on stage with her to share in the moment, but Malina refuses.

You also get a glimpse of Bethany's spiritual side through the scenes she has with Sarah.  Sarah showed disappointment when Bethany informed her that she would be skipping a missions trip to compete in a surfing contest, but is understanding and supportive.

You also learn more about what really happened in the aftermath of the attack.  After the attack, she was disqualified from the Rip Curl promotional photo shoots, but is happy for Alana.  She is given a prosthetic arm to wear, but she refuses it when she finds out that it isn't weight-bearing.  Add the paparazzi to the mix, and it made an already difficult time worse.

It made it even harder when some time after the attack, she wanted to get right back into competing.  She is frustrated by efforts made to give her an edge, such as giving her head-starts, and she later tells Malina that she doesn't expect her to go easy on her just because she only has one arm.

Unfortunately, Bethany is unable to stay on her board long enough to catch a wave, and she ends up losing to Malina.

She briefly has a moment of whether she should continue with her dream or not, and for a while believes that it is best for her to quit.

However when she watches footage of the Boxing Day tsunami in Thailand, the display puts things in perspective for Hamilton.  She decides to head down to Thailand to surprise Sarah, who is already there on a mission trip to help the people affected by the destruction of the tsunami.

During the trip, Bethany took notice of a little boy who seemed afraid to go in the water (which was understandable), so to show him that it was safe, she grabbed a surfboard and paddled out into the water.  The little boy was so impressed that he ended up going into the water, which was when Bethany had her 'A-ha moment'.  If she could use what happened to her as a way to inspire people, then maybe she didn't have to give up on her pro surfing dream after all.

With a few minor adjustments to Bethany's board (within the rules and regulations of the surfing contest), Bethany enters the same contest she took part at the beginning of the film.  Alana and Malina are also taking part.  Before the competition begins, Bethany shows her gratitude towards Malina for treating her as a serious competitor.  Regardless, as the competition goes on, Bethany finds it hard to claw her way up to the top.

But just minutes before the competition time ends, Bethany suspects that a huge wave is about to arrive very soon, so while the other surfers are waiting for the next big wave, Bethany frantically paddles out to sea to catch the wave.

The wave starts to form just as the buzzer sounds, and it is here that we see Bethany surf like nobody has ever surfed before.  I watched that scene and was absolutely blown away by what talent this girl had.  It was widely reported that all the surfing stunts in the movie were performed by Bethany Hamilton herself, so this made it even more breathtaking to watch.  In just the time span of a couple of years, she managed to take the lowest point of her life and turn it into something beautiful, inspirational, and exciting to watch.

Again, I don't like spoiling endings for you, and the last fifteen minutes are not going to be revealled in this movie.  You'll just have to rent the movie or download it for yourself to see whether it counted or not.  But I will let this leak out...there's a very interesting parallel between the judging ceremonies of both competitions that you'll find to be quite neat.

All in all, the parts that I did see of Soul Surfer were fantastic, and it really helped me find perspective in a couple of things.  For one, I really want to see the whole movie myself and catch up on the parts I may have missed (I ended up missing the first ten minutes, as well as some pieces in the middle).

But for another, it also showed me that one can rise above anything and make it work to their advantage.  None of us have it easy in this world, and those who tell you that they do are either full of it, or lying to themselves to spare themselves judgment from others.  It takes a very special person to take their hardships and turn them into something positive.  It takes an even more special person to use that positivity to help inspire others to follow their dreams.

Bethany Hamilton is a very special person indeed.

In fact, to close off this blog entry, I think we should hear from Bethany herself.

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