Guest Post: Soul Surfer, Beaches,Bikinis and Bibles

Posted: February 29, 2012 in Guest Post
Tags: , ,

Soul Surfer, the popular new movie produced by secular group tri star Pictures, is all the rage now a dayes. Heavily marketed to Christians, the film tells the dramatic story of 13-year-old Bethany Hamilton (played by 17-year-old AnnaSophia Rob), a Christian teen surfer in Hawaii who lost her arm in 2003 after a shark attacks. Soul Surfer demonstrates Bethany’s courageous journey back into his daily life, particularly surfing the waves she desperately love. While the film makes it clear that Bethany is a Christian, the story seems to focus most heavily on her strong will, and conclusion and passion for surfing. As an example, arriving late for a seaside church service, Bethany throws a cover-up over her wet bikini, and takes a seat. As family and friends finish singing “Blessed Be Your Name,” Bethany continues to gaze out over the ocean, seeming to long for the wave. One of the first questions she asks her father after the accident is, -When can I surf again?

In a day when the dysfunctional family is portrayed in movie and television as “the norm,” the Hamilton’s close-knit, loving family is refreshing. However, Bethany displays character issues that, for the most part, seem to go unaddressed by her parents. After breaking her commitment to go on a mission trip, so that she can train for a surfing competition, Bethany complains to her mother that her youth pastor is trying to make her feel guilty for not going. Her mother’s expression shows some disapproval; however, rather than discuss with Bethany the problem with broken promises, she tells the young teen, “It’s your call.” All children sin, so, we should expect to see sin dealt with in the story of any “real” family. But I have to wonder if the movie accurately portrayed Bethany real interaction with her parents. Bethany and her best friend, Alana, dressed only in skimpy bikinis, sneak out one night while the family is sleeping to attends a beach party where there is lots of partying, older boys, music, bikinis, moonlight, and midnight firework.

Bethany’s mom asks her daughter why she didn’t just ask. Dad, seeming to side with Bethany, walks by and casually says, “Because she knew you’d say no.” Bethany questions her mother, “Would you have let me go?” Mom falters, “No…I don’t know.” The lack of fatherly protection from Bethany’s Christian dad, as portrayed in this scene, is disappointing, giving the impression that “cool” parents are hands-off in their approach toward their teenage children.
Even though Bethany is only 13 years old, we see no repercussions from this incident; instead, everyone heads out the door with a cheerful kiss and good byeee. There is no discussion of danger, no talk of deception, no rebuke, and no consequence.The immodesty throughout the film is significant, as nearly the entire movie takes place on the beach where most of the women wear skimpy swimwear and the men go shirtles. The surfing scenes are particularly problematic as bikini-clad surfers are filmed curving around the waves from various compromising angles.Though there are no “sex scenes,” the nearly constant display of beautiful, tan, near-naked young Hollywood actresses still make sex an issue. If a man would find it difficult not to lust sitting at a crowded beach watching beautiful women in bikinis walk by, then he will probably have a hard time with this movie.

It is important to recognize that we live in a sex-saturated culture. Many men, Christian men, struggle daily with internet pornography. For instance, Promise Keepers conducted a survey after one of their stadium events, and one of the most troubling discoveries was that over 50% of the men in attendance admitted to being involved with pornography within one week after attending the event. Many men and boys (and some women), even those without pornography issues, may find this movie a stumbling block. In one scene, Bethany best friend, Alana Blanchard (played by 20-year-old Lorraine Nicholson), poses in a string bikini for a photo shoot, something Bethany was scheduled to be involved in too, before the accident. Alana strikes various sultry poses, as the male photographers snaps pictures of her with her surf board, telling her how beautiful she is. A group of admiring teen boys stands in the sidelines watching, offering cat calls, which Alana seems to welcome. Afterward, she changes her bikini on the beach behind a couples of towels held up by friends, while the young men look on.

After the accident, Bethany has to learn to do everything with only one arm. One brief scene shows her from behind, with a close-up of her bare back, struggling to tie her bikini. While this surely shows one of the many new struggles in her life, was it really necessary to portray her challenges in this way? Does anyone wonder if this might be problematic for just about any boy or man watching?At youth group, Bethany’s youth pastor tries to encourage the kids by quoting Jeremiah 29:11 (one of only two Scripture verses mentioned in the movie). She uses the NIV version, which says, “For I know the plans I have for you, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future.” Bethany seems to grasps this message. Bethany’s life appears to be going just the way she wants: Sunshine, surfing, and good times with friends and family. “Can you believe we get to do this every day?” Then tragedy strikes. As a mother, my heart sunk the terrible moment Bethany was attacked by the shark. I felt the panic when Bethany’s mother dropped the phone on the ground and raced to get to the hospital. I experienced her father’s pain when he heard the news that it was in fact his daughter who had been attacked by a shark. I suffered the crushing fear as the emergency room doors shut on Bethany’s mother and family as doctors scrambled to save Bethany’s life.

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