Monday, April 26, 2010
Those of us who hang around church are familiar with the popular marketing strategy for “faith based films.” It goes something like this: Up until now, Hollywood has not paid attention to us good Christians. They’ve been peddling junk for years without regard to our moral sensitivities; until, of course, “The Passion of the Christ.” Now they (the producers of cinematic product) know they can make serious money serving the religious community with films that address their issues. So, if you would like this sort of movie to be produced, and certainly you do, be sure to see the newest release and with your entertainment dollars, let Hollywood know, Christians buy movie tickets, too.
So, the argument goes. You get in line, pay for your seat, mainly because you want more “faith based films” on the marquis and available on DVD. Mobilize the churches! Get ‘em to the theater! This weekend! Get those numbers up! Send a message!
Sounds good; a noble investment of time a resource for people of faith; a positive way to engage in the culture wars.
But what if the movie is just plain good? Might it be enough to buy the ticket for no other reason than it’s great entertainment? That you walk out of the theater with tears in your eyes, with a new perspective on the world? With motivation to carry on?
Tyler McGuire (age 9), just recently returned home from a brain surgery. His head is shaved. His mom, widowed not that many years before, struggles to keep things together. She works at the hospital, but that is no advantage. Her little boy, the youngest of two, has been diagnosed and treated for a serious metastasis from which few survive. His best buddy, Sam, brings generous helpings of laughter and sunny optimism. But she can only be a steady companion and protector – as her friend Tyler battles the dread disease.
Tyler’s older brother, Ben, tries. But the disruption to family life becomes too much. Not even Grandma, with her God sense and biblical wisdom, can keep the troubled days cheery. The rage spills over.
So young Tyler escapes to the roof. And there he pens letters simply addressed “To God.”
The drama is based on a true story. The real cancer victim hid those letters in the back of his closet. They were not discovered until after his death. It became a priceless treasure to his grieving family.
But this screenplay for Letters To God takes a different tack. Tyler, with a skin bald head and a winning smile, puts his letters in a plain envelope, places a stamp and puts them in the mailbox. The mail carrier, Brady McDaniels, has a bag-load of his own personal problems. A temporary, filling in while the regular takes a break, Brady picks up Tyler’s letters. Back at the post office, the crew debates what to do with the “undeliverable” envelopes. Brady takes them home.
But Brady’s home is a dark place. Unlike Tyler’s, full of love and support, Brady has his own brand of cancer to deal with. Alcohol has robbed him of his marriage, his young son and his dignity. In a series of flashbacks, we learn that his afternoons with Jack Daniels got him arrested, suspended and served with divorce papers, a custody loss and a restraining order to boot. Somehow, he manages to keep his government job.
He gets to reading those letters to God, handwritten by the little boy. Tyler’s questions are his. Why, God? Why? As Tyler journals a nine-year-old’s reflections on death and dying and purpose and family and pain and sickness, Brad sees his own.
They become friends.
Sam’s grandfather is the aging Mr. Perryfield (Ralph Waite, the quintessential father on The Waltons), who instills a sense of confidence and mission in the little boy, as only grandfathers can. “You have been chosen to be a warrior,” he tells young Tyler. “It’s an honor to know you.”
Letters to God will take you through the pain and loss and grief that accompanies this devastating illness. But in those letters from a young boy, you will also find hope in a faith that transcends the darkness. It is a letter to God.
It is also a love letter to all those who battle cancer.
A ticket well worth the purchase price.
Copyright Kenneth E Kemp 2010