OPENS THIS FRIDAY, JAN. 29
The 1952 true story of the most amazing small boat rescue in history. Two separate oil tankers break in half in the midst of a raging winter storm off the coast of Massachusetts. This is the story of the amazing captain and his crew who brave the crushing elements and impossible odds to save 32 crew members of one of those tankers. And on a boat that could only carry 20.
When I saw The Perfect Storm, I thought I had seen the true power of the sea and man against the elements.
The Finest Hours blows that out of the water. It was a riveting adrenaline fest of the limits of courage and self-sacrifice that humanity can attain.
It’s a simple search and rescue story of impossible odds, but it is that simplicity that makes it so profoundly riveting. I won’t tell you what the obstacles were. That would spoil it. Suffice it to say that every obstacle that they encountered just made me open my mouth in wonder and say, “No way. There’s no way they’ll get through it.” Which is pretty dang good, considering you know the basic outcome going into the movie. That’s good storytelling.
And most of it really happened. Which makes it all the more amazing. But listen to this about the faith of the lead character…
It’s hard in these action adventure rescue tales of many characters to build a strong human story beyond the basic quick glimpses into individual’s situations. And I wish there was a bit more here, but the lead character is the captain of the rescue boat, Bernie Webber, played wonderfully by Chris Pine, and it does develop his romantic engagement with a woman he wants to marry. That jacks the stakes and brings a personal touch to the story that brings home the human cost. And there are nice subtext hints of the other men and their stakes. We care for these imperfect men, with flaws, but also with courage.
I love movies about extreme feats of human courage and sacrifice to save others, because I need more of it in my life. I am so weary of our narcissistic society that is obsessed with personal rights and the self over others. Seeing movies like this are an antidote to that self-destruction because they exalt the value of sacrificing our rights for others, to value them over valuing ourselves.
This is a story about human exceptionalism and the infinite value of human life that makes it worth sacrificing all to save. The movie has one quick scene of the men on the ship praying for the others who died in the other oil tanker, and one short but important moment when Bernie is facing impossible odds of surviving a situation, he appears to close his eyes and pray. It isn’t very clear, but it hints at his faith.
I interviewed one of the producers on the film, Jim Whitaker, and he had some interesting things to say about this. Jim said that for him, the movie, which took five years to get made, was about hope. That this was the most important thing in life, something he seeks to make more movies about. “The men who did this were selfless. They did their job, selflessly and courageously.”
He told me that in real life, Bernie was the son of a Baptist minister, but he had lost his way regarding his faith. Jim said that this very experience was what brought Bernie back to his faith.
JIM WHITAKER: “He cites this rescue as the moment where things changed for him. He felt like there was a divine providence that took place at the lowest moments and he had to move forward. His faith became much deeper as a result of it… So he felt that God’s hand was guiding him in those moments. It didn’t come easy to him. During and after the rescue, things changed for him.
He realized the thing he was formed to do was to be in the Coast Guard and that he was meant to be there at that moment in time for these men. Everyone has a path in life and a certain calling. It was in that moment he was doing this that he realized his full calling. I think those qualities do come through in the film.”
Look, I’ll be honest, I think that kind of faith struggle would have been fantastic character material to deal with in a story like this. What could be a better thematic meaning to wrestle with than rediscovering faith in the eye of a massive storm of impossible odds? Transcendent meaning and purpose rediscovered in the face of death itself. I get frustrated with movies like Unbroken, The Pursuit of Happyness, Hotel Rwanda and others that either downplay or completely ignore the faith that drove these people to their extraordinary acts of courage. It’s the subversion of God’s stories with humanistic self-righteousness and salvation. Especially when that faith was so crucial to the true motivations and redemption of the characters. I am tempted to be disappointed with The Finest Hours for downplaying a great opportunity to explore more clearly that deep, rich struggle with transcendence and faith.
But then there is this to consider…
Faith in Action
Despite my yearning for more clear transcendence in the storytelling, the power of movies is the power of behavior, the power of lived out beliefs, truth incarnate in action, not mere words. I would argue that watching The Finest Hours ignites the knowledge deep in our souls that we know that one of our highest callings is to value other human beings as being worthy of great sacrifice. Of course, this can only be true if humanity is created in the image of God, because if we are not, then there is no ultimate value to any of us. We are simply evolving molecules in motion, and we live and die and there is no meaning to life, so who cares if a few sailors die? If there is no God-created meaning, they will dissolve into the ocean of meaninglessness anyway. Why foolishly risk your own life in a universe without transcendence? Such acts of heroism are only meaningful if humanity is the pinnacle of the created order, the image of God.
And when you watch that kind of courage and selfless sacrifice in action, you know it’s true.
That’s what watching The Finest Hours did for me. And it turns out, that was what producer Jim Whitaker had hoped for in the movie.
JIM: “It’s in the doing of the actual act… that is such a remarkable thing. I think of it as a movie of courage and faith in action. He carried himself through the film with integrity… Bernie moved toward the most difficult thing with a humility and a grace and a faith to do something that is extraordinary.”
Let’s hope that the audience gets it.