Monday, April 20, 2009

Seven Pounds: impressions and reflections

Valerie and I recently watched Seven Pounds (Will Smith, Rosario Dawson). Here are my thoughts.

Smith's disciplined excellence as an actor won me from skepticism to admiration years ago. Since Valerie feels similarly, we both were interested in his recent movie, "Seven Pounds."

In that regard, Smith does not disappoint. This is a tour de force of Smith's focused, mature approach to his craft. Here is an actor who so inhabits his character that you can sense the misery in the character's soul, even when that character is smiling and charming. In other words, he's an actor portraying a man who is acting, and you see that the character is pretending — but it's done with a light, yet convincing, touch. It is a remarkable performance.

All the other actors are fine, particularly Rosario Dawson. The chemistry between the two is important, and it is palpable.

However, this is a very sad movie. Intelligent, layered, deliberate (the unkind word would be "plodding," but we were never bored), involving, dramatic — but very, tragically, sad.

In that regard, I'm forced to liken Seven Pounds to Million-Dollar Baby and Bridge to Terabithia. Trailers suggest that it will be a drama with overtones of mystery and perhaps some romance. It is all of that, but it also is a depressing and (I will argue) senseless tragedy.

I recommend it for the acting and drama; I warn you about the oppressive tragedy, and a touch of sexual immorality.

Totally Spoilery
Read no further if you don't want to know the whole thing.

This is the plot, unraveled. Ben Thomas is a decent (if driven) businessman who loves his wife. He has just given her a diamond ring. He is driving with her one night, laughing and enjoying her, and he glances at his BlackBerry.

In that glance, he fails to notice an oncoming car. An accident ensues. Thomas' wife and six other people die.

Thomas is so consumed with misery and remorse that he involves his brother and best friend (unwittingly and wittingly, respectively) in a plan to do sacrificial good for seven people ("seven pounds" of flesh, an allusion to Shakespeare that is not explained in the film) to suit justice for the accident. He will donate bone marrow and other parts of himself while alive. Then he will commit miserable, painful, agonizing suicide-by-jellyfish to donate his heart and eyes to a blind man and a dying woman with whom he has come to share love.

The accident is the result of a momentary oversight. Not drunkenness, drug use, or recklessness. Thomas is not depicted as a bad person. Just eaten alive with relentless grief and misery and guilt for which he finds — and is offered — no relief.

Thomas is a man who badly needs Jesus Christ, and the hope and life and forgiveness that Christ alone provides. But he doesn't know it, and no one tells him, so he murders himself. A woman lives — heartbroken, ironically enough, because of Thomas' heart — and a man sees, but the "hero" is doubly-dead and blind.

So Seven Pounds leaves you sad, and at the same time angry, and feeling that perhaps the filmmakers made you sad just to make you sad.

And gee, what if his little one-time pre-suicide one-nighter left Dawson's character pregnant? Oops, we're not supposed to ask questions like that about Hollywood sex. Because, don't you know, immorality (straight or "gay") is casual, beautiful, and consequence-free.

The DVD promotional site includes a rave review calling this a "life-changing" picture that is "good for the soul." Really? If we take it as a "message" movie, and take the message seriously, then we should all be consumed by hopeless misery, designate ourselves organ donors, get someone to fall in love with us, and then commit suicide.

Real feel-good stuff, that.

Except for the not.

I think the Gospel is literally infinitely better. Christ lays down His life for His own, out of fullness of love for His Father and for us, and not out of a a howling abyss of unresolved (and inappropriate) personal guilt. Further, Christ did not single out people who were worthy of His sacrifice; instead, He targeted the least worth, the least deserving (Luke 5:32; 1 Timothy 1:15; thanks to Mike Leake for that observation). By His death, Christ redeems us, saves us, and gives us eternal life. He bodily rises from the dead, to sit at the Father's right hand, and will come one day to right all wrongs and reign forever.

Now, that is a life-changing message that is really good for the soul.

Like, forever.


Gary said...

My wife and I watched it last week, too...and came to the same conclusion.
I also noted that Smith's character was trying to play God - determining who was good and who was bad - who deserved his "gifts". Ultimately, for us, the character was unlikable because of his consuming selfishness paraded about in the clothes of sacrifice.

DJP said...

Thanks, very good observations.

Thomas is a very sympathetic character; Smith does him so well, I think you can't not feel for him — until you start to think about it, and weigh it objectively and morally, as you did. How he used his brother, his best friend - then Dawson's character.

And goodness, what if it echo-effects? If he feels it's moral for him to handle his grief that way, what if Dawson's character does? What if she reasons that he murdered himself for her, after she'd won his heart (pun noted but not intended)... so it was her fault?

What if she's consumed with the same remorseless guilt as he?

Should she murder herself, and give her (his) heart to someone else?

Mike Leake said...

Great review. I just watched this movie last night. All I really have to say is that I am glad that Jesus' sacrifice was not for those he deemed "worthy" of dying for.

This movie really does make you think though...b/c Ben is a hero on the surface but when analyzed further he's really a self consumed jerk.

DJP said...

Another excellent observation. Thanks, Mike, I'm going to incorporate that in the article.

Matt Gumm said...

I'm glad I read your review. I was wondering what the deal was on this. I wonder no longer, and can cross it off my watchlist.

P.D. Nelson said...

Watch it last night my wife and i agree that it was a very sad movie also.

Andy Dollahite said...

You nailed it in my opinion. Smith delivers a wonderful performance. I especially enjoyed your comments on his acting inside of acting. BUT, the film fails at its central aim, and communicates a very perverted idea of how to obtain freedom from guilt and sorrow. While it was much more entertaining to me than the director's other work, What Dreams May Come, it is still tragically misguided.

On a tangential note, have you read The Road? (I noticed it recently on the Desiring God staff reading list.) It's gaining credibility in my area as communicating a message of love and hope in the face of decay and depravity, but upon reading it I was significantly disappointed. Similar to Seven Pounds it had artistic merit, but an ultimately hollow or (in my opinion absent) foundation for hope. If you have read it I'd love to see a review. If not, no worries.

Sir Aaron said...

Ok, you've just convinced me to avoid this movie. I was leaning that way already (since I haven't rent it yet) but Will Smith being in it kept the possibility open. I'll just avoid senseless trajedies, thank you.

Where are the dramas like Braveheart and Last of the Mohicans where one's death was sad yet meaningful (not to mention self-sacrificial)?

jazzact13 said...

Haven't seen the movie, but from what's been written here, could it be said that the 'hero' represented compassion as it is too often seen--as being about what one gives up rather than the good it may do?

Reminds me of what C.S. Lewis wrote about the differences between "love" and "unselfishness" in one of his essays.

DJP said...

Hm, good question. But I'd say no... the movie does stress that the blind guy can see, the dying lady's heart beats just fine, etc.

I'm sure we're meant not to notice the angles I bring up. This is Hollywood, after all. It's all about what it makes you feel.

Kate said...

I'm late on this because I took a break from following your blog during the election season... Rob & I saw this movie too, and I agree with you about Smith's performance - he is a consummate actor.

I also agree that it was a senseless tragedy. It's too bad that the character felt he had to atone for his own sins (which is obviously not possible) rather than trusting in the Gospel. The love story was touching but once we realized what Smith was going to do with the jellyfish, it just became sad.

Verification word: foodiest.

CR said...

Just saw the movie. Agree, remarkable performance but a very sad movie.