Monday, 22 October 2012

Simon Birch

This is the third movie I've seen in a week - all of them have a very similar theme. Again I used it in a learning context. This story will warm your heart. It will make you laugh and it will make you cry. Yes, at times is very slushily sentimental but at its core there is a message that speaks loud and clear - and one we would do well to heed.

Set in Maine and centring on a small community and its church, Simon Birch is the story of a boy who was different - who used his difference to great effect. In every sense of the word Simon is a misfit. Completely lacking in malevolence but with a mischievous tendency, Simon is a prophet. The Bible is filled with unlikely subjects to be messengers of God - and Simon Birch is right up there with the best of them.

Born abnormally small and played by an actor (Ian Michael Smith) who stands 3'1" tall, 12 year old Simon has insights and wisdom beyond his years. He is the talk of the town along with his best friend Joe (Joseph Mazzello) who is also an outcast on account of his illegitimacy. The two spend most of their free time together and Joe drives Simon around the community in a specially constructed side-car attached to his bike. Simon's parents more or less disown him.

The portrayal of the church and the conflicted and smooth Rector, Revd Russell (David Strathairn), places neither in a good light. The church does however deliver the most amusing nativity play I've ever seen and the film is worth it just for that.

Simon has a faith in God that is unshakeable. He is convinced that he is different because he is God's special instrument. Consequently he is always ready to speak out and challenge the accepted order in a prophetic sense - but most of his interventions are mis-tiimed and land him in trouble. Revd Russell does not share Simon's sense of being God's messenger. Meanwhile, his friend Joe is constantly driven to discover his father's identity which from time-to-time also lands them both in trouble.

The central thrust of the story is Simon's refusal to let his difference be an impediment to his role within the tight-knit community. When this thread of the story is woven together with his friendship with Joe, his prophetic calling and his fascination with girls, the narrative moves along with interest in a well-focussed arc.

This film challenges the viewer to think how they might make a difference within their community, how they might sustain and nurture their relationships, how they might speak out for God and challenge the collusive status quo and how we might all be a little less afraid to be ourselves - wherever that takes us. Get the tissues out, get the movie, and give it a viewing. I'll give it 7.5/10.

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