Soul Surfer is based on the gruesome story of young surfer Bethany Hamilton’s encounter with a 14-foot tiger shark during which she lost her arm to the beast, but continued through the odds to get into the water and surf.
Jaws, a fictional film about a menacing great white shark, caused many audiences to avoid the ocean, but Soul Surfer, a true story and inspirational film of human triumph serves to lessen those fears of the creatures that lurk in the depths and replace them with faith in the human capacity to overcome grave obstacles
The film opens with an aerial establishing shot of the beautiful pristine waters that encircle the Hawaiian Islands. We are soon introduced to Bethany (AnnaSophia Robb) through a nostalgic voice over reflecting on her love for surfing. She proclaims, “we spent more time wet than we did dry.” Clearly this is a young girl who was meant to be a mermaid. Bethany’s parents, played by Helen Hunt and Dennis Quaid who have a natural chemistry, are very supportive of her dreams to be a pro-surfer as they cheer her on in competitions and help her train for the sport. Even when Bethany disobeys them and goes surfing at night, it is obvious that her family unit is one that embodies positivism and compassion. Bethany’s family values are underlined with a firm belief in Christianity exemplified by their churchgoing habits, and Bethany’s Sunday school education. Carrie Underwood makes her film debut as Bethany’s bible study leader.
Bethany is at the top of her game. She is placing in the top ranks of every competition and has just obtained sponsorship from Rip Curl, a popular surf brand. The sun shines and the tide is high as Bethany goes out to a deserted beach with her best friend and her friend’s father to practice for their next competition. In order to get out to the swells, the surfers have to avoid a reef. As they are swimming, the camera begins to dive below to show belly shots of the water, and suddenly an imminent sense of doom falls upon the film. Something is looming.
The shark attack happens so fast that it is hard to register. Due to the PG rating and family orientation of the film, a drawn out scene of gore and misery, as seen in 27 Hours, would have been inappropriate. However, the attack is still too rapid that even the Discovery Channel reenactments are more effective.
As the film unfolds it is obvious that this is not a story about a near death experience, but rather, an encouraging fable for conquering the unexpected grievous events that life throws at you.
After the accident Bethany has difficulty adjusting to her handicap and can’t understand why “God would want this for her”. Through the motivational speeches of her parents, her bible teacher, and an eye-opening trip to Thailand post-tsunami devastation in 2004, she gets back on her board and becomes a role model for those who are impaired.
The cinematography of the film boasts a wealth of stunning scenes of the immaculate land of Hawaii. The sun and surf provide a suitable backdrop for Bethany’s reemergence as a strong young woman. Though the film rests on it’s inspirational Christian themed clichés, it is hard to argue with the performances of AnnaSophia Robb, Helen Hunt, and Dennis Quaid. Overall, the adaptation of Bethany’s memoir is believable and uplifting.