The 2006 movie The Pursuit of Happyness starring Will Smith and his then 7-year old son, Jaden Smith, is based on the true life experience of inspirational speaker Chris Gardner.
Will Smith’s performance and departure from the norm in this movie makes this movie very likeable. Smith and the creative team behind the movie did a good job getting a lot of elements of Chris Gardner’s life story into a 117 minute movie. The untypical narrative and it’s presentation make for a powerful framing device, though not grasping the place of the framing in time might be bothersome to some viewers. The upbeat score, by award winning composer Andrea Guerra is a great complement to the action and emotions of the film. A good score really contributes to the viewer’s experience, where a lack of a good score (or sometimes no score at all) can feel like a missing tooth: unconsciously, you keep nudging the empty space with your tongue, leaving an unsatisfied feeling. There were also several both period-contemporary and gospel songs used throughout the movie and they pulled everything together nicely, many of which present with a distinctly Christian feeling. The creative team also seemed to put a great deal of thought into the symbolism and emotional background into the film through the use of period and setting specific set dressings.
We recommend Focus on the Family’s Plugged In’s review of The Pursuit of Happyness for an excellent run down of what is and is not family friendly about this movie.
What is Happyness?
Yes, we know it is misspelled, and it bugs us too. Even knowing that it serves a purpose in the movie, and gets people talking about it, it still bothers some of us. Happiness is a primary theme in the film, though it is often presented in a way that makes the main character seem jealous or envious of other people who seem to have found happiness in the material world.
From the start of the movie, it is made clear that Chris is not content with his current lot in life, and even feels that he bears the responsibility for some very potent bad decisions in his family’s past. There is a nice parallel between Chris’s carrying of the bone density scanners and Pilgrim’s burden in John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress.
Another source of discontent for Chris is his relationship with Linda, a character that seems to be an amalgamation of women from the real Chris Gardner’s life. Linda is seeking happiness as well, though she seems to be willing to put her desire for happiness before the well-being of her family, giving it an even more selfish edge than others in the movie do. Chris drives this home when he asks his son if he’s happy, reasoning that if he and his son are happy, then that is a “good thing.”
We both interpreted this scene in different ways, which speaks well to the presentation. Happiness; what it is, can it be bought, how do we all get it; it’s all questions that are asked in one way or another by the end of the film, and it really does leave the viewer questioning what happiness is. The movie does not come to the same conclusion as Scripture:
“Blessed is the man who makes the Lord his trust, who does not turn to the proud, to those who go astray after a lie!” – Psalm 40:4 (ESV)
Happiness is attitude with which we face our circumstances in a godly manner, rather than a feeling based on our circumstances.
Blessed is the one who finds wisdom, and the one who gets understanding, for the gain from her is better than gain from silver and her profit better than gold. She is more precious than jewels, and nothing you desire can compare with her. – Proverbs 3:13-15 (ESV)
The main character seems to believe that his happiness will be found in the material things of life, and this is reinforced by the use of the contrast between rich and poor in the movie. The camera work often will flash back and forth between the down-trodden street performer and the well-to-do business man.
There is something to be said for the content that someone can feel when he is using the gifts God has given him to the fullness of their ability. The movie does have an element of that as well, though you could certainly argue that it is secondary to the material gain.
Another powerful theme in The Pursuit of Happyness is what it means to be a father, and how fathers affect the paths their children will take as they grow. The casting of Will Smith with his son Jaden in these roles plays to the power of this theme and it seems to come very naturally to Will. This is an element that it appears Will Smith subscribes to in real life as powerfully as he does as Chris Gardner. Scripture speaks to this very important relationship many times:
“Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” – Ephesians 6:4 (ESV)
“Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.” – Proverbs 22:6 (ESV)
“It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck and he were cast into the sea than that he should cause one of these little ones to sin.” – Luke 17:2 (ESV)
To our [young] children, we are heroes in their eyes, and there is a place where you will lose that status; when that happens, an opportunity is lost, so it is important to raise your children so that, even when they realize you aren’t infallible, they will know our Heavenly Father is.
As the other primary portion of the title of The Pursuit of Happyness, the word pursuit speaks to the constant struggle to become, and stay, happy. There is a very fine line between pursuing happiness and ambition, though. The only time the word “ambition” appears in the Bible it is referred to in a negative light: 2 Corinthians 12:20; James 3:14-16; Galatians 5:19-21.
Scripture speaks most often to the pursuit of righteousness:
Whoever pursues righteousness and kindness will find life, righteousness, and honor. – Proverbs 21:21 (ESV)
So then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding. – Romans 14:19 (ESV)
But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of)all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs. But as for you, O man of God, flee these things. Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness. – 1 Timothy 6:9-11 (ESV)
Let not your mouth lead you into sin, and do not say before the messenger that it was a mistake. Why should God be angry at your voice and destroy the work of your hands? For when dreams increase and words grow many, there is vanity; but God is the one you must fear. – Ecclesiastes 5:6-7 (ESV)
The importance of pursuing righteousness lay, at least in part, in the desire that we should pursue the aspects and attitude of a servant. Perhaps that is why there is so little (if anything at all) in the Bible regarding the pursuit of happiness; a Christian will find it as a servant of the One True God. Pursuit of happiness is a perfectly valid pursuit, and it is achieved through the pursuing righteousness through your service to the Lord Christ:
Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ. – Colossians 3:23-24 (ESV)
Even if you have a job that you feel you are not fit for, remember that God has placed you right exactly where He wants us to be. Before you seek change in your life, be it work, family, or even friends, be sure that you are seeking the Lord’s will in making those changes, and that you are not doing it for selfish reasons.
Whoever works his land will have plenty of bread, but he who follows worthless pursuits will have plenty of poverty. – Proverbs 28:19 (ESV)
Do you see a man skillful in his work? He will stand before kings; he will not stand before obscure men. – Proverbs 22:29 (ESV)
A Scriptural teaching that seems to be under constant scrutiny and often attack, is the role and responsibilities of the members of the family. While The Pursuit of Happyness doesn’t seem to back one stance over any others, Linda certainly doesn’t seem to hold Chris in any appropriate level or regard. At least one demonstration of that is a particularly low blow. When Chris tells her that he is going to get a job as a stockbroker, her response is, “A stockbroker? Not an astronaut?” This attitude is directly contradictory to the role that women were created for (to help, not to hinder: Genesis 2:18), and the instruction given to wives in the New Testament:
Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands. – Ephesians 5:24 (ESV)
Likewise, wives, be subject to your own husbands, so that even if some do not obey the word, they may be won without a word by the conduct of their wives, when they see your respectful and pure conduct. – 1 Peter 3:1-2 (ESV)
This respect isn’t limited to husbands and wives, but extends to our responsibilities to our brothers and sisters in Christ:
Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing. – 1 Thessalonians 5:11 (ESV)
Where is God in Misfortune?
Chris and his son certainly face and overcome a lot of problems in this story, and while Chris never asks the question of where God is in all of this, Chris Jr. does tell a cute joke that speaks to it. Sometimes, God is right beside us, or even in front of us, extending a hand, and we simply cannot see Him through our own stubborn pride. This is consistent with the unsolicited advice that Job receives as he is facing so many problems, so many far worse than (God willing) we should ever face in our lives. Even though Job questions God, he never curses Him for his problems.
And the Lord said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil?” Then Satan answered the Lord and said, “Does Job fear God for no reason? Have you not put a hedge around him and his house and all that he has, on every side? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land. But stretch out your hand and touch all that he has, and he will curse you to your face.” And the Lord said to Satan, “Behold, all that he has is in your hand. Only against him do not stretch out your hand.” So Satan went out from the presence of the Lord. – Job 1:8-12 (ESV)
It is not unusual to encounter those who suggest that bad things happen to people who did something to deserve it, but that is not the primary reason (or even a real reason) that believers face hardship and troubles, but the result of the curse of sin on our world. Most importantly, we must remember that even the bad things that happen are not outside God’s plan for us:
And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. – Romans 8:28 (ESV)
We may never know why something happens, and we may never observe the effect that our facing difficulties through our faith in God may have, but we can trust that God will work it according to his purpose.
This assurance is a great feeling. If this isn’t an assurance that you feel, we invite you to check out Living Waters’ site, NeedGod.com and use their questions to find some frank answers.
The Pursuit of Happyness was a fine movie that does a great job putting a lot of important concepts and thoughts into a relatively short time period, using a nice, strong narrative. The realness of the story allows for a strong impact and was a nice departure for AYJW’s recent run of science fiction reviews.
Special thanks to Tim Martin for co-hosting on this episode. You can follow him at twitter.com\rencheple
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