2 Stars – Wholesome
It is difficult to imagine bird watching as being addictive, but when you add the element of competition, this pastime can become a life-consuming passion. That’s the theme behind David Frankel’s (The Devil Wears Prada) wholesome comedy, “The Big Year.” Based on an acclaimed book by Mark Obmasick titled: The Big Year: A Tale of Man, Nature and Fowl Obsession, the adapted screen play by Howard Franklin plays on that theme to show how this obsession can either give life or take it away.
The three birders who are obsessed with seeing the most birds in one calendar year are Brad Harris (Jack Black) who narrates the story, Kenny Bostick (Owen Wilson) who is the current record holder, and Stu Preissler (Steve Martin) who is a very successful businessman who always wanted to retire and pursue his birding dreams. Also primary to the tale is Bostick’s wife Jessica (Rosamund Pike), Preissler’s wife, Edith (JoBeth Williams), and Brad Harris’ father, Raymond (Brian Dennehy).
Although actual birders point out many factual mistakes in the film, the truth is that the story is about the birders rather than the birds. Admitting that fact in its opening scene, the film begins to reveal the price that the birders are willing to pay to beat the record. Required to leave behind family and friends, spend thousands of dollars in travel and housing costs, and brave the elements, the birders are shown traveling all over the nation to catch a glimpse or hear the song of elusive birds. In one instance, the price is the respect of his father. In another, it is the marriage to the one he loves. And to still another, it is the financial loss of a lucrative pinnacle of his career. But the end result is different in each case and demonstrates how unique people are, even when they are in similar circumstances.
In recent addiction theory, it is noted that anything around which a person’s whole life revolves is in fact what that person worships. When it is a substance like alcohol or cocaine, the person becomes obsessed in a way that every day and every person is used to obtain that substance, paying whatever the price to do so. In that way, the person is saying that the substance is worth more than anything else. The same is true when it is an obsessive activity such as birding can become. When a person is willing to sacrifice wealth, health, relationships and marriage for that experience, they are saying by their actions that this experience is worth more than anything else and so it becomes what the person worships. That is the obvious message of the tale. By the end of the film, each birder realizes what is of ultimate value to them and they express that belief and orient their lives around what they truly value. That worship determines the direction of their lives as it does for all of us.
Discussion for those who have seen this film:
1. What is the focal point of your life around which everything else revolves? In other words, what do you worship?
2. The statement made by one of the wives that men always compete implies that women do not. Do you believe men are more competitive than women? If you do, is that competition something men have by nature or by cultural reinforcement?
3. As each birder recognizes what they truly value, with which one did you identify? Why did you choose that person?