FOUR STARS - Inspiring
There are people who have a clear sense of their own destiny. Though most often frustratingly ambiguous, they nevertheless have a clear sense of their ultimate purpose. Simon Birch is one such person.
Like the Biblical story of Joseph who saw in a dream his future as a ruler over his older brothers but was not shown how this would be fulfilled or the painful path to its completion, Simon’s destiny is both known and unknown, promised and ambiguous.
Additionally, when Joseph shared his dream with his brothers it only caused him to be ridiculed and ostracized, until they finally banished him. This also was true of Simon and is most often the experience of people who share such awarenesses. Implying that we are mentally unbalanced, the social pressures silence most of us into dismissing our own inner sense of who we are. But it did not silence Simon Birch.
Based only loosely on the novel by John Irving titled A Prayer for Owen Meany, “Simon Birch” is a film about a boy with a debilitating birth defect who has a God-given faith, hope and enduring sense of his own destiny.
Played by Ian Michael Smith, Simon Birch is a person for whom life has obviously been unfair. The only child of cold and rejecting parents, his birth defects not only shorten his stature but his life span, as well.
But these challenges are more than compensated for by his tremendously enhanced faith and spiritual insight. Obviously a person who knows God and has learned to hear his voice, Simon dwarfs the “normal” people of his town and challenges their superficial religious activities and beliefs. When they try to silence him and force him into accepting the patterns of their own disbelief, he stubbornly holds onto his own faith in God and his destiny to one day be a hero.
Simon is befriended by another boy his age named Joe Wenteworth (Joseph Mazzello). As an illegitimate child of a beautiful Christian woman, Joe is also ridiculed by the people of his small town. This shared experience as outcasts due to events beyond either of their controls, bonds Simon and Joe into a deep and faithful friendship. Like Simon, Joe’s spirit is enhanced by his experiences and his ability to faithfully love and care for others is obviously greater than that of a normal twelve-year-old boy.
Joe’s mother, Rebecca (Ashley Judd), also shares their place of public ridicule because of her decision to give Joe his life and not secretly abort him as an unwed mother. Keeping the name of the father a secret, taking full responsibility for her choices, and becoming a person of exceptional ability to love and accept others create within Rebecca a woman of unexplainable joy and beauty.
This is a profound message to all of us. Agreeing with the promises of God that forgiveness and acceptance is available for all, Simon, Joe and Rebecca live in a state of grace which is missing from most of the others in the film.
Humorously playing off of a mean and unmerciful Sunday School teacher named Miss Leavey (Jan Hooks), the film exposes the hypocrisy of religious actions without religious faith. Leavey has no love, compassion, mercy or enjoyment of children and yet has chosen to be a Sunday School teacher and director of the church Christmas Program probably in order to be close to the pastor. Though obviously stereotyped for humorous reasons, the truth is clear that religious activity without true faith can only increase one’s inability to love.
Perhaps the most disappointing person within the film was Fr. Russell (David Strathairn). Although he is revealed to have sinned, it is not his sin which is so disappointing, since all of us have sinned, as it is his inability to accept the forgiveness of God and live with God’s grace and compassion for others. Not accepting himself, Rev. Russell does not accept others.� Being hard on himself, Rev. Russell is also hard on others. As Simon says to Joe, “Rev. Russell and his wife are the two most miserable people we know!”
“Simon Birch” is a film about the grace that each of us needs to both receive love and give it to others. Even though he lived a short life, it was Simon’s faith that built up the faith of everyone around him. And, in his best friend’s life, it was Simon’s faith that ultimately led Joe to know who his real Father was.
Even a cold heart would be thawed by the inspiration of this little boy. This is a story for all ages to see!