I want to share something near and dear to my heart this week. When I was a kid growing up in Washington state, I was very socially awkward and some of my classmates made fun of me mercilessly. Mocks became so commonplace to me that I just came to accept them as the background noise of my life. Sick days were a blessing to me. I tried to fight back and then just to ignore the torrent of teasing, but neither one of those strategies made life bearable. Finally, when I got to 6th grade I couldn’t stand to go on. I decided to change my whole way of approaching people. I returned their taunts with compliments. When other kids hated me, I loved them back. At first, my bullies treated me with even more disdain. But over time they realized I meant it. I didn’t hate them for what they were doing to me. And I think they started to feel a little tugging at their hearts and they realized that what they were doing was wrong, without me having to call their attention to it.
Years later, right after I turned 21, I met one of my former tormentors – at my local church. He hadn’t been a member of my church when I had known him, but he had discovered it in the ensuing years and he had been converted and was now a completely new man. He had no trace of malice or flippancy in his face. He soberly approached me after I gave a talk in church, and he asked my forgiveness. Of course I forgave him, and I told him it was all water under the bridge. I assured him that we had just been silly kids doing what kids do. I was glad to see him enjoying so much happiness in his life. That’s all I want for everyone I meet. I want everyone to be happy.
These memories came flooding back recently when my wife shared a film with me that I had almost completely forgotten: 2002’s A Walk to Remember. The first time I watched that movie was not long after the encounter with my bully-turned-buddy. Seeing it again more than a decade later was an awesome experience.
A Christian Film
I haven’t watched many Christian films. I am a Christian, but I’ve never really sought out entertainment that is meant to speak directly to my faith. I mostly just pursue great storytelling, and I often find that the underlying messages and value systems of those films are fully in support of my core beliefs, e.g., The Avengers, Back to the Future, and Superman: The Movie.
What I love about A Walk to Remember is that it offers the best of both worlds. It’s a Christian film without having to be so explicit about the metaphor. The main character is a troubled teenage boy named Landon who thinks life is a popularity contest and cruelty is the only way to have fun and get ahead. Jamie is the polar opposite. She doesn’t care what other people think of her and she spends all of her time serving others and trying to better herself. She’s Christian, but she never preaches to Landon or tells him he’s going to hell because of his wicked ways. She just sets a good example for him to follow. She even says, at one point, “Come and see,” which is a direct quote from Jesus.
Don’t Fall in Love with Me
Early in the film, Landon gets in trouble with the law and is forced to do seemingly endless amounts of community service as a result. This puts him in constant contact with Jamie, who offers service out of the kindness of her heart, not because of a legal obligation. He’s forced to play the lead in a school play, and he struggles to learn his lines. So he asks for his costar Jamie’s help and she agrees to do it on one condition: “You have to promise you won’t fall in love with me.” He gladly agrees to do just that, cynically believing he could never fall in love with such a modest girl.
It’s like the film was speaking to me. It dared me not to fall in love with it.
The film is anti-cynicism. It managed to penetrate all of my skepticism as a man who doesn’t usually fall under the spell of supposedly romantic films. I don’t know how it did it, but I found myself falling in love with A Walk to Remember at the same time Landon fell in love with Jamie. The characters are so darn likable and believable. People have a change of heart, patch up wounded relationships, and just act like reasonable human beings by the end. Everyone is transformed and inspired because of Jamie, but she’s not held up as some faultless angel. She has plenty of personal problems and she wants to be happy, just like everyone else, even though she doesn’t always know how to get there. But her mere attempt to make the most of herself and ignore people’s attempts to bring her down are enough to lift others up and encourage them to look beyond pettiness and try for something better.
The Bullying Scene
One of my favorite scenes in the movie is the one in the cafeteria. Landon’s friends realize that he’s changed and he’s starting to fall for Jamie. So they lash out in the ugliest way they can think of. Jamie is an extremely modest girl in the way she dresses, so they Photoshop Jamie’s head onto the body of a scantily clad female model. They claim to just be joking around, but this is the first time one of their vulgar attacks on her actually hits its mark and drives her to tears. Landon comforts her and then tells his old friends that if that’s the way they’re going to treat a girl who has never done anything to harm them, then he’s through being their friend.
This reminded me of an inspiring short film I saw a little while back exploring the effects of bullying:
A similar change occurs in all of the bullies in A Walk to Remember. Each one of them comes to realize their actions have consequences and they all feel sorry for what they did. Again, it’s not ham-fisted and none of them get any kind of comeuppance. This isn’t that kind of film. The point isn’t to get revenge on bullies, but to help those bullies be happy by giving up the weaknesses that make them want to hurt other people. Everyone wins in this film, just as everyone can in real life.
Blueprint for Happiness
This movie is like a blueprint for being happy:
- Miserable and self-centered? Try serving others.
- Think life is unfair? Be grateful for everything you have.
- Fear you’ll never achieve anything? Consistently do your best and see what happens.
- Want a happier marriage? Wait until after you’re married to have sex.
- Don’t believe in miracles? Be one.
A Walk to Remember dramatizes man’s struggle for lasting joy in such a simple yet touching way. I used to believe happiness was something that just wasn’t for me. I would pray for God to send me a friend so I wouldn’t be so miserable. But as so often happens, He didn’t send me a friend, but instead He helped me become a friend. I had to love myself before I could let anyone else love me. That’s what this film shows: how to be a friend. False friends and bullies are easy to come by, but true friends will stick with you to the end. Being such a noble friend will naturally attract other good people to you because they’ll recognize the peace and self-assurance that come from knowing your own value.
Nicholas Sparks has written a lot of novels that have been turned into films over the years, including Message in a Bottle and The Notebook. But A Walk to Remember stands out as his best. I can’t believe what a wonderful film this is. It offers hope to anyone who has been bullied or made serious mistakes and doubts their own self-worth. That’s a priceless gift, and so I humbly offer this film to you as a pleasant surprise.
This is the Deja Reviewer bidding you farewell until we meet again.
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Great post, Robert! I actually read the novel first before the I saw the film and loved it so much that I had high expectations for the movie. I liked it but I wasn’t sure about the casting choice for Landon in the film, but you know, you always have an idea in your mind as a reader of what the main character should look like. Anyway, I totally agree with you. Thanks for sharing! 🙂
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