Reviewed by: Ken James
|Featuring||Kevin Spacey, Helen Hunt, Haley Joel Osment, Jay Mohr, James Caviezel|
|Director||Mimi Leder, Oliver Stapleton|
|Producer||Mary McLagen, Jonathan Treisman, Leslie Dixon, Peter Abrams, Robert L. Levy, Steven Reuther|
Christians: take note of Matthew 7:12 and Galations 5:14…
“In everything, therefore, treat people the same way you want them to treat you, for this is the Law and the Prophets.” —Matthew 7:12 (NASB)
“For the whole Law is fulfilled in one word, in the statement, ‘YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF’.” —Galations 5:14 (NASB)
Now consider 11-year-old Trevor McKinney (Haley Joel Osment, “The Sixth Sense”), a seventh grader challenged by Social Studies teacher Eugene Simonet (Kevin Spacey) in an extra credit assignment to “change the world”. What does the world expect of an 11-year-old? Absolutely nothing. What good can a seventh grader do in changing the world? The answer may surprise you.
Life is hard for Las Vegas residents Trevor and single-mom Arlene (Helen Hunt). Problematic issues of alcoholism and abuse, both physical and sexual, plague the McKinney family. Arlene is distanced from her son by her alcoholism and chronic bad decision making. She works at a casino by day and waitresses at a strip club by night. But Trevor is no ordinary son. He sees the potential he can make in a world that looks like *expletive* (in Trevor’s words). He comes up with a plan to impact the lives of three people. If they accept, it is their duty to continue the idea of paying it forward (instead of back) by impacting the lives of three others. Instead of “each one reach one” it is “each one reach three.” Eventually the results can change the world.
“Pay It Forward” is told in an interesting present-to-past-to-present storyline by means of an intrusive reporter who is freely given a classy new Jaguar. The benevolent Jag owner tells the reporter he is just “paying it forward.” Blown away by this idea of generosity, he is determined to find the origin of this statement, leading him to the lives of many who had been forever impacted by the utopian idea concocted by a far-off seventh grader. The story unfolds nicely, offering technical mastery and Oscar-caliber performances.
While I do recommend this film for some mature teens and adults, it is not for everyone. It is rated PG-13 for mature elements: substance abuse/recovery, some sexual situations, language and brief violence. Offensive language contains at least 25 “s” words, as well as several uses of God’s name in vain. Hunt’s character dresses life Erin Brockovich in many scenes, including two or so scenes where she is seen in her bra. Provocative women dancers are also included toward the beginning of the film as we are introduced to Arlene’s night employer.
Trevor works toward setting up his mom with his teacher, and eventually succeeds in this. He is thrilled to know they “had a sleepover” at his house, seeing it as a means to an end of preventing future abuse for the time when his deadbeat dad (played by Jon Bon Jovi) may appear again, not to mention the happiness his mother and teacher experience when in each others company (in one scene of sexuality without nudity). There are a few scenes of violence, though nothing over-the-top. Not only do we learn that Arlene’s past is riddled with abuse, but burn-scarred Mr. Simonet, in an emotional monologue, shows just how depraved our world can be through the past he can never forget.
Of situational ethics concern, two of the characters “paying it forward” do so in disregard to the law, though one can see that the grace they received caused them to find hope in the world, leading them on to help others as well.
If “Pay It Forward” does not challenge Christians to be salt and light in a depraved world, then my suggestion is for those of apathy to reflect deep inside to see if Christ has really changed their heart. To be a Christian who follows the example of Jesus we must be living costly lives, surrendered to Christ and fighting off the lure of ease and comfort. If Trevor, a poor pre-teen with no Christian background, can see the impact he can make for the better, what more should we be doing to reach the lost? Houses are on fire around us, people are asleep inside, and how many Christians are willing to let those in danger know how to escape their eternal destiny and find their way to life everlasting? Jesus Christ already paid the ultimate price two thousand years ago. He “paid it forward,” and now we are indebted to serving him in our lives if we truly love Him.
“Then the righteous will answer Him, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry, and feed You, or thirsty, and give You something to drink? And when did we see You a stranger, and invite You in, or naked, and clothe You? When did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’ The King will answer and say to them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.’” —Matthew 25:37-40 (NASB)