Prayer Focus
Movie Review

I Am David

MPAA Rating: PG-Rating (MPAA) for thematic elements and violent content

Reviewed by: Chris Monroe

Moviemaking Quality:

1 hr. 35 min.
Year of Release:
USA Release:
September 13, 2003
Featuring: Ben Tibber, James Caviezel, Joan Plowright, Maria Bonnevie, Silvia De Santis
Director: Paul Feig
Distributor: Lions Gate Films
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Relevant Issues
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prisons in the Bible

FEAR, Anxiety and Worry—What does the Bible say? Answer

“Believe in the power to change your destiny.”

Here’s what the distributor says about their film: “David, a 12-year-old boy, escapes a Communist concentration camp with little more than a compass, a sealed letter, a loaf of bread, and instructions to carry the letter to Copenhagen, Denmark. Not even knowing where Denmark is, David must first make his way from Bulgaria to Italy, etc. David is thrust into the free world for the first time in his young life as he travels across Europe. It is a spiritual voyage of discovery, where David slowly loses his instinctual mistrust of humanity and begins to smile, share, trust and ultimately, love.”

Most people are either running to something or running from something, but in the film I Am David, our twelve-year-old hero does both. Escaping from peril time after time, this young boy flees his known enemy while venturing out into a new life of the unknown. Plagued most by fear and guilt, he manages to discover what it means to live, as well as love, and his courage to pursue a promise is rewarded with something far more special than he could have imagined.

Beginning in Bulgaria in 1952, a parentless boy, David (Ben Tibber), escapes from a prison camp with instructions to head north to Denmark. Having never lived outside of the prison camp, David has no reference for how the outside world operates. What he does have is a small bag of supplies, memories of what others have told him about the world, and basic instructions on how to get to Denmark. But his journey has a two fold purpose by helping him not only find a better place to live, but also to find out who he is and what he is worth.

Superbly directed by Paul Feig, this entire film is an exceptionally clean, uplifting and touching story. Some of the events depict harsh circumstances in the prison camp, emphasizing the evil conduct that occurs there, but displaying it mostly through the tone of those scenes. There is an act of violence we know about, but it is not shown. This film refrains from showing anything exorbitant in regards to violence, but still maintains an effective level of drama. What we focus on most is watching this young boy struggle to survive and find true freedom.

This story was adapted from Anne Holm’s book North To Freedom and includes a lot of the same plot and feeling. What is interesting about the book that did not appear in the movie is how David has a discovery of God. He calls out to Him in faith after recalling Psalm 23, written by someone with his same name. On several occasions, David calls out to God for help, and God helps him. I think this idea is a wonderful factor that ties in to David’s exploration of life, but it wasn’t really included in the movie. Instead there is a different sort of adaptation with a saint that he believes helps him. It would have been wonderful to have that added in because the execution and poetry of the rest of the movie outshines the book.

However, one interesting aspect in the movie that was not in the book centered on the character of Johannes (James Caviezel). During David’s time in the prison camp, Johannes provided the best friendship David had ever had, and since Johannes was much older he also gave him insight and knowledge about life. It is also through Johannes that a sacrifice is made in order to keep David alive. This facet of the story provides a definite allusion to Christ and what He has done for us in order for us to have true life. Furthermore, David’s overall journey is like a believer in Christ’s pilgrimage in this life, where one must listen to and trust one voice above all others in order to reach our destiny.

This film was certainly no disappointment. It left me feeling quite moved long after I watched it. The musical score and cinematography were both highly effective. The moments of humor are also appropriate and work very well. Feig was able to effectively communicate the inner fear of this young boy and create in us a sympathy for him, sometimes without even realizing it. For many reasons, this is a very engaging film and provides a rewarding experience.

Violence: Mild / Profanity: None / Sex/Nudity: None

Viewer CommentsSend your comments
Comments below:
Positive—The movie was great. I purchased the book after seeing the movie. It was suspenseful, funny, sad, and delightful. I took my 10 year old daughter and was glad I did. The movie is based on not giving up but remaining hopeful in difficult times. At times my daughter wants to give up. But the message this movie puts out is that it is better to be alive so that you can change things for the better rather than to give up on life.

I was afraid that the movie would show a lot of cruelty to others. However, what was shown was done in a sensitive way. There was a scene when someone got shot. But it was displayed on the screen tactfully. I do not remember any offensive language. I highly recommend this movie to mature 10 year olds and older.
My Ratings: [Better than Average/4½]
Pat Miller, age 46
Positive—What is the world to a child? Unfortunately, there are many around the world that faces incredible odds of plights, hungers, forced labors, persecutions, deaths, and diseases from their own country. It is still an on going tragedy.

I Am David by Anne Holm tells of such a tale. It’s about a small boy taken from his family and imprisoned in a labor camp during WWII in Bulgaria. With the help of a fellow inmate, he escaped to the outside world, and on a quest to Demark where his true identity lies. At times, it is hard to see a child having to learn how to trust, love and laugh because all he have ever known is a cruel and unjust treatment of people in the camp. Always with a serious face, yet just a child trying to understand the world he have missed.

It is through the kindness of some strangers, David learns to open up to Sophie, the woman who will help him. The film, which I have an opportunity to view at the Asheville Film Festival in N.C. Though not in competition, I gave it a 5 (+) for the audience award. Paul Feig wrote and directed this little gem. The young Ben Tibber gave a solid performance as David and Joan Plowright (Sophie) is just wonderful while James Caviezel (Johannes) rounds off in a supporting role with his Passion Of The Christ costar Hristo Shopov (The Man).

As I stated above, the film limited and painted a happy ending fairy-tale, but in reality, there are real children around the world suffering such predicament and learning to live on their own with siblings to care for, too. I for one was in similar conditions in Laos and Thailand. God bless that my brother and I made it to the States and joined with the rest of the family some years later in 1984.

So this film have a personal sentiment, and I am grateful for it. The film do show some violent content and is rated PG. I don’t recalled any harsh languages but the death of a friend is suggested. It is recommended for mature children and up.
My Ratings: [Better than Average/5]
Mang Yang, age 31
Positive—One has to search carefully amongst the shelves at the local video store to find such gems as “I Am David.” I’m glad I noticed this jewel of a film amongst the tarnished offerings while looking for a film for family video night with my pre-teens. While perhaps a little too intense for younger viewers (well, those kept sheltered from most of the obnoxious garbage Hollywood spews out these days), this screenplay adaptation of the novel aptly presents a young boy’s spiritual journey along a road increasilngly paved with hope, faith, and an emerging trust.

While I understand that the movie replaces David’s cry for help to the God of the Bible (Psalm 23 specifically), substituting it with elements of Catholicism, it seems to work well set against the backdrop of Italian geography. Faith is faith. Humility is universally recognized.

Given most of the movies we Evangelical Christians watch these days, I truly think this one deserves some viewing time in our households. Much of the fine acting is carried through with mere expression, with the look in David’s eyes, rather than a plethora of dialogue. I think you will notice other shinning facets to this gem of a movie. Recommended viewing.
My Ratings: [Good/4]
Doug Lloyd, age 46
Positive—This film touched me. It’s an incredible look into the imprisoned spirit of man and how it can only be liberated by trust (faith). This is much more than a championing of democratic liberty. It’s the story of coming from fear to faith. Jim Cavieziel’s role is a type of Christ. He lays down his life for the little boy. The boy has a christophenes in a chapel while the choir sings in latin(?) with the Cross in the background. At that point he has learned that there is good in the world and there is a God who cares.

There is some religious superstition and praying to saints at a couple of places in the middle of the movie, but the boy was raised in a communist prison camp. He’s just doing what the baker told him to do. In the end he is freed by the (implied) truth of the gospel.

A fantastic film accomplished in little more than 90 minutes.
My Ratings: [Good/4]
Dane Gressett, age 40
Positive—I absolutely fell head over heels in love with this film. I purchased it shortly after viewing it. I showed it to the troubled teenagers that I work with who are in a residential treatment center. They loved the movie as well and found themselves able to relate to the main character. The movie is filled with many examples of how a sovereign God moves through even difficult situations to bring us to the place He desires us to be. Even when David trusts someone and they hurt him or betray him, he always comes away with something that helps him on his journey. This movie has so many themes that sparked discussion with the teens, such as faith, trust and perseverance. This is a great movie to use in the classroom or at home with your kids. I would highly recommend it. It could also be used in youth ministry as well.
My Ratings: [Good/5]
Holly B., age 29
Comments from young people
Positive—I really can’t say enough good things about this film. I read the book before seeing the movie and was impressed with how similar they were. Ben tibber, who played David, was really a wonderful actor and communicated a wealth of depth even in the silent scenes. I was also very uplifted by the message of hope and the courage to press on. The scenery was breathtaking and the overall quality of the film was very good. My rating: two tumbs up!
My Ratings: [Excellent!/4]
Amy Gilles, age 18
Movie Critics

“…No more memorable or moving film going experience has come along this year!…

Bill Fentum, United Methodist Reporter

“…A genuinely moving story that avoids cheap sentimentality and earns our emotional involvement… with a remarkable performance by young Ben Tibber…

Leonard Maltin, Entertainment Tonight

“…So far the best film of the year!… An entrancing story for children and adults!…

Phil Boatwright, Baptist Press

“…A hymn to ordinary happiness—which those in the free world take for granted… Rare indeed to find a serious film that is also moving, historically accurate, well-made and appropriate for the whole family…

Mona Charen, nationally syndicated columnist

“…Artful, moving, and beautifully crafted. Superb performances make “I Am David” a film of unexpected emotional impact…

Michael Medved