Reviewed by: Samuel A. Torcasio
Handling internal anger properly
Caring for a dying mother
Dealing with the disappointing and sinful behavior of a parent
Parents and children who are estranged
Son’s continuing great anger toward his father
How bitterness affects us and others
Fred McFeely Rogers—Presbyterian minister, musician, puppeteer, writer, producer, and children’s show host
Believing that people are the most important thing in our world—make time for them in your life
Looking for every opportunity to make yourself and others better
Being a person who is faithful to keep their vows and promises
The importance of practicing kindness and compassion
Being a person of empathy, rather than selfishness and callousness
Developing gentle strength / Willingness to stand for truth and good, but doing it gently
Defending and practicing decency
How can I know what is RIGHT or WRONG? Answer
How can I DISCERN whether a particular activity is wrong? Answer
What is GOODNESS? Answer
What is RIGHTEOUSNESS? Answer
What is HOLINESS? Answer
The importance of prayer
Offering boundless mercy and unconditional love to others
Parents and teachers using life circumstances as a teachable moment for youngsters
Everything in life is a lesson of some kind
Tom Hanks … Fred Rogers
Christine Lahti … Ellen
Matthew Rhys … Lloyd Vogel—journalist
Susan Kelechi Watson … Andrea Vogel—Lloyd’s wife
Chris Cooper … Jerry Vogel—Lloyd’s father
Enrico Colantoni … Bill Isler—President and CEO of Family Communications
Wendy Makkena … Dorothy
Tammy Blanchard … Lorraine
Maryann Plunkett … Joanne Rogers—Fred’s wife
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Big Beach Films
Tencent Pictures [China]
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TriStar Pictures, a division of Columbia TriStar Motion Picture Group, owned by Sony Pictures Entertainment
“There’s always something you can do with the mad you feel.”
true story based on the real-life friendship between Fred Rogers and journalist Tom Junod, and inspired by an article on Rogers that Junod wrote for Esquire in 1998 called “Can You Say Hero?”. According to producers, and contrary to early belief, the film is not a biopic of Fred Rogers. Rather the film centers around journalist Tom Junod and his experience interviewing Rogers, and the impact it had on him. It was shot in Pittsburgh Pennsylvania, with much of it right at Fred Rogers Studio.
Director Marielle Heller is longtime friends with Tom Hanks’ son Colin, and met the former at a birthday party in which she pitched him the project. Heller claims that access was fortunate because Hanks had put out the word through his agency that he wanted a break from playing real-life people (This is the 8th film he has portrayed an actual person) and to not send him those scripts.
Tom Hanks, who is arguably one of the greatest living actors, delivered a remarkable performance. Like a true actor, he prepared well. At the 2019 Toronto International Film Festival, Tom Hanks mentioned that he watched “hundreds of hours” of footage of Fred Rogers on set and behind the scenes in order to get into character.
Director Marielle Heller brings us an excellent story, that has a simple yet profound and unique message. Fred Rogers was a unique person who had a message of kindness and forgiveness that the world really needs to hear right now. Heller noted that Rogers “doesn’t have the dynamic nature you need for a protagonist for a movie’ and considered him “the antagonist [ ] who comes into someone’s life and flips it upside down through his philosophy and the way he lived his life.’
Whether you are familiar or unfamiliar with the true story, and we won’t get too much into the details of the plot, this is a film worth seeing. It has at its heart a message of forgiveness. The film does not delve deeply into the specifics of Roger’s Christian faith, and its message is not explicitly Christian, though the concepts of love, forgiveness, and kindness are clearly biblical. I would recommend this movie to anyone who is struggling to forgive someone. It moved me to tears. The movie alone cannot change your heart, but it can’t hurt either.
Roger’s faith is not completely overlooked either. The movie, though it shows what a kind and gentle man Fred was, goes out of its way to say he was not perfect. Mrs. Rogers shares with Tom that her husband had struggles with anger, and that one of the ways he dealt with it was to read Scripture, pray for people specifically by name, swim laps, and write letters to people.
Fred Rogers was a people person, he put people over business, and this movie does an exemplary job of conveying it. He remembered people and their specific prayer requests. What a blessing such a person is! I remember a professor I had in seminary, Dr. Jim Rosscup, who scholar though he was, he was also a man of prayer, and he loved the students. I’ll never forget that I had asked him to pray for my grandfather, and one day I ran into him in the seminary hallway and after greeting me he asked, “How is your grandfather, Angelo?”. He remembered my grandpa by name! That’s how Mr. Rogers is in this film, because that’s how he was in real life, and you get a beautiful glimpse of it here!
In the film Fred Rogers talks much about forgiveness and says “It’s hardest to forgive those we love.” It is shared that his show “Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood” was about giving children positive ways to deal with their feelings. Fred teaches that “there are many ways to deal with your feelings without hurting yourself or others”. Tackling the idea of justice, one of the puppets sings, “When the whole world seems so very wrong, and nothing you do seems right.” The film definitely deals with the concepts of right and wrong.
In our lost and fallen world, it often seems and often is the case that justice evades us. Though the film does not get into it, we must be assured that one day God will right all wrongs. In the meantime, we need to make sure we repent of our wrongs and make sure our account with God is right. Justice and Mercy met at the cross of His Son Jesus Christ. This film hits on the theme emotionally and powerfully, but it does not expound on the theology. At the very least though it is a conversation starter.
Mr. Rogers also talks about “the mad” [anger] inside us. He is trying to speak in a way that kids can understand. He teaches that “there is always something you can do with the mad you feel.” Indeed, this is a biblical principle. We do not just put off sin, but we must put on righteousness (Ephesians 4:22-24). Like Mr. Rogers we must renew our minds by reading Scripture and praying. We should also like him do some physical exercise, which the Bible says does profit some (1 Timothy 4:8). We should add though, we must never put our trust in our own strength, but even when we are doing Godly practices, we should do it with our eyes fixed on Christ crucified and risen, trusting fully in His strength.
This picture gets into some deep things, as did Roger’s classic TV show as Tom points out, “Death, divorce, war, it gets dark.” The show aimed to tackle real life things that are hard and that many kids have to face. Rogers understood rightly that “there’s no normal life free from pain.”
Without having a robust theological message, I could see how some might interpret the film as simply having a “feel good” message. Rogers wanted everyone to know they are precious. There’s no mention of repentance of sin and turning to Christ (though one of the characters does genuinely repent to one of the other characters). Without the theological foundation, the movie could be interpreted as having a message of universalism. However, I do not think that was the intention of the film, and admittedly I have not engaged in an in-depth study of Roger’s life to know how accurate they have interpreted his thoughts and beliefs. Generally speaking, though, my thinking is that Hollywood tends to be light when it comes to the Gospel. I think this film does have basic and important Christian concepts, but Christians need to be discerning and fill in the gaps.
Roger’s message that everyone is precious is true. Every human being is special. That may sound like self-esteem therapy, but the fact is every human being is made in the image of God (Genesis 1:26-27), and therefore every human being is special. Everyone needs to know their worth before God. But they also need to know that such a worth also makes them accountable to God. When we disobey God, and hurt others made in His image, He will rightly hold us accountable. Those who do not repent will perish in Hell. This is why Jesus came, to die for us and save us from our sins if we will believe in Him (John 3:16-18). The human heart left to its own is hardened and sinful (John 3:19-20). Only by the grace of God can we have the faith to believe in His salvation (Ephesians 2:8-10).
Don’t take the lack of theological grounding and clarity necessarily as a criticism of the film. Remember, we are not simply critiquing but analyzing the film as Christians, and taking the concepts it addresses and filling in the gaps with our biblical understanding. As believers we should talk about and analyze films, as well as everything in life, through a biblical lens.
Rogers at one point says, “the very same people who are good sometimes, are the very same people who are bad sometimes.” There is definitely truth there. Humans made in the image of God, both believers and unbelievers, often do things that reflect the goodness of that divine image. And those same people, both believers and unbelievers, are fallen sinners that often do bad things. The true believer should always be growing toward more Christ-likeness in the process of sanctification.
In God’s sight, it is totally unacceptable for a Christian to refuse to forgive others. Remember the parable of the master who forgave a guilty man who owed him an amount so enormous that he could never hope to pay it back? The master completely forgave him. But, afterward, that forgiven man roughly grabbed another who owed him a very small amount, and allowed him no time to repay—showed him no mercy—and threw him into prison. When the master heard of this, he was FURIOUS and his punishment was swift.
In that parable, the Master represents God. And the forgiven man represents you—if you have similarly FAILED to forgive another, when Christ’s blood has paid your unpayable debt to God, and He has forgiven you for everything you have ever done wrong—and for your continuing failures to do everything that is truly right and good.
“In a word, live together in the forgiveness of your sins, for without it no human fellowship…can survive. Don’t insist on your rights, don’t blame each other, don’t judge or condemn each other, don’t find fault with each other, but accept each other as you are, and forgive each other every day from the bottom of your hearts…” —Dr. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Letters and Papers from Prison
Again, the strongest theme of this film, I think is that of forgiveness and its importance in a person’s life. This is a thoroughly biblical concept. And this is not only vitally important for our relationships now, but it is eternally important for our relationship with God. The Lord Jesus said:
“but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” —Matthew 6:15
There is some strong thematic material, a brief fight and some characters yell at each other. There is some drinking and some foul language (listed below), including moderate profanity, but none of this is said by Mr. Rogers, and it seems to be used to reveal the character of certain people. There is brief cleavage, and a husband and wife are seen together in a bed, but clothed.
Fred Rogers is portrayed as a vegetarian and says, “I just can’t imagine eating anything with a mother.”
“A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood” is highly worth seeing. Overall, it’s clean and wholesome, and has Christian themes. The theme of forgiveness and kindness is refreshing, and the world is in big need of it. Further, it’s a movie that can be used for productive conversation afterward—expounding upon some of the themes and discussing some of the issues. Don’t forget to pray for Tom Hanks and the others actors and people behind this movie, specifically that they would know Christ for who He truly is, and receive His wonderful forgiveness and kindness!
See list of Relevant Issues—questions-and-answers.