There are not many Christian films that I find worth a second watching–much less a third. But this one does. As Gianna Jessen, the inspiration for the film said, “I laughed so hard and cried so hard, and healed.” OctoberBaby is a celebration of life, of love, of adoption, of forgiveness, delivering it’s message with wit, with passion and with skill.
Sadly, many Christians I’ve talked to dislike the film and call it too “worldly” because in it they see applications of modesty principles applied differently than they do, because they see Christian characters making bad choices and putting themselves in compromising circumstances, because they see a “rebellious” daughter and a father who apologizes and pass the film off as a quasi-Christian imitation of the secular glorification of teenage-rebellion.
“It’s just another Flicka. Just another Little Mermaid. Just another Finding Nemo.”
And they’re wrong.
Because the movie is bigger than teenage rebellion. Because it dares to be bigger than a simplistic “I’m sorry. You were right, I was wrong.” Because it takes sin seriously and it takes the gospel seriously. And because it dares to be a real story not a cleverly dressed-up sermon with clear-cut black hats and white hats and characters taken from illustrations rather than real-life. We need both preachers and storytellers but they’re not the same thing.
When Hannah sets out on a road trip with her parents’ permission–though not their blessing or full knowledge of her intentions–she is struggling with more than parental authority, she is struggling with her identity.
“I feel dead inside.” Hannah writes in her diary.
“No something worse than death.
I am still a child, a child trying to find a place in this world.
I have so many unanswered questions, questions I feel but can’t even begin to speak because there are no words to express them.
Something is missing.
Why do I feel unwanted?
Why do I feel I have no right to exist?
Why do I spend more time wanting to end my life than live it?”
When Hannah hits the road, she had just found out she was adopted–and not only that, but that she is an abortion survivor. Her birth mother tried to kill her. Hannah had always struggled with feelings of worthlessness, feelings that told her she had no right to be alive and now she has the confirmation. And more than that, her adoptive parents kept her in the dark for eighteen years about the real cause of all her health-problems and then violated her trust by handing over her private diary to a doctor without her knowledge or consent. Grieved and confused, not knowing who to turn to or trust, Hannah now sets all her hope on finding her birth mother, thinking that everything will sort itself out when she meets her, that she’ll finally know who she is and why she survived. But when Hannah’s birth mother refuses to acknowledge her and Hannah’s dad discovers Hannah’s ulterior motives for taking the trip and storms to Mobile, Alabama to take her home, all of Hannah’s hopes shatter.
The trip didn’t hold the answers she was looking for and instead, left her more confused and hurt than ever. “Why did my brother die and I live?” This is the burning question. The unanswerable question. The question that haunts us all. Her survival was certainly not based on merit but nor was it an accident.
Talking to a priest in a chapel her mother used to visit, Hannah comes to realize that her very state of unforgiveness–unforgiveness for her birth mother who tried to abort her and unforgiveness for her parents who were not wise in guiding her through her past–is sin. She is given a glimpse into the ugliness of her own soul when she sees the hate she is clinging to despite all that she has been given. She had been given life though she didn’t deserve it while so many others died. She was given a loving, Christian home while so many others remained orphans. She was shown mercy and blessed beyond all belief or merit. “But how do I let go?” Hannah asks the priest and the priest’s gaze wanders to the cross at the front of the cathedral and says, “if the Son sets you free, you shall be free indeed.”
When Hannah turns to her dad at the grave of her brother and says “it’s ok, I love you” and then in the final scene when she turns back and runs to her daddy’s arms and whispers “thanks for wanting me”, she is expressing more than a simplistic, cardboard-cut-out: “I am sorry”, she is communicating the forgiveness she has found for herself in Christ that now enables her to forgive others, she is communicating the thankfulness for everything her parents have done for her that she has now been given eyes to see, repenting of her past hatred and ungratefulness.
The opposite of rebellion is not merely submission but also love and gratitude.
And this is why I uphold OctoberBaby as an example of everything a Christian movie ought to be–and everything it could be.
If you haven’t seen the movie, be sure to watch the trailer here then purchase the DVD and support great Christian films like OctoberBaby!