You might recall the horrifying news headlines nearly seven years ago reporting that a 13-year-old surfer lost her left arm during a shark attack in the waters off of Tunnels Beach in Hawaii.
Bethany Hamilton had been surfing with friends on Halloween morning in 2003 in crystal clear, calm waters, when the 15-foot tiger shark attacked.
Bethany’s story dominated the national news cycles immediately after the attack, and she appeared on ABC News, 20/20, Good Morning America and Inside Edition, to name a few, but in more recently years, she hasn’t been in the headlines.
What has happened to her since?
Movie viewers can catch up with Bethany in “Soul Surfer,” a Sony Pictures production starring AnnaSophia Robb, as Bethany, Helen Hunt and Dennis Quaid as her parents, and country music superstar Carrie Underwood in her film debut as Sarah, the youth leader at Bethany’s Christian church, Calvary Chapel, Kauai.
The film not only tells a good story with the drama of the attack and Bethany’s struggle to reconstruct her life without her left arm, culminating with an intense, dramatic surfing competition, but it also isn’t afraid to have God as part of the equation in Bethany’s recovery.
As the film starts, life couldn’t be more perfect for the Hamilton family. A close-knit family living in beautiful Hawaii, their days are filled with sun, surfing and family togetherness. In an early scene, Bethany is called from the water by her older brother so she can attend an outdoor church service with the rest of her family. Another early scene shows Bethany attending a youth group meeting with Underwood inviting the youth to travel on a mission trip.
Read the Catholic News Service movie review of “Soul Surfer”
She was initially planning on attending the mission trip, but surfing, much to the disappointment of her youth minister, Sarah, took priority. She was a rising star on the competitive surfing scene and in fact, landed a contract with a local surf shop.
All that changed, however, on Halloween morning in 2003. The glorious day at the beach turned into a life and death battle after the shark comes from nowhere to attack the young surfer. This is likely the scene in the movie which warrants the PG (parental guidance) rating. The red spreading through the water is a bit stomach turning, but that’s about as graphic as it gets.
“She is a living miracle,” the doctor tells Tom (Quaid) Hamilton, as he sits by her hospital bed reading the Bible.
While her family assures Bethany that God will give her the strength to get through this, she wonders aloud, “How can this be God’s plan for me? I don’t understand.”
Accepting that life has changed is not easy for her. While she puts on a brave face, she’s frustrated when she can no longer do little things like making a sandwich. Viewers can feel her understandable twinge of jealously as she watches her friend be photographed for the surf shop ad, something they had been scheduled to do together.
But, Bethany pushes forward and eventually tells her family she’s ready to get back on her surfboard. While she puts forth a valiant effort, her first competition is a disaster, so much so, that on her way to the parking lot, she gives her surfboards away to young fans suggesting that surfing is no longer part of her life.
Without surfing, Bethany revisits the idea of mission work and accompanies the group on a mission to Phuket, Thailand after the devastating 2004 tsunami in the Pacific Ocean. Here, thousands of miles from her home, she finds a new sense of hope and purpose and a new perspective on life. Maybe God has a plan for her after all.
Bethany’s story is a wonderful, inspirational tale of triumph over disaster. Her victory is possible through her determination and hard work, but also because of her faith in God. That faith is evident throughout the film in subtle, and not-so-subtle ways, but for the most part it comes across as a natural part of her family’s life.
According to Bethany’s website, bethanyhamilton.com, the term “soul surfer,” is a term coined in the 1970s used to describe a talented surfer who surfs for the sheer pleasure of it. Although they may still enter competitions, a soul surfer’s motives go beyond winning.
The term describes Bethany perfectly and shows how when her life was rocked to its core, and she faced the ultimate test of perhaps losing her life’s focus, she dug deep into her soul and found that her faith in God would carry her through.
Soul Surfer will open in theaters Friday, April 8.