I'd mentioned on Monday that - about four weeks late - I finally managed to see the film 'The Pursuit of Happyness.' Believe it or not, that movie actually has been holding up this blog. So many people have written to ask what I thought about the movie that it seemed like a natural post, but all of the catch-up work that we have to do at the beginning of the year kept me from seeing the film until about four weeks after I'd planned to see it.
But first things first. If you haven't seen 'The Pursuit of Happyness,' it's really worth your time. Not only is the film itself just beautifully done, but the story of Chris Gardner is the kind of story that we ought to hear about more often. He is a living testament to both the strength of the human spirit, and the power of human kindness.
It's easy to see why, in discussing 'The Pursuit of Happyness,' people tend to focus more on the former theme than on the latter. After all, Gardner's own story is both powerful and inspirational. Suddenly homeless and the sole guardian of his young son, Gardner literally started 'at the bottom' as a stockbroker-in-training at Dean Witter Reynolds and worked his way up to become the founder of his own brokerage firm. He did this through sheer determination and hard work - and so it's no wonder that so many people see Gardner's achievements as a testament to Gardner's personal strength & determination (and, by extension, the strength of the human spirit.)
But I think that for me, the more important theme of the film is summed up by a deceptively poignant 'joke' that Gardner's son tells early in the film. The joke goes something like this: A man is drowning. A boat pulls up along side him and offers to help, but the man waves the boat off saying, 'Don't worry, God will save me!' A second boat pulls up, and the same thing happens. Eventually, the man drowns. As he stands before God, the drowned man says, 'Hey God, I had faith in you. Why didn't you come and save me?' God's response: 'You dummy. I sent you two boats!'
(***Warning: if you haven't seen the film, you might want to stop here. Spoilers follow.***)
For me, 'The Pursuit of Happyness' - Gardner's story - isn't just about the determination of one man who, against all odds, was able to rise above adversity, because one thing we see from the film is that Gardner's strength alone wouldn't have allowed him to overcome his desperate circumstances. In fact, if you really think about it, time and again, and despite his personal strength, Gardner ought not to have succeeded. Consider these moments in the film, for example:
On the face of it, Gardner's resume (which showed that he didn't have the education typically required of a new stockbroker) shouldn't have gotten him in the door at Dean Witter Reynolds. And yet, a manager at that firm, noting Gardner's determination, has compassion for him and offers him 'a break' - an interview.
For his interview at Dean Witter Reynolds, Gardner, having just been released from jail because of the parking tickets he'd failed to pay, arrives paint-stained and wearing nothing but a T-shirt and crumby pants. Most hiring managers would've dismissed Mr. Gardner out of pocket for this reason alone - but again, when Gardner explains his situation (and notably, he tells the truth), these people have compassion for him and offer him an internship anyway.
Ultimately, Gardner lands the job as a stockbroker because he manages to sign up the largest number of new accounts for Dean Witter Reynolds during his internship. The reason? Both hard work and because - from out of nowhere - the CFO of a large company offers to take him and his son to a football game, where Gardner makes the contacts that allow him to land the deals that ultimately will change his life.
(***Spoilers End Here***)
Now, this is not to say that Gardner's hard work wasn't fundamental to his success. It's just that, despite his own determination and hard work, Gardner probably would not have succeeded had it not been for the kindness and compassion of those he encountered at his darkest moments - the 'boats' that came for him, just as he was about to drown.
But I really love this film because it goes out of its way to show that compassion really has to be a two way street. After all, the helping hands that reached out to Gardner throughout this life - these 'boats' that miraculously appeared when all hope seemed lost - wouldn't have made one bit of difference in the end if Gardner hadn't had both the strength and common sense to climb aboard and start paddling.
That's what I took away from 'The Pursuit of Happyness,' and it's the reason I think I enjoyed it so much. Nothing feels better than watching what happens when human compassion meets personal determination.
If you'd like to share your comments, I'd love to read them. As always, you can just post a comment to this blog, or you can write to me personally at firstname.lastname@example.org
More shortly - have a great evening!