While others may hold another view, I think the latest Nicholas Sparks novel-made-movie, The Choice, is both deeply spiritual and one of the best films of the year. Starring Benjamin Walker, Theresa Palmer, Tom Wilkinson, Maggie Grace, and Alexandra Daddario, the visual toast to North Carolina is also a tribute to the depth of love and true commitment.
Yes, I have heard it said that Nicholas Sparks’ books-into-movies (remember The Notebook?) are “romdumb reads” and hanky-pulling “chick flicks” and thus not for us “real men.” And I’m also aware that such films are called “Hollywood formula tear-jerkers.” So why should I pay to see such an “average studio cliche” movie, let alone waste an entire blog writing about it?
Well it isn’t just The Choice I’m interested in but rather where it takes anyone with an open heart in their experience. And I’m also interested in dispelling the notion that emotions and romance are just for women and that a man can’t learn, expand, and rise by looking and feeling deeply within.
Now what does all this have to do with primal spirituality? To my view when most people witness a well-crafted, beautifully told narrative for the heart such as The Choice, they leave the theater realizing how very important love is. Not just love in general but love in specific. By that I mean how very important it is to express all-inclusive love and to never become complacent about those closest to us. Somehow when I see a gourmet heart-tug film of this kind, I feel my love from and for the universe (which is one of the “actors” in this film) increase in both my perception and my expression.
Such a message reminds us of who we are and that we are first and foremost spiritual beings on earth to be of service to the whole of creation. More practically, we are here to be of service to those we see day in and day out. Although one lead character in the film, Travis (Benjamin Walker) holds the line with his partner (Theresa Palmer) about not relinquishing his atheism, we witness him profoundly expressing his spirituality when his love is put to the test. While initially some characters seem more religious or spiritual than others, it does not matter who says what about God on the surface. Why? Because when they are truly tested by the likely loss of someone who symbolizes spirit in their lives, the primary characters all rise together. They become selfless and devoted to love. Their primal spirituality comes forth and shines.
How can such universal themes be important for only one gender? As a man, I love to be reminded that I can feel more deeply, express more care, be more sensitized to the world of others, and love as never before. Most of the real men I know feel the same way. The notion that a “real man” is never vulnerable, is emotionally “superior” to women by being “always under control,” and is only in love with sports, super-heroes, war, and action/adventure movies, seems terribly dated and two-dimensional.
To be sure, I am not suggesting that all “tear-jerkers” are well made any more than films from any other genre. Nor am I suggesting that the mere releasing of emotions of any kind makes one a man, or a woman, or a good film for that matter. And finally I’m not denying that some genres do appeal more to different demographics and to one gender.
But when such a film hits the mark, we become beyond category as an audience and we also become, as Dryden put it, “like an oft-forded stream….seen clear through to the bottom.” We see the ways that we have been emotionally cauterized and self-possessed. So we realize personal change is necessary.
Depending upon the plot and its effectiveness, people may leave the theater saying “I must be more loving of my partner 24/7/365,” or saying “my children and family need me far more and in deeper ways than I have ever seen.” Or perhaps we leave thinking “what am I really doing for mankind, beginning with those right next to me? “
In short, although I acknowledge those who say “I don’t see those kinds of films because they are so schmaltzy,” ultimately, when such a film hits the mark, it is much more inspiring than it is saccharine. Indeed you may well be inspired more than “handkerchiefed” by The Choice.
Although I will not deliver a spoiler (so a spoiler alert is not necessary), I do want to say that the unsung heroes and greatest presence in the film are the stars. No, I don’t mean the movie stars, although Tom Wilkinson and Theresa Palmer are definitely stand-outs. I mean the images of the universe throughout the film and all that they symbolize.
There is one spoiler alert that I do wish to give. It is about how our lives themselves will turn out. The title of the film, The Choice, pertains to how every decision we make in life can have unforeseen consequences with great impact upon others. If we make the choice not just to screen but to be a “heart opener,” we can have untold positive influence upon our world.
Whether we are man or woman, film-goer or media abstinent, why not choose to experience our true spirituality by opening our hearts to whom we truly are? That is the choice that makes a true difference to ourselves, to our significant others—indeed all others become truly significant—and to the stars.
DR. TOM COOPER is currently guest scholar at the East-West Center, University of Hawaii, Stanford and Berkeley and professor at Emerson College (Boston). Musician, black belt, and playwright, he has written eight books and two hundred published articles, been advisor to the Elders Project (with Nelson Mandela, Kofi Annan, Jimmy Carter and others), co-nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, and is co-publisher of MEDIA ETHICS magazine.