A Walk to Remember

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In Theaters


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Steven Isaac

Movie Review

Jamie Sullivan is a jewel of a girl. Kind, compassionate and meek, yet witty, strong and resolved. But that’s not all. Jamie is a Christian. Sure, she’s the daughter of a Baptist minister, but that’s not what defines her faith. She has her own relationship with God; she’s not merely the product of her environment.

Landon Carter, meanwhile, is a wretch of a boy. Sullen. Directionless. Unruly. He doesn’t know it yet, but there’s a spark inside of him that is about to be fanned into flame. Jamie is the one who blows on that spark, but it’s his own journey of faith that ignites it.

Disciplined for after-school recklessness, Landon is forced to participate in the school play. He reluctantly turns to Jamie for help with his lines. At first he’s loathe to let any of his friends know he’s spending time with the far-too-plain-to-be-cool Jamie, but that soon changes. From their two separate worlds, Jamie and Landon are inexorably drawn together. Romantic love seems inevitable for the pair (at least for those of us watching) from their first confrontation. “You have to promise me you won’t fall in love with me,” Jamie quips. “That won’t be a problem,” Landon replies. It will be a problem. But not the kind either one of them anticipates.

Based on the book by Nicholas Sparks (also responsible for the recent Message in a Bottle), A Walk to Remember is just what its title implies. Pop star Mandy Moore infuses youthful passion into her heart-wrenching portrayal of Jamie. Shane West (who plays Eli on TV’s Once and Again) nurtures a rare subtlety and depth as he fleshes out “bad boy” Landon. Together they navigate a winding road full of plot twists you would never forgive me for exposing here. This much I will reveal: Don’t leave home without a tissue.

positive elements/spiritual content: While Jamie is the butt of jokes and the object of ridicule among her classmates, she not only wins in the end, but it is she who holds moviegoers’ empathy throughout. This is no cardboard caricature. Moore has turned Jamie into a living, breathing Christian that you can cheer for and cry for. When a rudely doctored photo of her wearing nothing but sexy underwear circulates at school, it’s only funny to those who perpetrated the prank. Theater audiences care only for how this cruelty makes Jamie feel. Even in the wake of such treatment, Jamie is never ashamed of her faith. Neither is she snobbish or self-righteous. Snappy comebacks reveal a cultural awareness and sly wit not often present in Christian characters.

One vivid evidence of Jamie’s vital Christian walk is her commitment to virginity. Even while falling desperately in love with Landon, she never once contemplates sleeping with him outside of marriage. They kiss. They hold hands. That’s it. Period. In return, Landon earnestly honors and respects her for her commitment. There’s a refreshing innocence about their friendship and courtship.

Jamie’s father is harder to embrace. He comes across a bit harsh at times, refusing at first to even allow Landon to take her out on a date (she’s 18 years old at the time) and accusing Jamie of “sinning” when he catches them kissing in the front yard. But he mellows in time (early concerns that Reverend Sullivan will be vilified as a religious weirdo and overbearing parent find welcome release as the story unfolds) and his caustic personality is used to help illustrate two important biblical concepts: faith and forgiveness. “I’m just asking you to do for me what you preach to us every day in church,” Landon pleads with him. “To have faith in me.” Hitting him from the other side, Jamie urges him to forgive Landon for his unruly past since he has begun to show a dramatic change.

Landon never accepts Christ as his personal Savior onscreen. But the tangible fruits of his transformation are of spiritual proportions. Christ is the only one capable of effecting permanent change in a man’s life. Landon evidences just that sort of conversion. Human love for another person only lasts so long. Christ’s love and reconstructive work lasts forever. It will be impossible for Christian viewers to conclude that Landon is merely responding to a pheromonal attraction to Jamie.

In a subplot, Landon grapples with his feelings for a father who walked out on him and his mom. At a school play in which Landon stars, his father tries to approach him. Landon quickly flees the scene. “Landon, don’t walk away,” his father yells after him. Landon retorts, “You taught me how,” and keeps moving. Left there, one would have a splendid illustration of the powerful impact parents’ actions have on the lives of their children. But it’s not left there. Reconciliation and a hint at forgiveness come later.

As stated, Landon’s friends make fun of Jamie at almost every opportunity. And they direct their derision at Landon when he sides with her. Then the tide turns. One by one, as the film winds down, they each seek out Landon and express sorrow for their hurtful actions and harsh words. They aren’t changed forever as Landon is, but even removed as they are from the central story line, they realize what’s right and that they haven’t done it.

All of this is accentuated by two passionate readings of 1 Corinthians 13 and heavy doses of gospel music (Switchfoot, Jars of Clay and Rachael Lampa have songs placed throughout the film, and Jamie sings in the church choir).

sexual content: One of Landon’s friends cracks several crude jokes about sex, most of them targeting Jamie. “[She’ll] put it on a brother like a pop tart,” he laughs. Later, he makes suggestive sexual motions with his body while mocking a scene from the school play. “Booty shaking” comes up once. Jamie silences her critics, however, with her unimpeachable purity.

violent content: Early on, Landon and Co. engage in dangerous horseplay. A boy is injured after jumping from a great height into a shallow pool of water. Speeding away from the scene, Landon is pursued by police and crashes his car. Defending Jamie’s honor, Landon punches one of his friends in the face.

crude or profane language: Two dozen profanities (half of them s-words) litter the dialogue of Landon and his buddies. They aren’t gratuitous in that they are used to provide contrast between Jamie (she never swears) and her worldly classmates, but they will make it difficult for many families to get through the early minutes of the film, where most of the foul language is confined.

drug and alcohol content: Teens drink beer at a secluded hangout. Landon and a buddy mimic smoking marijuana as part of a “secret” handshake.

other negative elements: [Spoiler Warning] At least two additional sticking points (both of them spiritual in nature) are bound to generate a few frowns from Christian moviegoers. Because Landon’s spiritual transformation is never overtly specified, it is of some concern that Jamie marries him at the end of the movie (read 2 Corinthians 6:13-15 for why it’s a concern). Even to begin dating him, knowing that he is an unbeliever, puts Jamie in a precarious position. And if her actions are emulated, they will place young Christians in potentially compromising relationships. Also, when Jamie’s father questions what God’s will is for her in regard to Landon, Jamie responds, “I think He wants me to be happy.” Yes, He does (John 10:10; Psalm 16:11). But there’s so much more to it than that. Leaving a discussion of God’s will at such a simplistic, fuzzy-slipper, feel-good level is at best spiritually stunting.

conclusion: A Walk to Remember is an antidote to Hollywood’s raging cynicism about Christian values. For teens, onscreen “coolness” and validation is almost always achieved by a disengagement from parental authority, moral values and/or spiritual faith. Jamie Sullivan achives it while holding on to her faith, her father and her values. She never compromises. She never swerves. And in the process, she exerts great influence on everyone around her.

Mandy Moore was excited to play such a strong teen role model. She told Plugged In, “I remember someone telling me, ‘Every role that you choose to take on in a film, when you are done with that film and done with that experience, you are going to walk away with a piece of that character embedded within your soul for the rest of your life.’ What better person to play than this angelic, straightforward, honest, intelligent person. I’ve never met anyone like her in my life. . . . Playing Jamie has actually brought me closer to God and inspired me to go to church more. It was really nice to take that piece of the character away with me. It’s so nice to be a part of a teen movie that’s so positive. There are so many other movies for kids to go see that are about sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll. They’re all about losing your virginity before prom night or college. Jamie shows people the other way to go about things.”

Christian teens, girls in particular, who watch Jamie will walk away thinking many of those same thoughts. They may even aspire to be like Jamie. And Jamie is just the kind of inspiration Christian teens almost never see at their local cineplex. There are things to disapprove of in A Walk to Remember (coarse language, first and foremost), but while Christianity is usually presented as an illness one must recover from, A Walk to Remember vehemently disagrees with that diagnosis.

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Steven Isaac