Having opened November 20, The Blind Side has already grossed nearly $150M in telling the story of Baltimore Ravens left tackle, Michael Oher (pronounced “oar,” Quinton Aaron), a former homeless high school kid from the projects of Memphis, who is brought into a family of a rich white people, the Tuohys (pronounced, “Two-ee”) and given a home. If that were the extent of this movie, then it would have easily and inevitably veered off into a sappy, Hallmark Channel vehicle, capturing only the attention of some bored kids on Saturday afternoon. But this is not a movie about white guilt or Republican racial angst. In the end, it’s a movie about the gospel.
The movie begins with a dozen or so replays of the Monday Night Football Lawrence Taylor hit on Joe Theismann that shattered the leg of and ended the career of the latter. This wince inducing video (I did not watch the replays then and I do not watch them now) is necessary to explain why Oher’s eventual football position, left tackle on the offensive line, is so important: it protects the quarterback’s blind side. Thus, the movie reasons, since the quarterback is generally the highest payed player on the team, the left tackle is the second most important player on the team.
We are quickly introduced to “Big Mike” as a hulking, but gentle presence whose worldly belongings are a light blue golf shirt, a pair of shorts and some old high top sneakers. His other shirt is kept in a grocery bag. He “borrows” dryer time at a local laundromat after washing his shirt in the sink for free. In another scene Big Mike is seen picking up leftover popcorn after the school volleyball game. He’s been away from his crack addicted mother since he cannot remember how old and ran away from every foster home he had ever called home. His case worker calls him “a runner.”The only person in the Tuohy family who knows anything about Big Mike is the pre-teen son, SJ (played with regular hilarity by Jae Head), but on their way home one cold, rainy night the family happens upon Oher walking down the road on his way to the school gym, planning to stay the night because “it’s warm there,” and, after a brief road-side interview, Leigh Anne Tuohy (Bullock) decides to bring him home for the night. This decision, while generous, is not portrayed as necessarily righteous. She puts some sheets and blankets on the couch for their guest, then heads downstairs in the morning with some expectation that, like an inner city Jean Valjean, Oher had stolen away carrying the silverware in his grocery bag.
Interestingly, nearly the entire first half of the movie is devoted to telling the story of the relationship between the Tuohy’s and Oher: Thanksgiving dinner shared around the table instead of in front of the TV, being the only black kid in an all white Christian school (“the fly in the milk” as he is called at one point) while dealing with both his social and learning struggles. When the football portion of the movie comes to the fore, it does so well-the relationship story is not jettisoned for a bunch of hitting and grunting. On the contrary it works to strengthen it. (I will say that many of the real life coaches, Nick Saban especially, are woefully stiff on camera making Mark Richt’s turn in Facing the Giants seem downright Oscar worthy.)
It’s as Leigh Anne is drawn into Michael’s life, trying to peel back the layers of the onion that the movie becomes a picture of the gospel. She’s simply unwilling to be a bystander on the edge of his life. She drives him to the projects where he grew up in a vain attempt to find his mother, then endeavors to find her without him at another time. The end of that encounter says more without words than many scenes say with pages of dialogue. Instead of cutting to another scene when it would be easy, the director stays with it allowing it to reach a poignant climax.
The ministry of the gospel is so real in this movie that it does not depend on it being preached. It truly is an effort at Assisi’s, “Preach the gospel at all times and, when necessary, use words.” This is not a story specifically aimed at the death, burial and resurrection of Christ, but whether the results of those momentous events can be lived out and how. In those words of Jesus that we love to proclaim, yet are usually loath to live, “For I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took me in; I was naked and you clothed me” (Matthew 25:35, 36).
When we exited the theater, Abigail and I were discussing the movie itself, that this is what a “Christian movie” should be, people in all their flaws. This is not the silly, shallow “the wind stops blowing so my kid can make a field goal” type of spirituality of Facing the Giants where “God’s in control” and everything works out in the end. While Oher is rescued and makes the NFL in real life (a fact saved almost until the credits), that revelation is preceded immediately by vivid reminders that many do not make it out of violent, gang related lives. It is the triumph and the challenge. The Tuohy’s both swear; not incessantly, but some. Leigh Anne wears skirts so tight you wonder how she gets any circulation in her butt. These are realities that make some Christians very uncomfortable, but it’s where people are–even believers. People are a mess–even believers. But, as Tuohy notes, reaching out to Michael changed her. Her family and Oher are alternately being the presence of Jesus and receiving His presence, which, I think, is why Jesus said, “Give expecting nothing in return.” It is not in the changing of another person that we are changed, it is in being like Christ that we are changed.
The Blind Side, by Alcon Entertainment, stars Sandra Bullock, Tim McGraw, Quinton Aaron, Jae Head, Lilly Collins, Kathy Bates, and Ray McKinion. It is rated PG-13 for one scene involving brief violence, drug and sexual references.