Faith Review – Letters to God (2010)
by Jeff Smith
Film Title: Letters to God
Year: April 9, 2010
Director(s): Directed by David Nixon and Patrick Doughtie. Nixon directed Making Waves (1998) and has also produced other Christian focused films such as, Facing the Giants (2006) and Fireproof (2008). Doughtie makes his first debut co-directing with Nixon in Letters to God.
Original Release Form/Venue:
Originally released for theaters.
Current Availability and Formats:
Released onto DVD on August 10, 2010 but not yet available on blu-ray disc. Available on Netflix. Clips available through Wingclips.com and Hulu.com.
Christian Drama – PG, 110 Minutes
The plot of the film is central as it shows a story of what happens when one boy’s walk of faith crosses paths with one man’s search for meaning. The resulting transformational journey touches the lives of everyone around them. Tyler Doherty (Tanner Maguire) is an extraordinary eight-year-old boy. Surrounded by a loving family and community, and armed with the courage of his faith, he faces his daily battle against cancer with bravery and grace. To Tyler, God is a friend, a teacher and the ultimate pen pal. Tyler’s prayers take the form of letters, which he composes and mails on a daily basis. The letters find their way into the hands of Brady McDaniels (Jeffrey Johnson), an alcoholic postman with a past that haunts him, who is standing at a crossroads in his life. At first, he is confused and conflicted over what to do with the letters. But the decision he ultimately makes becomes a testament to the quiet power of one boy’s shining spirit and unshakable faith.
Tyler is the primary character in the film that is battling cancer and trying to serve God faithfully in the midst of it. Brady is the other central character who is struggling to get his life together, and yet impacted by Tyler’s amazing humility and grace, when by God’s providence they cross paths. The film weaves in and out of the story, as Tyler narrates parts of his day, or says his prayers as the camera pans different parts of the day.
Film Language Elements:
Camera angles are central as the camera focuses on the cross above Brady, when he ponders redemption, or when the camera focuses on the chemo treatment of Tyler. The camera often pans in a Ken Burns effect, or fades between scenes. Camera fades often transition between Brady and Tyler as he reads his letters and his prayers are read. At different points in the movie, there are flashbacks shown on screen of things that have happened in their lives, or that were previously seen in the movie.
Music is also central as particular songs are played at different times in the movie to heighten the emotional sensitivity to what is taking place. The movie has a good soundtrack including Rascal Flatts, and Addison Road.
Audience/Cultural Context Elements:
This film is geared toward a Christian based family audience. It uses the backdrop of a true story to show others that God can work through anyone, bringing about redemption in the lives of others. It is evangelical in nature as it seeks to spread the good news of the gospel, but the reality is that the title of the film sells its content and is a stumbling block for those who could care less. Therefore, the audience who is most drawn to watch becomes those who seek good wholesome movies that have a Christian message to them.
The film brings to life the reality that many children suffer from diseases such as cancer everyday and the toll it takes on a family who is living through it. The movie opens the average persons eyes to see their struggles and difficulties, but at the same time to witness the joy and the unshakable faith of God’s promises. David Nixon, the co-director, is continuing a path of Christian drama films that are low budget but are faithful to engaging their audience with the story of a God who is in control of our lives and cares about us.
Theology is Found:
Theology is found explicitly in this film. The title of the film lives up to its name, “Letters to God.” Tyler has a family with deep faith, which is in dark contrast to the fill in postman who begins to read his letters. There is multiple times where prayers are offered in Jesus’ name throughout the movie. Everyone in town seems to have a strong faith, which undergirds their lives. This faith becomes infectious and ultimately impacts the life of Brady the postman.
Theological Themes for Conversation:
Prayer – how do you pray, what do you pray for?
Bitterness at God for illness and death
Fear of being picked on by peers for looking different due to illness
What would Jesus do? (treating others who don’t understand your illness)
Listening to God
Purpose in life – what is it?
Being chosen by God to be one of God’s warriors
Pointing others to God in all of life’s situations
Jealousy of others attention/lashing out in anger
Redemption – is it really possible?
Superficial Christianity – clichés’ vs. truth
In life and in death we all belong to God – life is a gift
Eternity – where will I go?
Suggested Use of Film:
This film is best used as an illustration or example of the theological themes it presents.
Recommended Amount/Parts of Film to View & How to View It:
This film could be used in one of two ways: it could be seen in its entirety and then discussed following, or you could use particular clips from the film to engage in theological conversation. I think it would be better to watch it all if possible, but if not, you will need to set up the scene with the background of the movie for everyone to understand it.
Sometimes “Christian dramas” can be quite cheesy and come across as a second rate film. While this particular film certainly has those elements at times – the acting is not superb, and sometimes the writing is quite predictable; the movie has a great message and is based on the true story of a child who died from cancer at an early age. This film reminds us that life is a gift and that regardless of our age, that God is able to use our lives to bring Him glory and change the lives of others.