Faith Review – The Help (2011)
Faith Review of The Help
by Tommy Holderness
Director: Tate Taylor. Taylor grew up in Jackson, Mississippi – the location of the film. He was born in the late 1960’s, so he had first-hand knowledge of the content of the movie. He has known the author of The Help since preschool.
Original release form / venue: Theaters in the United States and then around the world.
Current Availability and formats: The movie is available on DVD and Blu-Ray. Various scenes are available on YouTube.
Story outline: The movie focuses on two groups of women and how their lives intersect. The white world focuses on young women who are learning how to run their own house, getting married and having children. One of those women, Skeeter, is a recent college graduate who is taking a different path. She is single, has a job, and still lives at home. Having just returned from college, she’s an aspiring novelist and has trouble rejoining her old friends’ social circle. Another woman is Hilly Holbrook, who is the clear leader of the young white women and who is extremely racist. Another featured woman is Elizabeth, a mousy woman who bends to every order of Hilly.
The other group is the maids who work for these women. The two featured are Aibilene and Minny. Aibilene works for Elizabeth. Minny works for Hilly until she is fired and goes to work for a woman who is never accepted by Hilly or her friends.
Skeeter wants to write a novel about something that disturbs her that has not been written. She asks Aibilene for her story – her view of what it’s like to be a maid. Reluctantly, Aibilene agrees to tell her story, as does Minny. After Hilly has her maid arrested, many other maids agree to tell Skeeter their stories too (using fake names).
After Skeeter’s book is published (under a pseudonym), the town (Jackson Mississippi) is abuzz as people try to figure out if the stories are true, whether the people are from Jackson, and who the chapters are about. Minny’s story about Hilly is so embarrassing that Hilly goes to great length to convince people that the book is not about Jackson. Hilly also seeks to get revenge on Minny, Aibilene and Skeeter.
Although the maids’ story is told, there is no indication that any of the white woman have changed at the end of the movie (other than Celia learning to cook and Skeeter’s mother gaining respect for Skeeter).
Film language / elements: The movie is dialogue based, heavily dependent on the interaction between the main actresses. Most scenes involve close up facial shots to emphasize the speaker.
The music is generally from the 1960’s.
Audience / cultural context elements: This movie appeals to middle age and older adults as well as all females. People who remember the 1960’s and 1970’s may have lived through such relationships, and society is still segregated to an extent that the movie talks to us in our current lives.
The film is critical of white’s treatment of blacks. Although one gets the feeling that a majority of the town is racist, only a few of the main characters are. Thus, the movie dulls the pain that could be felt in a movie such as this.
Theology: The theology of the film is largely implicit although there are a few brief church scenes.
Theological themes for conversation: The film touches on a lot of theological themes. Questions that could be discussed include:
How does a Christian help someone?
Why is it often easier to help people across the world instead of those we see every day?
How can our prayers help tell our story?
How does God give us courage?
What’s worse: to be evil and act accordingly, or to know better but act as if you are evil?
What are the risks and rewards of crossing boundaries and asking someone else for their story?
What are our defining characteristics? Who are we?
Recommended ways to view and engage the film: This is a great movie with many different themes. One option would be to have people watch the movie in advance and then discuss a different question each session. Another option would be to show individual clips targeted towards specific questions.
Scene five encompasses two questions: how can our prayers help tell our story and how God gives us courage. I would show that clip and ask people to talk about their prayers: how they pray, whether they write them, the effect of writing them, and what they pray about. I’d also ask people to talk about what God demands of us and how we respond.
To discuss who we are, I would show scene fifteen. I would focus on Aibiliene’s moment with Mae Mobely but also discuss Elizabeth and her inability to control her own relationships.
To discuss how Christians should help each other, I’d show scene six where Hilly’s maid asks for a loan. I would ask when tough love is appropriate (not that Hilly loves her maid) and how we sometimes just use it as an excuse.
If I showed the entire movie, I would ask people to comment on Elizabeth and Hilly: specifically whether they thought Hilly or Elizabeth knew what how they were behaving was wrong, and if one did and one did not, which was worse. I’d also ask why we often let others – but not God – dictate how we act. Or put another way, why some people (Elizabeth) listen to other people while others listen to God (Aibilene).
If I showed the whole movie, I would also ask people to discuss the risks and rewards of asking someone else for their story. You also would have to use the whole movie to discuss whether it is easier to help someone you know or someone you don’t.
Conclusion: This movie and the characters are powerful and it would be easy to discuss the many perspectives and their relationships with each other. The film may touch a nerve with older people who lived in the South during the 60’s, but it would be effective in engaging people in discussion.