Faith Review – The Ultimate Gift (2007)
Film Title: The Ultimate Gift
Director(s): Michael O. Sajbel
Original release form/venue: The film was originally released in theaters.
Current Availability and formats: DVD, BluRay, and Netflix
Story Elements: Based on a novel by Jim Stovall, The Ultimate Gift tells the story of a man whose final act is to share his legacy with his family by attempting to right old wrongs and pass on a lifetime of wisdom to those he’s left behind. By most measures, Red Stevens was a success, both personally and professionally. He was a self-made billionaire, admired by his fellow oil tycoons and the undisputed head of his family. Unfortunately, the family members he has left behind are self-centered, greedy and needy. They are focused on money and nothing more. In life, Red gave them too much, too easily, but shared too little moral guidance. In death, Red is determined to set this wrong right with at least one family member, his grandson Jason, who is the only son of Red’s eldest son who died tragically years ago.
Jason, who is spoiled and cynical from his lavish trust fund and dysfunctional family, makes an appearance at the reading of Red’s will only to find out his share of the estate. Jason can barely contain his boredom and contempt for his family long enough to hear what his inheritance will be. In a videotaped message, Red announces that Jason will inherit the “ultimate” gift, but that first he must satisfactorily complete a series of twelve tasks. What Jason doesn’t realize is that the tasks are the gifts. They are meant to challenge him, make him think and force him into critical self-examination. At a ranch in Texas, he learns the gift of hard work and the satisfaction of doing something yourself and doing it right. Later, when he loses all of his money, cars and home, his “so called” friends, he discovers what a real friends is. And at the bedside of the critically ill little girl named Emily, he learns the true meaning of family.
Film Language: Filmed in Charlotte, the Ultimate Gift is a story told with humor, warmth and a simplicity that makes it easy to focus on the people and the message. There are lots of wide-angle camera shots with vibrant colors that give panoramic views of the scenery, leading one to think of the expansive beauty of God’s creation. In one scene, while discussing heaven with Jason, Emily asks him, “Did you know that God paints every color in a butterfly with his finger?’ In another scene, while sitting in the hospital chapel, we get a wide-angle shot of a statue of Jesus with his arms spread open as Jason tells Emily, “I don’t know much about God or Jesus, but I can promise you, those arms are meant for you.” The director also did a good job in the film of demonstrating the contrast between God’s created world and man’s world of the “boardroom” in the cinematography of the film. The director also used a wide variety of musical genres in the film that added appeal for a wider audience.
Audience/Cultural Context elements: The film was obviously developed with a family audience in mind. Primarily set in an urban city setting, the film also featured scenes that were designed to replicate Texas farmland, as well as an international setting; making the film more appealing to a culturally diverse audience.
Theological themes for conversation: While most films struggle to come up with even one clear message, this film has twelve. Some are theological, like the power of prayer, while others might be considered more ethical such as the value of hard work. Two of the film’s most important messages deal with the importance of forgiveness and the proper place of money in one’s life. There’s a lot of bad blood between Red and Jason, which was originally caused by the circumstances of the death of Jason’s father. Over the years, however, the anger and bitterness between them becomes compounded with interest. In the end, Jason and his grandfather are finally reconciled as Jason learns to forgive his grandfather.
Many of Jason’s tasks are meant to help him understand others, see life through their eyes and learn to forgive. He learns that forgiveness is essential to a life well spent-in friendship, family and life itself. He also learns that more money does not bring happiness. However, sharing your good fortune with those you love, those who have less, and particularly with those in dire need, can bring true happiness and deep satisfaction. At heart of The Ultimate Gift is the deep truth that a life devoted to self is empty, but that a life devoted to sharing yourself and your gifts with others, is truly a life lived to its fullest.
Suggested types of conversations: As this is a faith-based film it lends itself to a variety of theological and ethical conversations that could be developed through questions like:
- Why do you think the film was called The Ultimate Gift? What was the gift?
- Is there a relationship between Jesus’ ultimate sacrifice and the “ultimate gift”?
- The film shows the importance of one generation “passing on important lessons” to another generation. Have you ever resisted learning a lesson like Jason did in the film? When did you accept the wisdom of those lesson? Or did you? Who, in your life passed on lessons to you? What were they? Which lesson meant the most to you? Are you sharing important lessons that you have learned with others?
- In the film, Red considers “trouble” or hardship a lesson. What did Jason learn from his “troubles”? Do you agree that experiencing “troubles” can bring valuable lessons?
- Some of the main themes of the film are brokenness, forgiveness and healing. How were these demonstrated in the film?
- What does this film have to say about money?
- What does the film say about friendship and family?
- What role did faith play in the film? Who showed the most faith?
Recommended way to view and engage the film: In order to get the full intent of this film it would be best if viewed in its entirety. However, there are a number of scenes that lend themselves to topic related discussions and therefore could be used in small group settings with older teens or adults. It could also be used as a tool for engaging an intergenerational conversation.
Engaging this film in a theological conversation:
Setting: Small group study with teens.
Conversation Partner: Scripture
Read Scripture: John 13:34-35, John 15:12-13 & Philippians 2:3-4.
Discussion Question: What is the biblical description of a true friend?
Introduction of the film clip: On his second visit to his grandfather’s attorney, Jason accepts his second gift, only to learn that all of his worldly possessions, including his car and apartment have been reposed. His credit cards and his cell phone have also been cancelled as a part of his grandfather’s plan. Without any money or place to stay, Jason quickly learns who his true friends are.
Clip: Scenes 8 – 10 (25:04 – 38:52)
Questions for conversation:
- What happened once Jason lost everything that he had?
- Did Jason have any real friends?
- Why did Emily agree to be his friend?
- How was Emily’s perception of friendship different from Jason’s?
- How did Jason’s friendship with Emily change him?
- How does scripture describe true friendship?
- Do you have friends that that fit that description?
- How would you rate yourself as a friend based upon that description?
- Are there things that you are willing to do differently in order to be a real friend to someone?