Shards of Consciousness

The Pursuit of Happyness

As many of you know, Lady Glynis and I own and operate a neighborhoodmovie theatre. This past weekend we showed The Pursuit of Happyness, starring Will Smith and his son, Jaden Christopher. This isn't meant as a review of the movie. That isn't what I do here. It is meant to encourage you to see the film as an illustration of beliefs in action.

The Pursuit of Happyness is based on the true life story of Chris Gardner and takes place in the early 1980s. Chris is selling bone density scanners, and not doing very well. His wife is working double shifts as a waitress. They have a five year old son. At the beginning of
the movie Chris tells us he didn't meet his father until he was 28 years old. He is determined that his son will have a father. Money problems are causing tensions between he and his wife.

One day Chris is watching people walk in and out of a stock agency. He is amazed that almost everyone he sees look happy. He decides selling stock is what he wants to do. He finds out that Dean Witter has a competitive internship program to train, and hire, new brokers. Only one person out of each class is hired. He applies for, and gets, a spot in
the program.

As he goes through the program his finances steadily deteriorate. His wife leaves him. He loses his car. He loses his apartment. He loses the motel room to which he and his son move. They end up sleeping in a shelter. Some nights the shelter is full. They sleep on the subway. They sleep in bathrooms. He's jailed for parking tickets he didn't pay. TheIRS garnishes the money he owes for back taxes from his bank account. During the day he continues to learn life as a stock broker. On the weekends he tries to sell the scanners. He sells his blood. He makes just enough to keep food in their mouths, and his son in day care while he's working.

Finally, at the end of the movie, Chris is chosen to become a broker at Dean Witter. In an epilogue we learn he started his own firm, which he sold part of for several million dollars.

There are a lot of important things in this movie, none of which include Chris becoming rich. That isn't his goal. Chris has two main goals - to be a father to his son, and to be happy. Everything he does is driven by these two goals.

In one scene that especially stands out Chris and his son are playing basketball. The little boy talks about becoming a professional ball player. Chris tells him he wasn't very good playing basketball, so the boy shouldn't count on being very good, since kids usually have similar talents to their parents. The boy is instantly deflated. Chris thinks about what he's just done to his son and tells him

Don't ever let somebody tell you you can't do something... If you got a dream, you gotta protect it...People can't do something themselves, they tell you you can't do it. If you want something, go get it.

There aren't any villains in this movie. It doesn't tell a story of good guys and bad guys. Chris' wife isn't a villain for leaving. She wants security, and does what she thinks she has to do to get it. Her actions are as much a result of her beliefs as Chris' are of his. What it tells is the story of how a man created his world.

The important point isn't that Chris became rich. The point is that he held onto his dream and he pursued it. He didn't just fantasize about it. When opportunities came to take him closer to his goal, he seized them. He realized that life speaks to us in nuances, and was aware enough of the nuances to act on them. At one point Chris' son tells the old story about a man being stuck during a flood. He prays to god for help. A boat comes and the man refuses it, saying god will save him. Another boat comes. Again, the man refuses it. He dies in the flood. Angry, he berates god, asking why he didn't save him. God says he tried to, sending boats to take him to safety. Chris pays attention to the boats.

A lot of bad things happen to Chris and his son. He deals with it and goes on. Life isn't about everything you create being all hunky-dory (Does anyone know where that phrase came from?). Life is about owning yourself, owning your circumstances, and paying attention.

Do you own your life? Do you know what you want? Are you paying attention to the boats that come your way?

Update: Originally I had named the brokerage as Dean Ritter. It should actually by Dean Witter.

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6 Responses to The Pursuit of Happyness

  • Hi Rick,

    I haven't seen this movie yet but will do so soon. Not a great fan of Will Smith, but for this one I'm going try.

    Sometimes in life the boats that passed our ways are very subtle, not because we are oblivious to them. It's either we are too preoccupied or too cynical. I missed a few boats in my life and I don't regret not taking them, otherwise I wouldn't know what bigger boats will come my way had I taken the other path/sea.

    Honestly, I do wish God speaks a little louder to me during my trying times, hate missing more boats! :)

  • Hey Rick,
    When this movie came out I figured I would be blogging like crazy about it. Mining the mesages for years! You captured the most important messages and the best scenes.

    I was surprised at a residual nagging feeling that followed me for days after seeing the movie. It took me a while to figure it out. It was the title. I was dissapointed that the pursuit of happiness was connected with his wanting to become a stock broker. So I am glad you said what you said about it not being about the money. I hope that gets through to folks.

    Thanks for harvesting the real gold in this movie and for skillfully weaving it. Your mesage about the movie is the real message. Thanks for your boat!

    #199 | Comment by Dave on January 29, 2007 7:16pm
  • Hi Renee!

    If you don't want to see it in a theatre, rent the video when it comes out. It is well worth it. I know what you mean about not liking certain actors. I'm not much of a fan of Will Ferrell, but Stranger Than Fiction was one of the best movies we showed in 2006.

    Don't we all wish we could be more aware of the boats that come our way! I'm with you about not regretting the ones we missed, not because the path I've led has been better or worse. I really don't know. But because I'm thankful for the ones I have taken.

  • Hi Dave!

    I'm slow seeing what movies I do see. We're a second-run theatre, and don't get a film until it has been out 1 - 2 months, and I don't go to other theatres much.

    After one of the evening shows I asked a little girl if she had learned anything from the movie. She said she learned she could rich, too. So I guess some people will look at the money aspects of it.

    But movies like this, I, and most websites aren't saying anything new. Most people, somewhere inside, know these things. Movies such as this are our signposts, our boats, to remind us of what we already know. Welcome onto the boat! It just picked me up a bit down the way.

  • You are so right about them being our signposts. That is why I really appreciate their impact. Despite the criticisms about movies, they perform an important role in our society - both as mirrors and as signposts. Even if the messages are ancient.

  • Y'know Rick, I always believe that God has other boats prepared for us even if we didn't take the "right" boat that came earlier. Whichever path we take, there will always be other boats that suit those circumstances.

    Like you, I'm always thankful of the ones I have taken even if the road is less traveled.

    And thanks for highlighting the true essence of the movie, I certaintly need to be reminded of.

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