Wide Awake

Wide Awake is a 1998 movie written and directed by M. Night Shyamalan, who gave us the Sixth Sense, Signs, Unbreakable, The Village, and Lady in the Water. It is not as famous as his other movies, and it also does not have their mysterious character. Still, it is a sweet and thoughtful film about a young boy’s quest for God at a Catholic school.

As far as actors go, there are familiar faces. While I am not a fan of Rosie O’ Donnell’s leftist politics, she does a good job portraying the compassionate nun with a love for baseball. Dan Lauria of the Wonder Years plays a priest, who is rather different from Jack Arnold. I was expecting him to say “hmmmmm?” in a gruff manner and he did not do so. A young Julia Stiles plays the little boy’s teenage sister, and Robert Loggia plays his grandfather.

I cannot do justice to this movie in one setting, and I will probably get more out of it the more I see it. Basically, a boy’s grandfather is dying of cancer, and the boy is inspired to search for God. Here are some of my favorite scenes:

At the beginning, Rosie is teaching a class, and the boy asks her about the Catholic church’s teaching on baptism. He asks if people need to be baptized to be saved, and she says yes. He then mentions his relatives who are not baptized and asks if they are going to hell. Suddenly, the entire class mentions unbaptized relatives and neighbors, including some of different religions. Rosie responds, “No one is going to hell!” This scene reminds me that a lot of people do not always follow the ramifications of their beliefs, especially one as uncomfortable as hell. There are evangelicals who do follow the ramifications and evangelize, but many go through days and weeks and do not think about this belief. Whether that is good or bad, I do not know, but how are Christians supposed to respond to the doctrine that most people around them are headed for post-mortem punishment?

Another part of the movie was where Dan Lauria (the priest) was talking with the boy about faith. The boy asked the priest for a straight answer, not the sort of answer that he would give a kid. Dan Lauria agreed, and the boy asked him how he goes through life without knowing for sure that God is real. Lauria says that this is true with every journey–there is some doubt. The boy asks the priest to tell him once he finds something, and Lauria responds, “You’ll be the first to know.” I think that the answer occurs a little later in the movie, when Lauria is telling the congregation to sing together and loudly so that God can hear. He then winks at the boy, who afterwards sings with excitement. I think that this is supposed to be the priest’s answer to the boy’s question, but how it was an answer is something that deserves more thought.

Another interesting scene was when the boy was walking with his grandfather, a devout Catholic. The grandfather assures the boy that God will take care of him after he dies, and the boy asks him how he can be sure that there is a God. The grandfather asks where the snow came from, and the boy answers that snow is frozen vapor. The grandfather inquires, “Where’d you learn that?” In the next scene, the boy looks outside his window and admires the falling snowflakes. These scenes can inspire discussions on science, mystery, and beauty.

In another scene, the boy is talking with his friend. His friend asks if God has shown himself to him, and the boy responds “no” (though, at the end of the movie, he will see that one of the other children at the school is actually an angel). The friend says that there are two possibilities: either there is no God, or God does exist and does not care that someone is looking for him. That question is in the back of many seekers’ minds: Is there a God, and does he care?

Near the end of the movie, the boy reads an essay to his class. His essay is about his changed perspective. At the beginning of the school year, he says, he thought that bullies were just bullies, that weirdos were just weird, and that the people he loved would stay with him forever. Now, he is wide awake. What he says is true–often I do not ask why people around me are the way that they are. I may have to see the movie again to identify how he learned the first two lessons.

I admire M. Night Shyamalan for making movies about faith. He definitely makes a much-needed contribution to the world of movies and entertainment.

About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting. I have degrees in fields of religious studies. I have an M.Phil. in the History of Biblical Interpretation from Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio. I also have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University.
This entry was posted in Movies, Religion. Bookmark the permalink.