Saturday, May 12, 2007

The Astronaut Farmer

One of my favorite poems of all time is the poem Dreams by Langston Hughes. It is a poem that challenges individuals to hold fast to their dreams, to not let them die. When considering the time Hughes wrote the poem, early 1900's during a time African Americans in particular were oppressed one can understand the value of the challenge to hold fast to dreams. In a recent interview I did with Billy Bob Thornton, star of the new movie The Astronaut Farmer, the concept of having dreams and going after them was not lost in our conversation. When asking Billy Bob about his dreams, he told me that he was living his out. He also stated that the character Charles Farmer was as close to his real life as any character he had ever played.

Farmer is a character who grew up in a small town, living in a community of faith, with a focus on family, he also lost his father as a young man, all things familiar to Billy Bob Thornton as those things were a part of his own life. Maybe that is why we see Billy Bob Thornton in a way we haven't seen him in some time. Farmer is a simple man, simply living out his dreams while at the same time having the ability to challenge his wife and children to dream. It is a point taken into consideration by the character of Hal, played beautifully by long time actor Bruce Dern. Hal, Charles father-in-law, reminds him in one scene of how Farmer has succeeded as a father. He not only has the ability to have his family sit down at the dinner table to share a meal, he has encouraged in them the desire to dream for their future.

Throughout Astronaut Farmer we see family coming together in tough times. From Farmers lovely wife Audrey Farmer played intelligently by Virginia Madsen to his two lovely daughters and his 15-year-old son, the Farmers are a family made in small town America, a family who hasn't lost the value of church, love, and support. It is a family we all need to remind us of the importance of these things.

While many will see The Astronaut Farmer as a fun, easy going drama, it is much more than that. It is so serious that there are few laughs and the Polish brothers, (directors and writers) do something many film makers have forgotten about, they tell a story where the characters drive what we see on screen. We find ourselves caring about the Farmers and all they go through. We find ourselves reflecting on our own willingness to go after dreams, or letting others dictate to us what we do. It is in that drama, in that experience, I found myself enjoying The Astronaut Farmer more and more as the story went on. While the initial scenes and story drag for the first 15-minutes, character development takes place that ends up having the viewer on a roller coaster ride. Even in the closing credits, we see glimpses of what happens, we see hope that even with crazy dreams, it is important for individuals to be individuals.

I was deeply moved by this movie. I was moved because unfortunately we live in a world where others either dictate dreams, or the dreams are stolen by a society that seems to place more emphasis on the group than it does the individual. This is a sad place, and Astronaut Farmer illustrates this. It is in allowing an individual to go after the things in life they desire that we can inspire others. It is also as we place emphasis on the individual that we can truly understand and appreciate the value of the group. As children, young people, even those older, as we see someone going after their dreams we are often inspired to go after our dreams.

A number of years ago I was amazed at some research done with elderly people. When asked what their greatest regret in life was, they responded, "We never went after our dreams." It was in that moment I personally learned the importance of going after my own dreams, and thus embarked on a career of writing, speaking, and ministry. I was challenged; I would make the effort to go after my dreams, despite the sacrifices I would encounter. The Astronaut Farmer mirrors that journey for me, and I suspect it will for many others, hopefully they will be challenged to go after their own dreams.

In concluding my interview with Billy Bob I asked him if he thought movies could make a difference in the lives of the viewer, if movies could challenge people to go after their dreams. He responded, "I absolutely think they do influence people in that way. I know that as a kid I saw plenty of movies that made me hope and dream for things. I think movies can have a positive influence on people and they can also have a negative influence on people; but at the end of the day you're still responsible for yourself so you shouldn't let seeing a movie influence you in a negative way."

Billy Bob couldn't be more on target and the Polish brothers couldn't have been more on tract than illustrating that point in this movie. For that I am grateful, and this will be a movie I will see again before the weekend is over. We see a portrait of reality, in a dramatic way that challenges us, not only challenges us to dream, but to love, not only to love, but to forgive, not only to forgive, but to understand, but beyond that, it challenges us, when knocked down, get back up, not just to survive, but to dream, and dream again.

On a scale of 1 - 10, while not perfect, a very important movie for those needing inspiration to dream, I’ll give a very grateful 8

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