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Cinema and The Arts as Sermons: The Pursuit of Happiness

Updated: Jul 23, 2023

The Pursuit of Happiness

"Starring: Will Smith, Thandie Newton, Jaden Smith The Pursuit of Happyness (2006) Official Trailer 1 - Will Smith Movie A struggling salesman takes custody of his son as he's poised to begin a life-changing professional endeavor." from video introduction.

If you missed this movie put it on your list to watch.

Based on a true story and set in 1981 San Francisco, Chris Gardner (Will Smith) and his wife, Linda (Thandie Newton), are having marital troubles. She works double shifts doing hotel laundry; he's trying to sell bone density scanners ( specialty medical machines) doctors wont buy because of the expense. When Linda abandons the family, Chris is determined to take care of himself and his son. He spends six months working in an unpaid internship at Dean Witter, hoping to become a stock broker. He's smart and good with numbers. He studies and scrapes by, barely earning enough each week to pay for meals.

The film approaches the American Dream from a secular perspective, focusing, as the title implies, on the constitutional right to "pursue" happiness, rather than the right to be happy. The movie manages to avoid focusing much on institutional racism and how that prevents many people from achieving the Dream. The relationship between father and son, through all the ups and downs of family strife and economic instability is the focus.

The movie at times is heart wrenching and Will Smith gives an excellent performance. Aside from the events of the movie Chris had to work hard to become a successful stock broker. His life had been hard. Gardner was born in Milwaukee in 1954. He grew up without any male role models in his life and witnessed his sisters’ father physically abuse his mother and his sisters repeatedly. He was in foster care twice while his mother was falsely imprisoned for welfare fraud.

The real Chris Gardner, Jaden Smith, Will Smith
The real Chris Gardner, Jaden Smith, Will Smith

Chris was forced out of their home at gunpoint by his alcoholic stepfather. He then joined the Navy. When out he had several relationships, one of which resulted in the birth of Christopher in 1981. The events of the movie represent those years and his big break in the Brokerage House.

Rags to riches are good material for movies. But this story is much more. I can identify with much of the adversity and difficulties that reflected my life at an early age. However I can never appreciate or understand the racism and other adversities that Chris had to endure.

Chris Gardner has referred to a legacy of religious affection ingrained in him by his mother. Christianity in the film is understated but nevertheless present. One of the film's great moments occurs in the context of a gospel worship service.

Jaden Smith and Will Smith
Jaden Smith and Will Smith

Augustine cites the classical depiction of the common bond in a father's attitude toward his son, saying, "Surely what Cicero says comes straight from the heart of all fathers, when he wrote: 'You are the only man of all men whom I would wish to surpass me in all things'." Much of what Gardner does in Pursuit is for the welfare and betterment of his own child. He tells young Chris, "You got a dream, you gotta protect it. People can't do something themselves, they wanna tell you that you can't do it. You want something? Go get it. Period."

The Pursuit of Happyness is worth seeing, as a life lesson in the value of hard work and devotion to family. The pitfalls and the stressful, non-stop pace with which Gardner seeks to overcome these challenges underscores the nature of the pursuit of happiness in our world.

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