MESSAGE IN THE MOVIES
Fred Rogers was a one-of-a-kind force of nature. At one time he considered becoming a Presbyterian pastor, but instead was seminary-trained and ordained in a specialized ministry to use television as the medium to promote spiritual values. Working out of Pittsburgh (close to his hometown of Latrobe, Pennsylvania), he created Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood, a children’s show that ran for 31 seasons with over 900 episodes. While the show basically helped kids to use their imagination in ways that would widen the circle of acceptance and understanding, it wasn’t afraid to deal with themes such as war, racism and grief. The puppet characters from the Neighborhood of Make Believe (including Daniel Tiger, Prince Tuesday, and X the Owl) became stars in their own right. As a child, Fred was often picked on in school and was a quiet, soft-spoken introvert. His television persona was also quiet and calm and a comfort to thousands of children (and their parents) who needed someone willing to listen and walk alongside of them. In many ways, Mr. Rogers modeled the ministry and methodology of Jesus of Nazareth.
If you want to see an excellent film about Mr. Rogers, I would recommend Won’t You Be My Neighbor? the excellent 2018 documentary by Morgan Neville.
A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood is something else, and it is a strange film indeed. While I enjoyed watching it, in retrospect I’m not sure that it actually works.
The movie is not really about Mr. Rogers but about the ways in which a fictional magazine reporter (Rhys) – is encouraged to revisit his childhood and his broken relationship with his father. Tom Hanks does a fine impression of Mr. Rogers, but he is more of a supporting character. The film is relentlessly low-key and quiet and not a family film (even though it has received a surprising PG rating).
To its credit, the film is positive about the Christian faith. There is one wonderful scene (including a reflection about love) that approaches meditation. I am sure that there are many adults who will find this to be a moving, tear-filled experience. Personally, I felt that the film was a bit too pat in the way in which it resolved a confluence of traumas (including alcoholism, infidelity, abuse, and two deaths) with the warm wisdom of Mr. Rogers. I know that this movie is based on a real-life story, but I was convinced that the screenwriters amped up the volume (all the way to 6!) to make an impression.
Would the world be a better place if we all learned to attentively listen to one another and show kindness to everyone we met? Absolutely. Would I rather just watch an old episode of Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood than sit through this movie again?
What’s the kindest way to say it? Probably?
Halo and Pitchfork Rating:
Four halos: Understanding, love, kindness, and faith are the core values in this unique story of forgiveness and reconciliation.
Two pitchforks: Alcoholism, infidelity, and physical violence all make brief appearances.
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Rev. Bruce Batchelor-Glader
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