As you may notice in my previous posts, movies, television programs, and fine literature hold a special place in my world. To put this to good use I am going to occasionally review movies that I feel are relevant to a discussion on the American Dream.
The Ultimate Gift (2006)
Staring: James Garner, Bill Cobbs, Drew Fuller, Ali Hallis, and Abigail Breslin
I won’t give away too much of the film’s content because I encourage everyone to watch it. The film starts with the death of Howard “Red” Stevens (James Garner), a oil baron from Texas and multimillionaire. Upon his death you witness the discord of his family, fighting over the will. But there is one relative that’s completely apathetic to the surroundings: Jason (Drew Fuller), his grandson.
As Jason is about to walk out of the room, the lawyer, Mr. Hamilton (Bill Cobbs), calls him back. Red has something different planned for Jason: a DVD. In the video Red says he’ll give Jason a series of gifts leading up to the Ultimate gift. If Jason fails in these challenges he gets nothing. Mr. Hamilton is in charge of supervising the project to ensure it’s done right. Through these gifts, he meets a little girl (Abigail Breslin) who’s dying of cancer, and her mother (Ali Hallis) that will change his life.
There are several elements that relate to the American Dream in this film, here are a few highlights.
The Gift of Work
The first gift takes Jason to Texas, where he meets Gus, a rancher and friend of Red’s who teaches him the value of work by leaving him in a field to set fence posts in the ground.
I wish I had a dollar for every post I’ve set, matter of fact I do.
This particular part of the film I’ve always enjoyed, because I’ve spent three summers planting posts in the ground on the farm with my father.
The good things in life are there, if you’re wiling to work for them. Jason learns for the first time in his life that he needs to work for things, they don’t come by entitlement. When Gus drops Jason off he gives one last piece of advice, “You do any work like you just did, you can do anything.” At that point Jason learns that the gift was the work itself.
The Gift of Money
You don’t begin to live till you’ve lost everything, heck, I’ve lost everything three or four times. It’s the perfect place to start.
– Red Stevens
Money is a tool in life, it can be used well or poorly, good or bad. There does seem a tendency of those who don’t earn it to spend it more freely. Men who have lost everything on a chance, if they have grit, can “start again at their beginnings and not breath a word about their loss.”
In America, a land of opportunity, we’ve seen this happen more than once. A man can start with nothing more than a goal and the will to work for it, those are people such as Andrew Carnagie, Theodore Roosevelt, John Wayne, J. P. Morgan, and many others.
The Gift of Friends
After Jason finds himself homeless and poor all his “friends” disappear. His grandfather challenges him to find a true friend by the end of the month, but despite searching Jason doesn’t find one. Emily, a little girl he met in the park, is willing to help him. But will their friendship last?
True friends are hard to find, few people in life are allotted more than one to three of them. The best friends are the ones that not only speak but help. Advice is free and easy, but action, action is the key virtue of a friend. Are they willing to help you despite it ruining their day? At the same turn are you willing to put their interests above your own?
The Gift of Problems
Our lives should be lived not avoiding problems, but welcoming them as challenges that will strengthen us in the future.
– Red Stevens
We’ve written about it often here, problems make us stronger. If we learn from problems, pain, and suffering we come out stronger because of it. We toughen, we improve, we grow. The only shame in having a problem is not learning from it.
The Gift of Family
Family is an unusual double edged blade, they can either be your greatest help or your greatest burden. There are many families that will go the end of the earth for kin, there are others you may want to drown rather than speak with. In either case family improves your character.
The Gift of Learning
Do you truly know how to learn? Anything worth going through get’s tougher before it gets easier. That’s what makes learning a gift, even if pain is your teacher.
– Red Stevens
For this gift Red sends Jason to Ecuador, to a little town to work at the “Stevens Memorial Library.” At this library, surrounded by books written in Spanish, he learns the value these people place on knowledge, and considers how important the lessons he has learned are.
The Gift of Dreams
You need to be free, free to dream. You need to come up with a dream and act upon it.
– Red Stevens
Dreams are tricky things, they are mirages in the landscape before us, teasing us with their majesty, but rarely attained. A dream is useless without the will to act upon it, to transform it to reality. The successful dream is like a beautiful building. It takes years to gather the materials and more to actually build it. But in the end you can look at the magnificent structure and say, “It was worth it.”
This film touches on many points, not the least of which is the idea of legacy. Red built a business empire during his life, but in doing so he neglected his family when it mattered. Jason is the last opportunity for Red’s legacy. In a last, heartfelt message to Jason he says, “What I could not accomplish in life, I have done in death. As long as you’re alive, I will be too.”
This film can make you laugh and it can make you cry. It portrays powerful human emotions, death, legacy and inheritance. Overall it is a heartwarming movie that is perfect for watching with family, friends, and a bowel of popcorn.