From the moment I saw the trailer for The Peanut Butter Falcon, I knew I needed to see it. Unfortunately, I was unable to see in a theater like I wanted to, but I pre-ordered the movie on a digital platform without even seeing it. Due to a variety of factors, I was unable to watch this film until two months after it was released. When I finally did watch it. I sat in my living room alone (it kind of felt like a private showing).
Going into it, I heard so many good things from critics and moviegoers, so I had high expectations.
Long story short: I smiled throughout most of the movie. I laughed a bunch. And, I cried a handful of times.
But, what I took away from the movie was not echoed in the reviews I read.
What the Reviews Said
Whenever you see a movie featuring a disabled person, you can be sure that the following words or phrases will be used in the reviews: “heartwarming,” “inspirational,” “feel-good,” “wholesome,” and/or “unique.”
I understand why those words and phrases are used, butI doubt we’re doing justice to the entire film by using clichés, oversimplified, and overused catchphrases. And, that’s not the only thing I kept seeing in the reviews.
I kept seeing reviews of the film with the focus on family and/or friendship. While those are key aspects to the film, I don’t know if this really gets to the heart of the film. This is also an overused theme of reviews when featuring a disabled person. In the past, even I have a written reviews of films centering around disabled people (or characters) and focused on the friendship aspect of the film (The Upside review).
I empathize with this sentiment, but as I saw this film the first time, and thought about it for quite some time, I saw a key theme and thread-line that people were not discussing.
How We Treat Someone Comes From How We View Them
Zak, the main character, is a 22-year-old with Down syndrome. In the beginning of the film, he lives in a retirement home somewhere in North Carolina. Zak is vastly different from the people around him. He naturally treats people well, as if they’re important to him, and that they have value.
Zak make friends with everyone that he interacts with, and he genuinely tries to embrace people as they are. The meanest thing he can think to say to someone is “You’re not invited to my birthday party!” I mean, come on.
Juxtaposed to Zak, every other character in the beginning of the film treats everyone else around them with trepidation.
Tyler, a crab fisherman who is struggling with the recent passing of his brother, treats Zak in the beginning of the film as if he’s a burden and refuses to show any empathy. His treatment of Zak turns when he finds that Zak ran away from the retirement home. After this, the two develop genuine friendship and respect for each other.
Eleanor, a nurse at the retirement home, treats Zak as if he is a child who needs to be taken care of and sheltered. She unconsciously puts limits on what he can do, but that changes when she is confronted by Tyler.
Both characters, at some point, begin to treat Zak differently because their view of him changes. Proving that their treatment of him was due to an improper view of him. They did not treat him with proper respect and dignity that he had shown them.
Just like Tyler and Eleanor, how we treat treat people stems from how we view them. If we view people with respect, dignity, significance, and value, relationships flourish. If we choose not to view them rightly, there is a ripple effect of hurt, pain, brokenness, and hatred.
The Imago Dei and The Peanut Butter Falcon
Do we believe that people are inherently valuable? Or do we believe people have to deserve to be treated with respect?
In the first chapter of the Bible we are told that all human beings are made in the image of God (Genesis 1:26-27). When saying that men and women are made in the image of God, this does not exclude any person. All people are made in the image of God and inherently are valuable to God himself.
As God’s image bearers, we are meant to represent who he is and what he’s like to the world. Every single person that you and I interact with should be shown love and respect. We should naturally view people as the important and valuable creations of God that they are.
In the film, Zak is the only person who treats people in this way. Everyone else, at some point, does not treat others as if they are image bearers of God. To be clear, the characters grow in their ability to view and treat each other as a fellow image bearers of God, but Zak is the only one who does so from start to finish.
The reason why this needs to be pointed out is because too often in this world disabled people are not treated as if they are worthy of respect and dignity. In this film we are able to see people grow in their understanding of the value and worth of Zak and each other.
I believe this is the point that really needs to be addressed in reviewing this film. Yes, this movie does feature themes like family friends, adventure, and kindness. But, the biggest theme is the Imago Dei and how that has ripple effects for how we treat each other.
If you couldn’t tell from this very long review, I highly recommend seeing this. I would also recommend seeing it more than once and with other people.
My wife and I took different things away from it but both of us thought it was a fantastic film.
Watch The Peanut Butter Falcon and reflect on the Imago Dei. Trust me, it’s worth it.