In WIDE AWAKE, Joshua Beal is a young boy at a Roman Catholic school in Philadelphia. Joshua has just lost his grandfather to cancer. “I’m going on a mission,” Joshua tells Dave. “I’m going to look for God to make sure my grandpa’s OK.” Joshua asks the adults around him how to find God as he tries out for the football team, meets a girl named Hope and gets stuck in a turnstile. Throughout, there are flashbacks of Joshua with his grandfather. “Always,” his grandfather notes, “hold onto your faith. Faith will get you through.” Even so, Joshua has doubts. Eventually, a miraculous experience gives Joshua new hope.
WIDE AWAKE shows that God has been with Joshua throughout his search. Joshua learns to find God in the memories he has of his grandfather and in his experiences with other people. He discovers that he is made in God’s image and that, although like everyone else he has a sinful nature, he continues to reflect that image in all his relationships. This entertaining movie is filled with remarkable scenes of Christian forgiveness, compassion, faith, and worship. The touching portrayal of God, the children’s performances and the fun look at life make WIDE AWAKE an ideal movie for the whole family
(CCC; BB; FR; L; V; D; M) Christian worldview with many moral elements, several positive references to Christian worship, prayer & Christian symbols, & some scenes of typical childhood rebellion, but also including two references to false religions & no direct references to biblical passages that might clear up the hero’s conflict; 8 obscenities & 1 mild profanity; mild violence involving a bully; references to pipe smoking; and, miscellaneous immorality such as leaving school without permission, turning off alarm, disrupting field trip, & lineup in hallway.
WIDE AWAKE is a highly amusing, moving family movie about a boy’s search for God one year at a Roman Catholic parochial school. At the start of the movie, Joshua A. Beal, the precocious son of two medical doctors, begins the fifth grade half asleep, but filled with questions about life, death and God. Joshua has just lost his maternal grandfather to a fatal case of bone marrow cancer. “I’m going on a mission,” Joshua tells his atheist friend Dave O’Hara. “I’m going to look for God to make sure my grandpa’s OK.”
The movie shows Joshua asking the adults around him questions about how to find God as he plays with David, tries out for the football team, deals with the class bully, meets a girl named Hope that he likes, and gets stuck in a turnstile during a field trip to a local museum. Throughout the movie, we see flashbacks of Joshua with his beloved grandfather, including a scene where his grandfather prays in church. “Always keep two hands on the ball,” his grandfather tells him, “and always hold onto your faith. Faith will get you through.”
Despite his grandfather’s words of wisdom, Joshua still has doubts about God; he is still too upset about his grandfather’s death. At one point in WIDE AWAKE, Joshua’s friend Dave creates a hilarious diversion in the school hallway so that Joshua can go ask questions of the Catholic Cardinal visiting the all-girls school next door. The Cardinal, however, is a sickly man. After seeing the Cardinal fumble helplessly for some pills in the restroom, Joshua says, “I don’t think God talks to him.” At another point, Joshua asks the priest of his school about how to find God. The priest has no answers for him at first, saying, “Doubts are part of everyone’s journey,” but during a choir rehearsal later in the movie, he encourages Joshua to sing a Latin hymn as strongly as he can so that God can really hear him, and we see Joshua complying joyfully. Eventually, a traumatic but miraculous experience involving his friend Dave gives Joshua new hope. At the end of the movie, Joshua experiences a unique vision of a messenger of God (an angel is simply a messenger of God), who assures Joshua that God has been with him all along and that his grandfather is happy. Joshua tells his parents and his class that now he is wide awake in a way that indicates to the audience that he is born again. Open your eyes if you want to find God, writer/director M. Night Shyamalan seems to say.
Joseph Cross as Joshua, Timothy Reifsnyder as Joshua’s friend Dave, Heather Casler as Hope, and all the other child actors lend lots of youthful spirit and energy to WIDE AWAKE. Robert Loggia plays Joshua’s grandfather with a gentle warmth that deepens and personalizes the meaning of Joshua’s search. Rosie O’Donnell, Denis Leary, Dana Delany, and Dan Lauria round out the adult cast with a quiet but engaging charm.
If WIDE AWAKE has a flaw, it is very, very minor − the mysterious fact that the adult characters in the movie, including Joshua’s school priest and his main teacher, Sister Terry, don’t use passages from the Bible, the historic Christian creeds or Roman Catholic teachings to help Joshua with his Christian faith. Nor do they use such passages to comfort him about his Christian grandfather’s death.
Joshua’s meeting with an angel at the end, however, clearly shows that God has been with Joshua throughout his search and throughout all his ordeals in the movie. Joshua learns to find evidence of God in the memories he has of his grandfather and his experiences with his family, his friends, other people, and, of course, in his experiences with girls, particularly Hope. Metaphorically, but in a real spiritual and theological sense, Joshua discovers he is made in God’s image and that, although like everyone else he has a sinful nature, he continues to reflect that image in all his relationships and all the areas of his life.
Director M. Night Shyamalan, who also wrote the movie, cleverly portrays this truth in the surprising, delightful way in which he shows how the messenger of God decides to reveal himself to Joshua. He also fills his modest but energetic and entertaining movie with some remarkable scenes of Christian forgiveness, compassion, faith, and worship. Those scenes, his touching portrayal of God, his profound insights into the behavior of children, the performances he gets from his actors, especially the children, and the fun way he depicts life in the fifth grade make WIDE AWAKE nearly an ideal movie for the whole family.
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