"Touching the Face of God"
What You Need To Know:
BAGGER VANCE is a wonderful parable about God, marred by some foul language and sexual content. It also has some brief dialogue that may strike many as too reminiscent of New Age philosophy. The rest of the movie, however, has a strong theistic worldview, combined with some redemptive elements. It also extols the virtues of honesty, integrity and honoring one’s parents. In all, THE LEGEND OF BAGGER VANCE is one of the best, most spiritually uplifting movies of the year. Because of the foul language and sexual content, however, MOVIEGUIDE® recommends caution.
(BBB, C, Pa, FR, Ro, LLL, V, S, M) Strong theistic worldview extolling honesty & integrity with redemptive elements & some minor, brief New Age pagan sentiments (a false religion) about becoming one with the universe in one scene, plus some romantic elements regarding using your feelings rather than your mental faculties; 19 obscenities & 8 profanities, including a few strong exclamatory ones; mild World War I violence as troops advance amid explosions followed by men falling dead & some images of corpses, but nothing really graphic, & man commits suicide off-screen (only gunshot is heard); implied fornication & depicted seduction scene when woman seems willing to trade sex for a big personal favor; no nudity but woman in underwear in two scenes; alcohol use; smoking; and, gambling, man expresses despair, another man expresses nihilistic thought, & boy ashamed of his father when he has to become a street sweeper to make ends meet during the Great Depression.
It may not seem that way to Sunday golfers hacking away at the verdant links every weekend, but heaven is like a golf course. At least, that’s the view of THE LEGEND OF BAGGER VANCE, one of the best, most spiritually uplifting movies of the year.
Matt Damon plays Rannulph Junuh [sic], a young golfing phenom in the midst of the Great Depression, who must battle two of the greatest golfers who ever lived, Bobby Jones and Walter Hagen, in a $10,000 exhibition tournament. Junuh faces only one little problem – he’s lost his swing.
About 12 years ago, after winning several southern tournaments, Junuh left his home in Savannah, Georgia, and his sweetheart, Adele (Charlize Theron), to fight for democracy in World War I. A terrible battle, which left Capt. Junuh the only survivor in his company, also emotionally and spiritually scarred the young man, who disappeared for 10 years without telling anyone, even Adele, his whereabouts. Meanwhile, Adele eventually became resigned to losing Junuh to the demons inside him and throws herself into supporting her father and his dream of building a world class golf resort called Krewe Island. The Great Depression hits, however, and her father commits suicide. Yet, Adele is determined to make a go of the resort, and she tricks Bobby Jones and Walter Hagen, the Tiger Woods of their day, into participating in the $10,000 tournament. The town fathers, however, want a local man to compete for Savannah’s glory, and the duty falls on the reluctant Junuh. The question is, can Junuh find his swing in time?
Along comes Bagger Vance, a mysterious, talkative black man, played by Will Smith. Bagger becomes Junuh’s guardian angel. He begins to coach Junuh not only about golf, but also about life. Junuh’s greatest asset, however, just may be little Hardy Greaves, a poor boy in Savannah who grew up idolizing Junuh and who is the catalyst for bringing him into the match. Hardy’s strength and encouraging hero-worship help Junuh find his swing just as Bagger Vance helps him discover the man that God wants him to be. Jack Lemon plays Hardy as an older man and narrates the story.
BAGGER VANCE is arguably the best movie ever directed by actor Robert Redford, who won an Oscar for ORDINARY PEOPLE years ago. Redford does not appear in the movie. In fact, it may be said that Matt Damon has actually taken over a kind of role that Redford might have played in his younger days, in the late 1960s. The acting in the movie is generally good, though perhaps not great. The story the actors tell, however, will stir the hearts and minds of many viewers. It also has some very amusing moments.
THE LEGEND OF BAGGER VANCE is about a man, Junuh, who’s lost his soul. He’s also lost the gifts that God gave him, a theme that Bagger Vance, the mysterious spiritual guide, repeats more than twice during the movie. Find your place in the field, Bagger urges Junuh. Play the game that was given to you when you were born, he says. In one sense, although Bagger may just be a guardian angel, he also can be seen as a God-like character, a symbolic Holy Spirit who inspires people and beckons them to join God in the field of heaven. The last shot of the movie strongly indicates that this is so.
Thus, THE LEGEND OF BAGGER VANCE is a spiritual allegory about the God who made us and who created this wonderful earth on which we live. With Bagger there to inspire Junuh, Junuh begins to touch the face of God and find his place in Creation. As St. Paul says in Romans 1:20, “Since the creation of the world, God’s invisible qualities – his eternal power and divine nature – have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.” In one scene, Bagger seems to evoke God’s eternal power when he talks to Junuh about the “authentic swing” that was given to him when he was born. “It’s somewhere in the harmony of all that is, all that was and all that will be,” Bagger says.
Despite these spiritually uplifting elements, there is one brief moment in the movie where Bagger slips into New Age pagan philosophy. At one point during the golf match, he talks to Junuh about finding that moment where “everything becomes one.” At that point in the dialogue, the movie shows Junuh gazing in the distance at all the things surrounding him, the sun, the mist, the hills, the trees, the sky. It is also at this point that Bagger tells Junuh not to think about his swing, but to feel the swing with his hands instead. Of course, a true biblical worldview tells us to commune with God and God’s Creation, not to try to unite with it as the New Agers do. Communion and fellowship, not union, are the goals. The Bible also tells us not just to feel things, but also to think about them as well. For example, we are to worship God with both our feelings and our mind. These lines of dialogue, however, should be placed in the context of the rest of the movie, which has a strong theistic worldview, combined with some redemptive elements. In that light, while THE LEGEND OF BAGGER VANCE could indeed have been less vague by using stronger biblical language to describe this worldview, such language could have lessened the evocative nature of its artistry. In that respect, it is better to view the movie as a parable about God rather than a theological creed. As such, BAGGER VANCE not only gives viewers plenty of good spiritual things about which to think, it also extols the virtues of honesty, integrity and honoring one’s parents.
There are two other problems with THE LEGEND OF BAGGER VANCE. The movie has a fair number of obscenities and profanities. Although most of them are not strong, there are a few that will definitely offend the ears of children and people with a committed biblical worldview. There are also two scenes with sexual content. The first scene comes early and implies that Junuh and Adele fornicated before he went off to fight in World War I. The second scene occurs when Adele visits Junuh and offers to fornicate with him again if that’s what it will take to get him to enter the tournament designed to save her father’s golf resort. At first, he seems to take her up on her offer, but he then declines, even though she has stripped down to her full-length slip. These two elements ultimately are what earn BAGGER VANCE its PG-13 rating. MOVIEGUIDE®, therefore, advises caution.