There are times when a movie becomes something more, something greater than a consumed and quickly forgotten confection. Too often, we do not realize that movies touch something deep within.
Watching “42” I confronted this. There was more taking place than a group of people watching a movie.
The story is that of Jackie Robinson (Chadwick Bosman) breaking the color barrier in Major League Baseball. We are presented the process by which Branch Rickey (Harrison Ford) brought an African-American onto his team, the Brooklyn Dodgers.
At the beginning, Rickey tells Robinson that he wants him to have the guts not to fight back against the discrimination he will face.
As Robinson begins his move into the majors, we are shown the hate and resentment that allowing him to play brought.
While in the minor leagues, threats of violence begin. Players on the Dodgers put together a petition saying they will not play with a person of color.
Opposing players and managers berate him with slurs, and he is regularly thrown at by opposing pitchers.
The worst abuse came from Ben Chapman (Alan Tudyk), the manager of the Philadelphia Phillies.
“Why don’t cha look in a mirror?” Chapman yells to Robinson. “This is a white man’s game!” He yelled things much worse as well.
The abuse becomes so great that Robinson walks off the field, ready to quit. But Rickey meets him in the tunnel to the clubhouse and reassures him that he supports what Robinson is trying to do.
The movie first tries to get us to believe that the reason for Rickey’s attempt to break the color barrier is because of money. He says that money is not black or white, but green. Yet there is a greater, more compelling reason given.
This raises an important question: Why did this movie become something more on the Friday afternoon I viewed it? It has to do with the reaction of the people in the audience.
First, the movie is steeped in Christianity, with Robinson presented as a messiah figure. He must live out the words of Jesus to “turn the other cheek.”
Robinson is bringing something long needed in America. Coming after the defeat of Germany and the Axis Powers, Rickey tells Robinson that America won the war against fascism. Now he believes America needs to win the war against racism.
When the Phillies owner calls and tells Rickey not to bring Robinson to Philadelphia and if he comes they will not play the Dodgers, Rickey asks a question. “When you die and stand before God, what are you going to say when God asks you why you did not allow Robinson to play?”
This allowed me to feel something while watching this movie. It felt more like I was in church – an African-American church, to be precise.
There was applause, at times, when points were made that the audience agreed with. There was the “call and response” when someone heard something that touched them deeply; “that’s right!” rang in the dark.
Will “42” win for best picture of the year? Probably not. Will every showing have the same kind of feel as the one I attended? Maybe not.
But for the moments I sat in the multiplex, I was touched by more than just what was on the screen. It was a moment of realization that Jackie Robinson was someone much larger than I ever realized.
The moment I knew this was when the movie was over.
A father and his elementary-school son were in front of me as I walked out of the theater. The father had taken the child out of school to see this movie. It was that important.
And when I looked up and got a full vision of the two of them, I saw it. On the young man who got to be out of school that day was a jersey, which read, “Robinson, 42.”
And the power of the experience of the movie came back to me anew.
Mike Parnell is pastor of Beth Car Baptist Church in Halifax, Va.
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for thematic elements including language
Director and writer: Brian Helgeland
Cast: Chadwick Boseman: Jackie Robinson; Harrison Ford: Branch Rickey; Nicole Beharie: Rachel Robinson; Christopher Meloni: Leo Durocher; Lucas Black: Pee Wee Reese; Alan Tudyk: Ben Chapman; John C. McGinely: Red Barber.
The movie’s website is here.
Michael Parnell is pastor of Temple Baptist Church in Raleigh, North Carolina. He is married and has two boys. His love is for movies, and he can be found in a theater most Fridays.