The story is this: John Smith, a 14-year-old boy, adopted and uncomfortable at the idea his birth mother didn’t want him, tussles with his tough-minded mother and over a related school assignment. He enjoys basketball and his friends, both named Josh. On Martin Luther King Day, the three boys venture too far out on some lake ice that breaks. They fall into very cold water.
The two Joshes scramble out, but John does not. After being submerged for 15 minutes, John is rescued and medevacked to a hospital where a diligent medical team warns his parents that John’s prospects are very dim.
John’s parents ask the lead doctor to do his best. and then the mother prays to God to send the Holy Spirit (one element of the triune Christian God; you could look it up) to save their child. And, voila, given the title, the boy revives, slowly but surely.
Keep in mind that no angel appears to heal the young man. There is no Jesus apparition or lightning strike that awakens the child. And it is not suggested that this sort of recovery is made possible by the nature of his injury — his body temperature shut down below functional level for 40 minutes or more and then revived. But apparently this story did happen and was written up in a book that described it as a miracle.
Maybe there are miracles. We cannot know. But in Theidiosyncratist’s background (Roman Catholic, not hardshell evangelical) there have been times when groups have been encouraged to pray for the recovery of ailing friends, and for the souls of the dead. What other comfort can humans offer to families in distress?
What the movie suggests is the value of community — broad-based community. The son’s basketball coach, his EMT rescuer and his trauma physician are all African American, as is the lead singer when a school choir sings outside John’s hospital window on a cold winter night.
Let’s consider the worst-case scenario: The boy died. Would there be something else his community could have done to save him? Probably not. But would the parents have felt bereft of friends and support if their prayers had not saved him? Certainly not. The comfort of others would have been meaningful to the family, whatever the outcome.
What offends me about this movie is not its plot but the reaction to it. From a couple reviews:
“Although it is based on a true story, ‘Breakthrough’ is another glib and unconvincing faith-based movie that pushes miracles, spirituality and divine intervention, hoping for box-office gold. A terrific cast is the only thing that saves it from last rites.
To review the movie with (yet another irrelevant) Trump comment or to suggest Christian viewers couldn’t appreciate a story without a religious theme betrays a narrowness of mind. We are a big country with different people. Sneering at perceived audiences without attempting even to understand them says more about a critic than the people who actually go to see the film.
The film’s credits list NBA great Stephen Curry as the executive producer. There’s a nice subtheme in the story about character John’s basketball skills and team play that may well have been refined with Curry’s help.