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Coach Carter
Paramount Pictures
PG-13 rating
Commentary by Kevin Miller

“Do we really need another sports movie?” That was my initial response upon seeing the ads for Coach Carter. With Radio, Miracle, Wimbledon, and Friday Night Lights all coming out within the last twelve months or so, it seemed like the genre had reached a saturation point. So the question is, is Coach Carter worth watching? Does it contribute something to the genre that other sports movies do not?

In terms of character and plot, Coach Carter is hardly innovative. You’ve got the hard-driving coach who struggles to win the community over to his unorthodox tactics; the group of misfits who he transforms into a winning team; the “tough case” who is really just crying out for attention; and the token sub-plot—in this case, a player whose hoop dreams may be dashed by his girlfriend’s pregnancy—that attempts to deepen the story through social commentary.

If not plot, then how about message? Once again, Coach Carter has all the subtlety of a pipe organ at full volume, blaring familiar themes like “believe in yourself,” “teamwork,” and “winning isn’t everything.” Not exactly the brightest light on the tree, but not the dimmest one either. In fact, I was all set to commend it for going beyond the norm by addressing the structural issues that created the personal struggles each character faced rather than merely repeating trite, self-help rhetoric. But affirming this film’s positive message became increasingly difficult, seeing as that message was contradicted in the end.

Coach Carter’s central theme is simple: We all have the ability to live extraordinary lives. However, working against that potential is our tendency to believe the lies people tell us. As the saying goes, belief is reality. Thus, if we hope to realize our potential, we need to cast off the lies and start living the truth. So far, so good.

A climactic moment in the development of this theme occurs when Coach Carter is confronted by the “tough case,” who has finally found the answer to Carter’s oft-asked question: “What is your deepest fear?” The player responds by quoting poet Marianne Williamson:

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small doesn’t serve the world. There’s nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same….”

It appears these boys are finally getting the message. They’ve been “playing small.” Now it’s time to show the world what they’re made of, to dream bigger dreams.

Great. It looks like all systems are go. Cue the big game, the slow motion shots, the post-game speech, and the “Where are they now?” epilogue.

But wait a moment: We still have a sub-plot to wrap up. Remember? The one about the player and his pregnant girlfriend?

After struggling through how to make the baby fit into their plans, the guy arrives at his girlfriend’s house one day to inform her he has found a solution: Not only has he won a full basketball scholarship, the college is even willing to help them support the baby.

She responds by telling him they needn’t bother. She has found her own solution: abortion. With the baby gone, now they are both free to “do their thing.” Upon hearing the news, he is mildly upset that she didn’t allow him to walk through the experience with her. But after that, it’s all hugs and happily ever after.

As the father of three young children, this scene almost made me cry. It wasn’t so much the couple’s decision that bothered me. That was sad, but it was also understandable given their situation and the obvious lack of a social support system. What really troubled me was the fact that this film—which had just finished telling us, “We are all meant to shine, as children do”—did not even take a moment of silence for the death of this unborn child. It just moved right along with the story. No remorse, no consequences.

Whatever your stance on the legal and moral implications of abortion, the choice is not one to be taken lightly. Abortion remains among the most loaded decisions a person can make, and the nonchalance with which it's treated in Coach Carter fails to give it the weight it deserves. It is more of a footnote to the story than a major turning point. This seems to directly contradict what Ken Carter says to his son at one point in the film-- something along the lines of, “Part of becoming an adult means making decisions—and living with the consequences.”

If we ignore the impact of the choices we make and treat moral dilemmas with an offhandedness that disregards their true implications, we are left with shallow preferences and no moral core. In other words, we become exactly the opposite of what Ken Carter was striving to help his players to become. Important decisions require time for prayer and reflection, time to ask God for direction, and time to appreciate the full consequences of our actions and whether or not we are willing to live with them.

None of this reflection was apparent in this subplot. This is surprising, seeing as director Thomas Carter was obviously striving to create a movie with a message of life and hope. Instead, all we get is yet another example of people refusing to think in terms greater than themselves. The worst part is; this subplot is completely extraneous to the story. It’s not just a bad message; it’s bad storytelling.

So, is Coach Carter worth watching? That all depends on what message you take away from it. If it inspires you to follow Ken Carter’s example, to let your light shine so that others will be encouraged to do the same, then by all means, yes. But if all it does is add to a heap of lies, then I fear this film is simply a waste of time.

Copyright @ 2005 Kevibn Miller.


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