Miracle at Miramax

Deal W. Hudson
July 1, 1997

Just when you think that nothing good can come out of Miramax, it comes up with this gem of a movie, Wide Awake. This story of Joshua (Joseph Cross), a ten-year-old boy who searches for God in a Catholic boys school in suburban Philadelphia, is breathtaking in its directness and simplicity. This is a movie for Catholic families who think there is nothing at the movie theaters that will touch their faith. Wide Awake will leave you speechless.

The talented screenwriter and director, M. Night Shyamalan, is unfamiliar to me, but his ability to bring a young boy’s spiritual quest to the screen in a believable way is uncanny. The missed notes in the movie are so few they are not worth discussing. Even the potentially disastrous use of Rosie O’Donnell, as the nun who uses baseball to illustrate the relationship between Jesus and Judas, provides just the right touch of balance…

The film opens as his grandfather’s (Robert Loggia) death causes Joshua to ask whether this God taught by the Catholic Church really exists. The flashback scenes between Joshua and his grandfather are each memorable for their tenderness and the reminder of what our children miss when they lack an extended family. His grandfather had once told him that he really believed in only two things: “Keep both hands on the ball and that God really exists.” He decides to find out if both are really true. He tries out for football; he trails a cardinal famous for healing; he confronts the class bully; he befriends the class outcast.

Those Catholics who have become so used to seeing their Church bashed and distorted on the screen will expect this story is going to turn in the same predictable direction. It never does. In fact, the story surprises you by delving even more deeply into the religious issues raised at the beginning of the film.

Case in point: a scene between Joshua and the school priest at Thursday morning confession. When Joshua asks the priest, “Can we just talk?” I feared for what would follow. I just knew we would get a hip priest shoveling mountains of psychobabble. But an unusual artistic sensibility guided this project, one that was not afraid to give witness. The dialogue between the priest and Joshua becomes a realistic and probing turning point in the film. The priest is slightly world-weary and admits to his own momentary doubts, but without the nonsense that plagues so many cinematic treatments of the same subject.

It is also to Shyamalan’s credit that he clearly outlines his narrative. The film takes place over the course of the school year—the three parts are entitled: “September: The Questions”; “December: The Signs”; and “May: The Answers.” The answers do come, and when they come they are both surprising and provide biblical resonance that only the most illiterate Christian could miss. There are many an opening sequence scanning pictures of saints on the wall of the school. As saints’ pictures gradually give way to sports heroes, the sound of sacred organ music transposes into a baseball park theme. The overall musical score by Edmund Choi is quite affecting, by the way.

The humor of this movie, insofar as it is about being Catholic and about going to a Catholic school, is both tasteful and funny. I’ve heard racier stories from priests at parish dinners. Totally lacking is the sardonic subtext that we have come to expect in movies where Catholicism is depicted.

Wide Awake affirms and espouses the faith in a way reminiscent of the great Frank Capra. Shyamalan has evidently not heard we live in the postmodern age where such questions and such religious affections are subject to scorn and skepticism. The meaning of the title itself, as you will find from the film, could not be more in line with Catholic realism and the sacramental vision of the Church. Which leads me to ask a question I cannot answer: How did such a movie ever get produced? And distributed by Miramax? I imagine that’s quite a story in itself.

In the meantime, those of us who were quick to point out the problems with Priest and Kids should just as quickly say “thank you” for Wide Awake.

By Deal Hudson

Deal W. Hudson was born November 20, 1949 in Denver, CO, to Emmie and Jack Hudson, both native Texans. Dr. Hudson had an older sister Ruth, and eventually, a younger sister, Elizabeth. Emmie Hudson, Ruth Hudson and Elizabeth Hudson now live in Houston, TX; Jack Hudson passed away some years ago. The late Jack Hudson was a captain for Braniff Airlines in Denver at the time of Dr. Hudson’s birth. Later the family moved to Kansas City when his father joined the Federal Aviation Agency. From Kansas City, the Hudson family moved to Minneapolis, then to Massapequa, NY, and finally to Alexandria, VA, where they first occupied a home overlooking the Potomac River adjacent to the Mount Vernon estate. After a year, the family moved to a home on Tarpon Lane a few houses up the street from the Yacht Haven boat docks. Dr. Hudson attended Mt. Vernon Elementary School from grades 4 to 6 and has a special gratitude for the teaching of Mr. Hoppe who first told him was a ‘smart lad.’ Having moved with his family to Fort Worth, TX in 1960, Dr. Hudson attended William Monnig Junior High and Arlington Heights HS. In high school, Dr. Hudson was captain of the golf team, editor of the literary magazine (Guerdon), and performed the role of Peter in the ‘The Diary of Anne Frank’ during his senior year. Dr. Hudson graduated cum laude with a major in philosophy from the University of Texas-Austin in 1971 where his undergraduate advisor was Prof. John Silber. His teachers at the University of Texas included Prof. Louis Mackey and Prof. Larry Caroline. Dr. Hudson minored in both classics and English literature. Dr. Hudson lived in Atlanta from 1974-1989, where he attended Emory University, receiving a Phd from the Graduate Institute for the LIberal Arts. He also taught philosophy at Mercer University in Atlanta from 1980-89. In 1989 Dr. Hudson and his family left Atlanta when he was hired to teach philosophy at Fordham University in the Bronx. Dr. Hudson taught at Fordham, and also part-time at New York University, from 1989 to 1994. Dr. Hudson first came to Atlanta in after graduation from Princeton Theological Seminary (PTS) with an M.Div. While at PTS, Dr. Hudson managed the Baptist Student Union at Princeton University and became its first director. Dr. Hudson also was licensed at a minister in the Southern Baptist Convention at Madison Baptist Church in Madison, NJ. Dr. Hudson’s primary area of study at PTS was the history of Christian doctrine which he pursued with Dr. Karlfried Froelich. In 1984 Dr. Hudson was received in the Catholic Church by Msgr. Richard Lopez, with the special permission of Archbishop Thomas A. Donnellan, at the chapel of Our Lady of Perpetual Help Cancer Home in Atlanta. Dr. Hudson has been married twenty-five years to Theresa Carver Hudson and they have two children, Hannah Clare, 23, and Cyprian Joseph (Chip), 15, adopted from Romania when he was three years old. The Hudson family has lived in Fairfax, VA for more than fifteen years, after having lived five years in Bronxville, NY and a year in Atlanta, GA, where Theresa and Deal were married.

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