A couple of weeks ago, circumstances forced me to skip going to the movie theater, and thus I missed out on seeing the new movie called “42” about baseball legend Jackie Robinson.
Don’t make the same mistake I did. This is a movie worth watching.
Depicting several true and fascinating details from the story of the first black man to play Major League Baseball (and necessarily omitting others), “42” was filmed to be inspiring – even for those who aren’t baseball fans.
To that end, the movie hits all the right notes, from those whose vicious racism stormed against Robinson, to those who quietly backed him, to the pioneers who championed the cause of the just, “42” accomplishes its goal of being a socially-conscious, feel-good inspiration. It even succeeds in reminding a country that is increasingly leaving baseball behind of the history, the romance and the magic of what was once called “America’s pastime.”
“42” also remembers that 1947 America was a different time period from today, both a nation still plagued by racial injustice and a nation still steeped in the words and wisdom of God. As such, it gives us a story of heroism that frequently alludes to biblical truths.
For example, invoking Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount and the admonition to “turn the other cheek,” the film portrays a remarkable conversation that apparently actually occurred between Robinson and Branch Rickey, the Hall-of-Fame baseball executive that determined his Brooklyn Dodgers would break baseball’s color barrier.
Rickey told Robinson, who had a history of pushing back violently against the racism of the day, that he would have to resist the urge to erupt, even while enduring the vilest of epithets raining down upon him.
“You want a player who doesn’t have the guts to fight back?” Robinson asked Rickey.
“No,” Rickey replied. “I want a player whose got the guts not to fight back. … Like our Savior, you’ve got to have the guts to turn the other cheek. Can you do it?”
In another pivotal scene, the rubber has hit the road, and Robinson has been cursed, reviled and humiliated to the breaking point by a loathsome opposing manager.
Rickey comforts Robinson, reminding him of the trials Jesus faced for 40 days in the wilderness at the hand of Satan himself.
“You’re the one living the sermon,” Rickey says. “In the wilderness. 40 days. All of it.”
Rickey, in fact, is depicted in “42” as a voice of biblical wisdom and powerful courage, a rock that the film suggests anchored Robinson in the most difficult of times. Much of the film is actually just as much about Rickey as it is about Robinson.
As a film, this is not a gritty, realistic biopic, but a heroic. It dwells on the courage of the protagonist, not his flaws; his triumph over trials, not his failures. It’s a legend. A legend made all the more powerful and inspiring by how close it is to the truth. Truly, No. 42 is a remarkable figure in American History.
Solid performances from Chadwick Boseman as Robinson, Nicole Beharie as his wife and especially Harrison Ford as Rickey, as well as a director who never lost sight of the film’s heroic nature, make “42” a delight to watch and a positive cultural force.
This is the kind of film, and the kind of real-life men, that America should celebrate.
- “42,” rated PG-13, contains about 30 relatively minor obscenities and profanities, as well as some strong racial epithets.
- The film contains some minor sexuality, including some shirtless men, some kissing, a string of lewd insults tossed at Robinson and his teammates and a few sexual innuendos. In one scene, Robinson kisses his clothed wife on her chest. In another scene, a photo of a barely visible, topless woman can be seen bleeding through a newspaper page being read by a character.
- The film is remarkably light on violence, given its topic, but there is some pushing and shoving, and a couple of scenes during baseball games, including one where Robinson is struck in the head and another where he is “spiked” by a base runner. Both injuries are startling, and Robinson is seen stitched up afterward.
- The film is filled with biblical and Christian references. God is referenced positively, and several characters are shown as people of genuine faith. The song playing over the credits, while not necessarily spouting solid theology, is nonetheless distinctly Christian in nature.