Friday, October 8, 2010

The Blind Side -- changes and motivations

The Blind Side tells the true rags-to-riches story of Michael Oher ("Big Mike"), a homeless black teenager who became a first-round NFL draft pick for the Baltimore Ravens in 2009, and shows life on both sides of the Tennessee tracks. Michael (Quinton Aaron) is a sub-par student from a broken home (crack-head mother and unknown father) with little prospects until a coach at a private Christian high school sees him shoot hoops. He persuades the administration to let him enter the school. This is the school where Leigh Anne Tuohy's (Sandra Bullock) two kids go.

Leigh Anne first runs into Michael almost literally when her family is driving home from a school event. Seeing him walking "home" in a cold evening wearing just a tee shirt, she takes pity on him and orders her husband Sean (Tim McGraw) to stop the car and then take him to their home, a sprawling mansion of a house that Michael would not have dreamed of entering let alone living in.

Bullock portrays Leigh Anne as a tough, hard-headed, no-nonsense woman with a heart of gold buried beneath that tough exterior. With uncharacteristic blond locks, she is almost unrecognizable and absolutely deserving of her Best Actress Oscar. Although she's been an average actress up till now, she shows here a previously untapped talent. McGraw does little except acquiesce to the demands of his dominant wife. Despite being a wealthy businessman who owns dozens of fast food franchises, he comes off as a wimp. Further Aaron plays Michael as a large but shy, almost silent, idiot with no knowledge of football. Whether this is true is unclear, but it seems a romanticized version to make a better story.  
The first half of the film focuses on the changes that Leigh Anne brings to Michael's life as he slowly becomes part of the Tuohy family. She is willing to cross into his territory to make him feel welcome. Slowly, he warms up to his new family. It helps that they are super rich and could afford to buy him what he needs and wants. Yet, when one of Leigh Anne's girlfriends tells her, "You're changing that boy's life," she replies, "No. He's changing mine." And this highlights one of the themes of the film. When we help others we are helping ourselves, too.

One scene makes this clear. It is Thanksgiving. Leigh Anne has made dinner for her family. But they are sitting watching football. They grab their food and resume their seats, couch potatoes not interacting as a family. Michael, however, takes his plate of food to the dining table and sits alone. Leigh Anne realizing they need to come together, picks up the remote, turns off the TVs and orders them to the table, where a "traditional" Thanksgiving dinner is had. Her family has made a change for the better.

When we serve others, as we are called to do (Gal. 5:13), we find that we are serving ourselves also. As they change, this impacts us and we change. A self-giving attitude and heart produces positive change in those it touches. And it reinforces the good in itself. Many people have pointed out that they are blessed when they help others. Indeed, if this were not so, volunteerism would likely dry up. We should give this a try if we have not already. If we serve in a local ministry, perhaps a rescue mission or shelter, we can make an impact on those less fortunate than ourselves and at the same time find a refreshing sense of purpose and perspective.

The second half of The Blind Side focuses on the football. When his grades improve enough he is able to try out for the team. With his size, it is a slam-dunk that he will be a big impact player. Yet, in his first tryout in Spring practice, he wilts like limp lettuce. The coach is confused. But when Leigh Anne, watching from the sidelines, calls a timeout in the action, she walks onto the field and speaks to Michael, then to the team. After that Michael becomes fierce. "What did you say to him?" asks the coach. She looks at the coach and slowly replies, "You should really get to know your players. Michael scored in the 98th percentile in protective instincts."

Motivation is a second theme of the film. The coach did not know how to motivate Michael. He simply didn't know Michael. When Michael plays his first game for the school, the same thing happens. It is not until Michael sees that the coach has his back that he is prepared to trust him and literally has the coach's back.

Those of us in positions of leadership need to take this lesson to heart. This includes parents. We need to get to know our kids, our employees, our volunteers. What drives them? What gets them juiced? What do they need to be able to trust us? Until we do this, we won't know what to say to them to get the best out of them, to coax them to realize their fullest potential.

There is also a negative side to motivation. At one point an investigator questions Leigh Anne's motivations implying she and Sean were helping Michael for their own reasons, a hidden agenda. Further, at a lunch, Leigh Anne's girlfriends suggest that Michael is just another project; that she is not motivated by the person but by being seen to be doing good. This leaves her troubled, asking Sean in the privacy of their bedroom, "Am I a good person?" Though a Christian simply trying to live out her own faith, these questions chip away at her inner being.

Doctrines aside, this does underscore the fact that our motives may not always be clear or clean. We may hide them from others, even from ourselves. Michael points out, "Sometimes you might not even know why you're doing something." Yet God knows our inner secrets and our inner motivations (Psa. 139:1). The best we can do is deep introspection and then cry out to God like the psalmist, "Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts" (Psa. 139:23).

The Blind Side leaves us with a heart-warming feeling that is not sentimental. And if you're wondering why it is called "The Blind Side" Leigh Anne tells us this at the very start of the film as she voices over the Monday Night Football play that ended Joe Theisman's professional career:
Now, y'all would guess that more often than not, the highest paid player on an NFL team is the quarterback. And you'd be right. But what you probably don't know is that more often than not, the second highest paid player is, thanks to Lawrence Taylor, a left tackle. Because, as every housewife knows, the first check you write is for the mortgage, but the second is for the insurance. The left tackle's job is to protect the quarterback from what he can't see coming. To protect his blind side.
Michael's job was to protect the quarterback's blind side, but he carried this over into his family as well. Who protects your blind side? And whose blind side do you protect?

Copyright ©2010, Martin Baggs

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