42 (2013) Directed by Brian Helgeland
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A Film About Faith and Baseball
by Rev. Ted Giese
Jesus said, “If anyone would come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow Me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will save it. For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself? For whoever is ashamed of Me and of My words, of him will the Son of Man be ashamed when He comes in His glory and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels.” (Luke 9:23-26 ESV)
The movie 42 (The Jackie Robinson 2013 Bio-Pic) is about the life of two Christians, Branch Rickey and Jackie Robinson (Chadwick Boseman), and how they lived their Christian Faith in their vocations; Rickey as the General Manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers and Robinson as a player on the team. On the surface it looks like it’s simply a bio-pic about the first African American Major League baseball player and the events surrounding his first season with the Dodgers (1945-46) but the film presents the Christian Faith in a frank and open way that is inseparable from the daily life of the central characters. Early on you know this will be a different film when Branch Rickey, played by Harrison Ford, while looking through possible players from the Negro League, settles on Robinson saying “He’s a Methodist, I’m and Methodist, God’s a Methodist, we can't go wrong.”
At the core of the film is an interesting question about vocation.
That year there were many African American ball players playing in the Negro League but there was only one African American ball player set to play in the Major League. Rickey was ready for the flack he’d receive for bringing a black player into the white world of Major League baseball but he wasn’t sure if Robinson was ready to be that player. He needed to know, so Rickey interviewed Robinson and made it clear that Robinson’s temper was a problem and that Robinson would have to keep it under wraps to succeed. Rickey says to Robinson, “We win if the world is convinced of two things, that you’re a fine gentleman and a great baseball player ... like our Savior you’ve gotta’ have the guts to turn the other cheek, can you do it?” Robinson replies, “You give me a uniform, you give me a number on my back, I’ll give you the guts.” Unlike the other African American ball players that year, Robinson had an additional task to do in his vocation, he had to win the hearts and minds of a nation struggling with racism and segregation, and he had to do it by denying himself, denying his temper and his pride and his will to fight back when spit upon, when persecuted and when called the worst racial slurs. His vocation was more than just playing hard and fair baseball to win as a team player, everyone in baseball was expected to do that, he had to do more. He was living his vocation out under the microscope, at one point Rickey says to Robinson in a moment of deep need, “You’re living the sermon, 40 days in the wilderness.” Robinson isn’t a Christ figure in 42, he’s an example of what Jesus says in Luke Chapter 9. As a follower of Christ, as a Christian, the Christian is called to deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow Christ. Robinson was called to do this publicly every time he stepped onto the field; to be a gentleman, to play good ball and to take whatever the world threw at him: to let God be the one who would take vengeance.
If you’re looking for a movie this year that deals with America’s history of working to overcoming racism then 42 is your movie, it’s much more accessible than Lincoln (2012) and doesn’t have the excesses and violence of a film like Danjo Unchained (2012). Aside from all of that it’s a great baseball film and ranks up there with favourites like Field of Dreams (1989), The Bad News Bears (1976), and The Natural (1984). The only caution is that while the film is rated PG-13, it is rated that way for thematic elements including language, the language gets very racist in parts and is intend to make you feel uncomfortable, which it does, notably in a scene with Alan Tudyk who plays Ben Chapman the manager of the Philadelphia Phillies, so if you are sensitive to this or if you have a hard time with this particular theme you’ll want to take that into consideration before watching the film.
following Jesus does in fact take guts
The beauty of 42 is its character study, excellently acted by Chadwick Boseman, of a man living out his faith in Jesus in the daily trials and tribulations that he faces each day in his vocation as husband, father, and baseball player. It shows vividly how the choices made day in and day out make a difference and how denying ourselves and following Christ Jesus does in fact take guts and isn’t easy. Viewers who are only semi-aware of the Bible, or who are only just beginning to learn more about the Christian faith, may not at first see the connection between some of the Scripture references made in the film and the events that the film portrays; but the Christian watching this film who has lived their faith out in the world will know where they are going to go when they pick up their cross and follow Jesus: in this way 42 is film that invites personal reflection. Robinson was able to make giant strides in the areas of racism and racial discrimination as he carried his cross with the help of Branch Rickey and many of his team mates on the Dodgers; 42 shows this story in an exciting and inspiring way and can also be an encouraging film to anyone who is struggling with the challenges of living out their faith in their own vocations in life.
Rev. Ted Giese is lead pastor of Mount Olive Lutheran Church, Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada; a contributor to The Canadian Lutheran, Reporter; and movie reviewer for the “Issues, Etc.” radio program. Follow Pastor Giese on Twitter @RevTedGiese. Check out our Movie Review Index!
 “But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.” (Matthew 5:39 ESV)
 The Spirit immediately drove [Jesus] out into the wilderness. And He was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan. And He was with the wild animals, and the angels were ministering to Him. (Mark 1:12-13 ESV)
 Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” (Romans 12:19 ESV)