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Film / Soul Surfer

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Soul Surfer is a 2011 American biographical drama film directed by Sean McNamara, based on the 2004 autobiography Soul Surfer: A True Story of Faith, Family, and Fighting to Get Back on the Board by Bethany Hamilton about her life as a surfer after a horrific shark attack and her recovery.

Bethany Hamilton (AnnaSophia Robb) is a teenager who lives in Kauai, Hawaii who loves surfing. One day, she and her best friend Alana Blanchard (Lorraine Nicholson) go surfing with Alana's father and brother. As Bethany dangles her left arm in the water, a tiger shark appears out of nowhere and bites off her arm near the shoulder.

The film follows the effect of the shark attack on Bethany's personal life and her surfing career.


This film provides examples of:

  • 10-Minute Retirement: Her first attempt at returning to competitive surfing ends with an angry Bethany deciding to abandon the sport altogether, giving away her surfboards to a bunch of fans while her dad watches disappointed.
  • Adaptational Angst Upgrade: The real Bethany Hamilton claims that she was much more cheerful in the hospital. She played pranks on the nurses and gave stuffed animals to a cancer patient.
  • Adaptational Attractiveness: Practically everyone, with the exception of Alana, a real-life model, who is even more attractive than her film counterpart.
    • Though the real Bethany is much taller.
  • Adult Fear: Having your child attacked by a dangerous animal is a big one.
  • Age Cut: Young Bethany dives underwater and teenage Bethany surfaces.
  • Alliterative Title: Soul Surfer.
  • Aloha, Hawaii!: The film is both set and filmed there.
  • An Arm and a Leg: Bethany loses her arm to a shark.
  • Artificial Limbs: Bethany gets offered one, but she soon turns it down upon learning that it isn't durable enough to withstand the rigors of surfing.
  • Advertisement:
  • Barely-There Swimwear: The bikini that Alana buys.
    Bethany: Are you kidding? That looks like an eyepatch.
  • Based on a True Story
  • Blood Is Squicker in Water: Good god.
  • Christianity Is Catholic: Averted. Here Christianity is Evangelical.
  • Daddy's Girl: Bethany
  • Fanservice: Bethany and Alana spend most of the movie in bikinis. (They're surfers in Hawaii, after all). Most notably, Alana's photoshoot.
    • In point of fact Bethany rather disliked the photoshoot, saying in her memoirs that it made Alana look more exhibitionistic then she really was.
    • Bethany and the other surfers usually wear a jersey over their swimsuits during the actual surfing scenes.
  • "Friends" Rent Control: The family lives in a very nice house, with zero mention of what either parent's job is. And if the mother is homeschooling the children, it's possible she doesn't work at all. At the time of the attack in real life, Bethany's father was a waiter and her mother cleaned condos. Not exactly the kind of salaries that could normally afford a big house right on the beach in Hawaii.
    • Though Bethany’s father was a waiter at the Princeville Resort which is not at the same level as someone waiting tables at say Applebees. He probably made a good amount of money and housing prices on the islands tend to skew a bit on the cheaper side.
  • Good Parents: The Hamiltons and the Blanchards.
  • Gory Discretion Shot: We don't actually see the wound from the shark attack. Lots of blood in the water, though.
  • Heel–Face Turn: Malina
  • Heterosexual Life-Partners: Bethany and Alana. Truth in Television; they're still best friends to this day.
  • Homeschooled Kids: Because the best surfing hours are during school.
  • I Just Want to Be Normal: Normal is so overrated.
  • Mood Whiplash: Bethany and Alana are casually discussing what swimsuits to wear for their photoshoot. Then the shark attacks.
  • Ms. Fanservice: Every female character provides a bit of fanservice, but Alana still manages to stand out. Truth in Television, just look at her!
  • Oh, Crap!: Describes the look on Bethany's dad's face perfectly when he a nurse tells his surgeon that they're bringing in a teenage girl who got attacked by a shark—and he knows his daughter was out surfing.
  • Ominous Latin Chanting: Well, Hawaii. Used to great effect on the way to the hospital.
  • Parking Problems: Bethany's mom is so upset after hearing about her daughter's arm, she forgets to put her minivan in Park after arriving at the hospital.
    • Alana's dad takes up two parking spaces with his truck.
  • Passionate Sports Girl: Bethany Hamilton starts off with a future on the real waves she surfs. When she comes back from a loss, beating the odds and never saying never, she becomes a champion.
  • Plenty of Blondes: The movie includes pretty much every woman with a speaking part (and maybe then some) except the native Hawaiian Malina Birch, Bethany's fierce rival.
  • Plucky Girl: Bethany.
  • Reality Is Unrealistic: Some people complained that the large bite taken out of the board was cartoonish and unrealistic. They were wrong.
    • Bethany wrote later that she was calmer during the incident than the movie showed.
  • Real Men Love Jesus: And women.
  • Real-Person Epilogue: The epilogue features footage of the real Bethany Hamilton.
  • Revenge: Sort of. That very shark ends up being showed off as a trophy by some fishermen. However it is just a fish so it is not clear how much revenge one can get. More likely the emphasis was on getting a dangerous animal out of the water so it couldn't harm any more humans.
  • Scenery Porn: Hawaii.
  • She's Back: Bethany doesn't get back onto the board until she helps out a young boy overcome his fear of the water by using a surfboard to go out into the water. Doubles as a Eureka Moment as she realizes she can inspire people through this.
  • Talent Double: While an actor plays Bethany in the dialogue, Bethany was her own stunt double, conveniently being perfectly qualified, as well as saving the effects crew from having to erase a stunt double's arm like they did with AnnaSophia Robb. In other words, when you see the surfing scenes, you are actually watching Bethany Hamilton. And it doesn't look like it should be called "surfing". It should be called dancing on the water.
  • Threatening Shark
  • Training Montage
  • True Companions: Several overlapping groups; the Hamiltons and Blanchards, Bethany and her Church Youth Group, Bethany and her surfing buddies too.
  • Vomit Indiscretion Shot: Alana throws up on the beach after the shark attack.
  • Walking Swimsuit Scene: Scenes where Bethany and Alana aren't wearing swimsuits of some kind can be counted on one hand, though it's justified given where they live (Hawaii), and what they are doing most of the time (surfing).
  • "Where Are They Now?" Epilogue


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