Charlie St. Cloud (2010)

Rated PG-13. Our Ratings: V-1;L-2 ; S/N -4. Running time: 1 hour 35 min.

My heart is in anguish within me,
the terrors of death have fallen upon me.
Fear and trembling come upon me,
and horror overwhelms me.
And I say, “O that I had wings like a dove!
I would fly away and be at rest…
Psalm 55:4-6

Charlie and his brother Sam are very close.

2010 Universal Pictures

With heartthrob Zac Efron starring as the title character, this will appeal mainly to teenaged girls who want a break from vampire sagas. Charlie and 11 year-old brother Sam (Charlie Tahan), living with their single Mom (Kim Basinger), are as close as can be. The two of them beat off the competition in an exciting yacht race, and Charlie makes a pact to always be there at sunset to train Sam in baseball. The future looks rosy for Charlie, as he has won a sailing scholarship to Stanford after graduating as the valedictorian of his high school class. Then comes the nighttime accident when two vehicles plow into the car that Charlie is driving.

Sam dies right away, and when Charlie flat lines, the EMT (Ray Liotta) attending him pronounces him dead. Then the machine shows that Charlie is back, the EMT later telling Charlie that God has given him a second chance. However, far from feeling grateful, Charlie, five years later, manages the cemetery where his brother lies. He apparently in his grief and guilt has given up all plans to go to college. But there is more. Each evening at sunset, Charlie goes to a wooded area of the sunset to meet—Sam. The two practice grounders while chatting.

The Charlie meets Tess (Amanda Crew), who also loves sailing. Indeed, she is planning to sale a yacht to South Africa and back, so when Charlie expresses an interest in her, she tells him that this is not the time to begin a relationship. Of course, she soon changes, and then, when she is in danger, Charlie will have to choose between his dead brother and his live girl friend, and— This is one of those films in which the photography—in this case of the coast and hills of the Pacific Northwest (not New England as some have been led to believe by the names of the towns)—plays an important role. Much of the action takes place amidst the golden glow of sunset, creating an otherworldly effect so necessary for us to accept Charlie’s communing with his dead brother.

The religion is more New Age than Christian, but the psalm passage is a good description of Charlie in the first part of the film. A group could use the film to talk about our relationship with the dead and the living, and especially about the need to “let go.” Not a very deep film theologically, yet it is one which could lead to a deep discussion.

For Reflection/Discussion

May contain spoilers.

1. Describe the relationship between Charlie and Sam. If, as we see, Charlie cannot let Sam go in death, how do you think he would have handled the separation resulting from his going away to college?

2. The name of the novel that the film is based on is The Death and Life of Charlie St. Cloud. How is the unusual order of “Death” and “Life” fitting? And also, how does Charlie experience a second death, even if symbolically—and so appropriate in regard to his place of employment? How does his relationship with Tess lead to a “resurrection” in his life?

4. How is Charlie’s choice of going in search of the lost Tes freeing for Sam? How is this depicted?

5. Have you experienced a “second chance” from God, similar to what the EMT says to Charlie? Judging by Scriptures, how is God indeed the God of Second Chances?