The lover of money will not be satisfied with money; nor the lover of wealth, with gain. This also is vanity.
Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal;but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal.For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, and in their eagerness to be rich some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains.
1 Timothy 6:10
This delightful comedy drama, with more than a touch of fantasy, offers insight into money and our relationship to it. Danny Boyle, directing from Frank Cottrell Boyce’s script, tells the story of two young brothers who, with their father, are grieving over the recent death of their mother. The nine year-old son Anthony (Lewis Owen McGibbon), the more practical of the pair, clings to his denial of their loss, whereas little Damian (Alexander Nathan Etel), deeply religious, finds comfort in his faith. Being seven years old, he is at the cusp of the childhood that still believes in fairies and Santa Claus. Damian is as avid fan of the saints and their lives in the way that other boys might know stats of ball players. He often converses with saints, asking if they have seen his mother in heaven.
Their father Ronnie (James Nesbitt) decides to flee their past by moving to a sterile new suburb of the city, right by a set of railroad tracks. It is then that the boys’ big adventure begins. Right next to the busy train tracks Damian builds a fort/house out of their large moving boxes and crates. Here he finds escape from the bleak world. His first house guest is St. Clair of Assisi, who finds here a sanctuary where she can sneak a cigarette. Shortly afterward a train speeds by. Out of the sky falls a heavy satchel that damages part of Damian’s fort. He brings Anthony to see it, and, when the older brother is impressed, Damien asks, “You see it too?” thus showing that he is aware that he has lived in what others regard as an imaginary world. (At school he is the boy who stands alone against the wall while the other children dash merrily about.)
The boys are surprised that the satchel contains money—a lot of money! The boys enjoy playing with it, stacking it in piles like it was Monopoly money. They do not tell their dad, but they do bring a few of their friends—though they reveal only a small amount of the bills. Damien believes their windfall is a gift from God. Anthony is not so sure.
Damian’s view of how they should use the money, no doubt influenced by his apparition of St. Francis of Assisi, is to see what good it can do by giving it away. He feeds some street people, and at night, accompanied by St. Nicholas (it is Christmas time), he sneaks around stuffing bills into the mail slots of homes. Later, after a vision of the African Martyrs, he sees that for a hundred pounds, a well can be provided for an African village.
Not only is Christmas around the corner, but E-Day is also coming soon. This is Euro-Day, the deadline after which the Euro will become the official currency in England. After that date their satchel of British bills will be worthless. Anthony knows that they must convert the money, but he is old enough to know that they dare not take it all to one bank, lest they arouse suspicion as to its source. Then, like a dark cloud hovering over a picnic, a stranger with a menacing look and voice, appears in their neighborhood. He is searching for something, and soon is watching the boys’ house.
Another adult also enters into the boys’ life, and it is she who inadvertently leads their father to discover the cache of money. She is Dorothy (Daisy Donovan), who speaks at the boys’ school on behalf of the starving people of Ethiopia. Damien’s dropping a role of bills into the money bin results in an investigation, which leads to the boys. Anthony concocts a far-fetched explanation, and their Dad, meeting Dorothy, is soon dating her. When he learns the truth from the boys, they discuss what to do with the money. Dorothy suggests that they report the money to the police. Damien wants to give it to the poor, but their usually honest dad wants to keep it, especially after their house is ransacked by the stranger.
There are so many delightful elements in this film, including a Christmas pageant and a guiding Star, that this film could become a perennial Christmas favorite. Pastors looking for a fresh angle for their November (usually) stewardship campaigns, could use the film to show how the different ways we relate to money depends on our basic values. But for now, adults, with or without children, should see this rare family film, one that appeals to the child within us and celebrates the fantasies that can lead us into doing good deeds in the real world.
For reflection/discussion (Warning: the following contains a spoiler or two, so you might want to wait until you have seen the film before reading further.)
1) Compare the two brothers. How does each handle the loss of his mother? What about their father?
2) Which boy most reflects the values in Jesus’ Beatitudes (Matt. 5:3-10)
3) What do you make of the appearance of the saints? How do the filmmakers keep this from being overly pious or sentimental? (Were you offended that St. Claire is shown as smoking? If so, do you think that a saint is without any blemish? If this is of special interest, see the way that Graham Greene deals with the theme of sainthood in his novels The Power and the Glory and The End of the Affair.)
4) Did you guess the nature of the source of the money when it “fell out of the sky”? When little Damien learns from a classmate its probable source, how is this the beginning of his journey out of childhood? What do you hope he might retain of his childhood as he matures? (Note that Jesus would concur when he stated that we must become “like a child” if we are to enter the kingdom of God.)
5) Compare the way in which the brothers regard the money. What does Anthony want to do with it? Damien? How do you think that Anthony’s older age contributes to his view? How could Damien’s devotion to the saints influence his decision on what to do with the money? Later, when their father learns of the cash, what does he want to do with it? How is Anthony like his father in this respect? How have they been caught up in the consumer values of society? How could Damien (and his St. Francis) be subversive to those values?
6) How is the stranger most like those described in the passage from 1 Timothy? What do you think about the father—is he that different?
7) The visit of St. Peter evokes Christ’s feeding of the 5000. What does this version emphasize about the “miracle”? Is this similar to the way that the film depicts the “miracle” of the money falling into Damien’s hands?
8) What does the Christmas pageant add to the story? How is it relevant especially to Damien’s use of the money? He makes the comment, “I was going to give it to the poor, but it’s hard?” In what way? What do you make of the shot of the well and water at the end of the film?
If you unexpectedly received a large sum of money, what do you think you might do with it? How do you think it might affect your life? What do you think of the observance of Koholeth in the passage from Ecclesiastes? How might your faith affect your decision in regard to using the money?