The Odd Life of Timothy Green (2012)

Rated PG. Our ratings: V -0; L -5; S/N -2. Running time: 1 hour 41 min.

There was a certain man of Ramathaim, a Zuphite* from
the hill country of Ephraim, whose name was Elkanah son
of Jeroham son of Elihu son of Tohu son of Zuph, an
Ephraimite. He had two wives; the name of one was Hannah,
and the name of the other Peninnah. Peninnah had children,
but Hannah had no children…She made this vow: ‘O Lord of
hosts, if only you will look on the misery of your servant, and
remember me, and not forget your servant, but will give to
your servant a male child, then I will set him before you as a
nazirite*until the day of his death. He shall drink neither wine
nor intoxicants,*and no razor shall touch his head.’
1 Samuel 1:1-11

From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view;* even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view,*we know him no longer in that way.
2 Corinthians 5:16

Cindy, Timothy, and Jim Green host a party.
2012 Walt Disney

Director Peter Hedges wrote script based on story by Ahmet Zappa about a childless couple so desperate that they resort to magic to obtain the child of their dreams. Cindy and Jim Green are younger than the elderly couple in the 1 Samuel story, but just as desperate. So, as they report to a couple of child welfare workers (their narration being the framing device for the film), after all medical-aided attempts to conceive failed, they wrote on pages from a small spiral notebook the qualities they wanted in their child—a loving heart, “our kid would never give up,” Our kid will rock,” “honest to a fault,” “Our kid will be a glass half-full,” “Our kid will score the winning goal.” They cheer and then they place the notes in a small wooden box and carefully bury it in their garden during the dark of night. They say to the welfare people, “You are not going to believe this…” so we know the following tale will require some suspension of believe, as do all such fantasies A little time passes, the wind blows, and rain falls—and then suddenly the rain falls upward. Jim calls to his wife. They open the door to what is to be their child’s room, and there he is. Only Timothy is not an infant, but a middle school-aged boy. His body is smeared with mud as if he had crawled out of the rain-soaked earth. Equally perplexing are the small green leaves attached to his ankles and feet. An old fashioned name for a child was “little sprout,” and Timothy is apparently that. Needless to say, Timothy proves to be quite an unusual child, at school and at home. The Greens have to make up quite a story as to how they suddenly came by the boy. Timothy will have quite an impact on people, though not quite as Cindy and Jim had anticipated. There is even a climactic game (soccer) that no one present will ever forget.

As you can see, this is a secular birth tale somewhat similar to the Biblical story of the birth of Samuel the prophet. Cindy is a lot younger than old Hannah, but she is just as barren and achingly longing for a child. Samuel will make quite a difference in his world, and in his own way so will little Timothy. Peter Hedges wrote two films that I love, What’s Eating to Gilbert Grape and Pieces of April (also About a Boy), so it’s a delight to see him being able to direct his own material. This is an excellent film for either adults or youth to see and discuss, though you might have to coax the latter to see a show about a young kid. (Maybe emphasizing the fantasy aspect will pique their curiosity.)

In one version of the trailer a narrator says that they were expecting a child but received a miracle—language akin to that of the Bible’s. Another version of the trailer invites us, “To see the world in a whole new light.” Right on, that’s the invitation God gives us in the Scriptures, is it not. And in particular in the life of that second Miracle Child chronicled in the gospels.

For Reflection/Discussion

Spoilers in the last two questions.

1. How are fantasy and magic realism films sort of a secular counterpart to the Biblical tales with their miracles? How does this show that even in a rationalistic culture we still seek the mysterious?

2. How are Cindy and Jim like Hannah and Elkanah? How does the means by which each woman seeks to solve her problem reflect their culture?

3. How does Timothy help people in the film “To see the world in a whole new way” ? Compare this to what the apostle Paul says in 2 Cor. 16. How does he help Ms. Crudstaff, despite her initial reaction?

4. What do you think of his relation to other children? How is this often the case with a child with “peculiar” gifts?

5. What twists, if any, in the plot surprised you? How does the film take some of the elements of the child and sports film genre and stand them on their head?

6. How are the Greens better off at the end of the film? What do you think of the ending? How is the film similar to others in which a mysterious person enters the lives of people, bringing about transformation—” To see the world in a whole new way” ?