3 Stars — Engaging

What is often mistaken as faith is a magical view of God and the world. Thinking that we can somehow attain a level of control over God such that we will receive what we ask, magical thinking eventually faces the reality that God is not controlled by our wishes or our prayers. He is not, as the children’s song explains, a “jack-in-the-box who jumps and pops” as we say our prayers. But what often replaces such magical thinking is not a mature trusting faith in a loving God whose answers bring our ultimate good, but a mechanistic view of life that relies solely on the laws of nature and the laws of morality.

In this intermediate view, the person believes that everything can be explained by either a natural law or a moral consequence. In this view, God does not intervene. However, this mechanistic view falls short in answering ultimate questions, including the meaning of love or the surprising joy that comes from what can only be described as miraculous events. These increasing levels of thoughtful experience moving a person from magic, to law, to faith is not easily understood and is most often misrepresented.

That is what we find in the engaging tale of director and author Alejandro Monteverde titled Little Boy.

Centering the story in the mind of a child during World War II, Monteverde and his co-author, Pepe Portillo, introduce us to Pepper Flynt Busbee (Jakob Salvati). Pepper is 8 years old and is small for his age. When his mother, Emma (Emily Watson), takes him to be examined by Dr. Fox (Kevin James), the physician tries to spare Pepper the trauma of being called a midget or a dwarf and instead proclaims him a “little boy,” a hurtful nickname the children and townspeople soon apply to him.

Recognizing the disadvantage his diminutive size will cause his son, Pepper’s father, James (Michael Rapaport), teaches him to have courageous belief through their imaginative play. It is this courageous belief that he can do anything that buoys Pepper up to face the bullies of his small town as well as the bullies in Germany and Japan.

When Pepper’s brother, London (David Henrie), is kept from enlisting because of his flat feet, his father James enlists in his place and is sent to the Philippines to fight the Japanese. It is his absence that causes Pepper to believe he can bring him home from the war alive. This belief is kindled both by a magician he admires as well as when he hears a priest teach that if he only has faith the size of a mustard seed then he could move mountains. Merging the magician’s illusions with his priest’s teaching, Pepper begins a journey that is as problematic as it is engaging.

Though we won’t tell the tale itself, there are three representatives of each stage of belief. The magical thinking comes from Ben Eagle (Ben Chapman), a professional magician of film and comic book fame who gives Pepper the illusion that he can move a bottle with his “belief” that he can. The mechanistic view is presented to Pepper by Hashimoto (Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa). Of Japanese descent, he does not believe in the “invisible friend” of Christian faith and instead that whatever might appear to be the intervention of God can be explained by natural law.

The life of faith is represented by Father Oliver (Tom Wilkinson). As a Catholic priest, he recognizes that Pepper’s little 8-year-old mind and heart are not yet able to understand how God works, but he tries to put him on an odyssey that will teach him about friendship, love, forgiveness, acceptance and compassion. Understanding that the power to help others doesn’t come from magic but from a transformed heart, the priest starts him on a journey that will take his entire life to complete.

It is this journey of mature, trusting faith in a loving God that not only changes the human heart but will miraculously move the mountains of hate and indifference that afflicts our world.


» Produced by Metanoia Films, metanoia is the Greek word for a change in the way a person thinks, a transformation of the mind. How was your mind affected by the thoughts presented in this work of art?

» The wise and loving support of Pepper by his mother Emma allows him to both be a child doing what he believed would bring his father home and be cared for when life brought disappointment. Who in your life gives you the space to grow in your beliefs rather than judge you?

» When the whole town watches Pepper try daily to end the war and then sees the headlines that “Little Boy” ended the war because that was the name of the atomic bomb dropped on Japan, it affirmed his magical thought and encouraged others into that way of thinking. What is similar “magical thinking” in the world today? Where do you see “mechanistic thinking” today? Where do you see “trusting faith” being expressed? Which of these ways of thinking is your usual response?

— Cinema in Focus is a social and spiritual movie commentary. Hal Conklin is a former mayor of Santa Barbara and Denny Wayman is pastor of Free Methodist Church, 1435 Cliff Drive. For more reviews, visit www.cinemainfocus.com, or follow them on Twitter: @CinemaInFocus. The opinions expressed are their own.