Most recent talks Film talks A-Z Before viewing talks Deep talks Sign up: email updates About the film talks Stay up on new talks Join the community
What's this site about? Inside out: Heart Inside out: Beauty Inside out: Love Thoughtful: a film's heart Thoughtful: film content Thoughtful: films to watch Who's behind this?
Register and login General PttH updates Film review sites Film site quick views Quotes The PttH seminar

The Big Kahuna (1999)

"Before viewing" talks introduce the film without spoilers. Watch it, then click on the "After viewing" talk for more. More»» by Randy Heffner

Why the film is worth your time

The Big Kahuna insightfully explores the nature of true concern for another individual in the context of friend-to-friend banter, interactions with coworkers, personal crisis, and Christian evangelism.

Read the rest of this entry »

Tags: ,

Post a Comment

NOTE: Please do NOT put spoilers in comments on Before viewing talks.

You must be registered (it's easy) and logged in to post a comment. Why?

"After viewing" talks assume that you have seen the film. They will contain spoilers. More»» by Randy Heffner

How the film enriched and changed me

I came away from The Big Kahuna with a stronger desire to be sensitive enough to see another’s pain, to get to know them where they are, and to show them they have “a home within [my] heart” (as singer-songwriter David Wilcox says). I feel more deeply the Beauty of simply loving them, and I come away praying that, should a God conversation arise, it would be because it’s natural to the moment, not because I forced it by setting them as a salvation target.

For me, Phil’s depression is the emotional center of the film. In the face of Phil’s great neediness, the film plays out a painful contrast between Larry’s and Bob’s relationships with Phil — painful because Bob misses the very kind of opportunity he would say he most wants. This is the pain that, for me, most drives home the film’s impact.

Larry has known Phil’s need and has wanted to be there for Phil, but he has been hesitant to reach out directly to Phil. Through the first half of the film, he seems harsh and almost unfriendly toward Phil, criticizing him for several things (e.g., the “hospitality closet”, the hors d’oeuvres, reading Penthouse). It seems he doesn’t so much like Phil, but the true nature of their relationship comes out in the second half, after Bob goes off to meet Fuller. Larry tells Phil he can call on him day or night, and Phil says that he assumed that he could. Phil, probing the depth of their relationship, runs up against an area of Larry’s shallowness when he asks if Larry loves him. Larry hasn’t thought that way about love, and he doesn’t know quite how to react. The best Larry can say is captured in the wonderful Larryism, “You have good hygiene. You’re a snappy dresser. You don’t talk with your mouth full. What’s not to love about that?” But Larry can learn, and the rest of the night’s events change him. Later on the phone, he comes around, telling Phil that indeed he does love him. Phil tells Bob the depth of his respect for Larry. There’s a beautiful rapport between Larry and Phil, and we realize that Larry’s seeming harshness in the first half was all a big loving-life-and-fun game for Larry. I long for deep and fun friendships like Phil’s and Larry’s, and The Big Kahuna deepened my love and desire for them.

Bob is just getting to know Phil, so he doesn’t start with an awareness of Phil’s depression. But Bob’s concern for Christian goodness causes him to fly right by clues he could have had to Phil’s pain. After Bob mentions Phil’s secretary’s comment about Phil’s character, a reflective tone develops in Bob’s and Phil’s conversation. Yet when Phil mentions his divorce, Bob reacts out of his Christian principles against divorce with, “Mind if I ask you what the problem was?” rather than out of compassion and sensitivity to Phil’s pain by saying something like, “Oh I’m sorry. That must hurt.” I didn’t notice this on the first viewing, and it hurt me to realize I was right where Bob was and might have said the same thing. As one might expect he would, Phil manages to avoid answering Bob’s insensitive question. Later, Larry finds out what Bob might have found out had he taken a more loving approach: Phil’s pain has brought him around to thinking deeply about life and spiritual issues. Even if the God dream that Phil recounts is a bit odd, Phil has a desire to understand spiritual things and to be loved, but Bob misses both.

The shallowness of Bob’s love comes out also in Bob’s words about his relationship with Richard Fuller. Bob says Richard was broken up about the recent death of his dog, yet Bob describes talking with Richard about the dog as a “lead in” to a conversation about Jesus and salvation. When Larry asks Bob point-blank why he brought Jesus into the conversation with Fuller, Larry says “because it’s “very important to me that people hear about Jesus.” In neither case, nor at any other time, does Bob express any personal care or concern for Fuller. Ouch, that hurts a lot. Talk about setting someone as a salvation target…

Near the climactic fight sequence, Larry and Bob’s conversation gets to what I see as the central question of the film. Larry says, “At issue is what we’re here to do!” Bob says, “Which is what, Larry? Which is what?!” Larry says, thinking of the convention, “We’re here to sell lubricants, Bob!” Bob might say, “to tell people about Jesus.” I believe Jesus’ answer is found in the two greatest commandments: love God and love others as yourself. The Big Kahuna helped me feel more deeply the dehumanization that evangelism can fall into when it becomes a forced transaction rather than a natural outcome of relationship. Whatever we happen to be doing at the time, we should love — simply because Love is the Beautiful thing. Paul had his list — faith, hope, and the greatest of these is love. Evangelism didn’t make his top three. Of course it’s important to tell others about Jesus, but love comes first and Bob seems to have left that part out, both with Phil and with Fuller, not to mention with Larry.

Larry and Phil are by no means perfect, but their love shows clearly in the openness and caring of their conversation while Bob is off at the exclusive party with Fuller. Looking more closely at the first half, we can see Larry sometimes smiling through his “criticism” (e.g., as Phil leaves the room to go down for more cigarettes, Larry jabs at him to check out the hors d’oeuvres on floor 15 “if you can stand the shame,” but then he gives a wry smile as he yells, “and bring me back some shrimp.”). Any critique we might have of Larry’s harshness with Phil is swept away in Phil’s validation of Larry during his final conversation with Bob. Yet through the whole night, Bob remains unrepentant, for example, of having no respect for Larry’s request to not quote Scripture, taking no responsibility for Larry’s departure, and defiantly saying he must “respectfully disagree” with Phil’s perspective on steering a conversation. Bob leaves the hospitality suite without even saying goodbye to Phil — he hesitates, and in his hesitation we might wonder whether he’s beginning to learn or he’s holding back another unrepentant reply. His tears could be either, and in the end he simply walks away.

The next morning, the face-off between Larry and Bob seems to show that both have changed. Larry hangs back rather than being the aggressive salesman, whom we would expect to insert himself into the Bob-Fuller conversation. After a moment, Bob’s blank stare turns to a smile. We might sense that Bob has understood that there’s more to being both a human and a Christian than evangelism. I believe Fuller heard from Bob about industrial lubricants. I’m hoping that Fuller also received a strong dose of pure love, unadulterated by transactional evangelism. I hope that Bob lived the freedom of leaving God’s work to God. But even more, because I saw The Big Kahuna, I hope to — and feel that I am more strongly inclined to — better love the Fullers and Phils and Larrys in my life — and the Bobs.

  • The distinction the film makes between being human and being merely a “function,” and the way the film applies this (explicitly) to evangelism and (implicitly) to male treatment of women.
  • Their last names: Larry Mann, the manly one. Bob Walker, diligently walking the Christian walk. Phil Cooper: a “cooper” is a maker and repairer of wooden vessels — I feel a connection to the notion of us as “treasures in jars of clay” and in the film Phil grows and repairs both Larry and Bob.
  • The way the film shows, as it opens, that Bob is so out of touch he doesn’t recognize Phil’s “God forbid” comment as a joke.
  • Larry’s quick one-liners: Perhaps part of Larry’s constant stream of one-liners is a way to cover some of his discomfort with relational closeness, but there was a real and caring Larry underneath. There were many, but some of the most memorable to me were:
    • Bob says, “What if [Fuller] wants to talk?” Larry replies, “Then you talk. Forty days and forty nights if necessary.”
    • Bob asks, “You’ll wait up?” Larry replies, “At least until the next fiscal quarter. After that, I can’t guarantee.”
    • Upon hearing that Bob talked with Fuller about Jesus: “Did you happen to mention what line of industrial lubricants Jesus would have endorsed?!”
  • Larry saying, “Does anything about this place strike you as having personality?” as he switches on the light bulb in the artificial fireplace.
  • Larry pointing out to Bob that it’s possible for people with strong principles to get married “only to find out one day that it was their principles that got married.”
  • The camera circling around Larry and Phil while they are sitting at the table eating dinner and talking. Something about it intensified the moment for me.
  • Although it hurt to watch it: Bob’s complete lack of respect for Larry’s request to not quote Scripture. I found in this a reflection of many areas of Christian-outsider interactions.
  • The intensity with which Larry feels Bob’s betrayal of the company: Although the importance of the big sale is subtly built, with Larry referring to Fuller as “the savior” and saying things such as (to Phil), “You are putting our future in the hands of a kid,” Larry’s tirade at the end becomes understandable (though not thereby excusable).
  • The strong irony of Bob explaining why he didn’t bring up lubricants with Fuller by saying, “I didn’t want him to think I was using the subject of religion to cozy up to him, to get him to sign some contract,” when in fact the situation was just the opposite: Bob was (irresponsibly) using his position with the company to cozy up to Fuller to get him to sign up with Jesus.
  • Phil’s not being taken off point by Bob’s protest that Larry wasn’t chased from the room. Phil simply changes his phrase from “The man we just chased from the here…” to “The man who just left the room…”
  • Phil’s insights at the end, particularly, “No, Bob. I’m saying you’ve already done plenty of things to regret. You just don’t know what they are.”

Screenshots and dialog copyright © 1999 by the filmmakers.

Tags: ,

Post a Comment

NOTE: It is okay to have spoilers in comments on After viewing talks — no warnings necessary.

You must be registered (it's easy) and logged in to post a comment. Why?