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Seven Days in Utopia (2011)

"Before viewing" talks don't have spoilers, but since there's no "After viewing" talk for this one, comments may have spoilers. More»» by Randy Heffner

Knowing that Seven Days in Utopia is, broadly speaking, from the genre of Christian films might cause some to cheer and some to run. For my part, I take the film on its own terms, letting it build its own world as it will. Though of the Christian genre, Christian themes are, to the film’s credit, more heavily embodied in characters’ views and decisions than in their words. This makes nearly the entire film directly accessible and non-affrontive to those of any belief system, including atheism. In the few places where Christianity does show up directly in the film, it is a matter of the heart and soul of particular characters, and it comes up naturally in the context of the characters’ relationships. Thus, I believe that these directly Christian parts will also be accessible and non-affrontive to those of other beliefs, excepting viewers that are intolerant of Christianity’s presence in any form. All that to say this: So far as the film itself goes, its Christian basis is not a reason to avoid it.

Luke Chisholm has his sights set on the professional golf scene. He is set to win a tournament that would give him the break he’s been looking for, but he caves in to his father’s demand to shoot the last hole aggressively. The result is disastrous, and Luke has a major on-TV meltdown. Slamming his car door, he races off on the small back roads of the Texas hill country. Just outside Utopia (yes, this is a real Texas town, and the film was shot there), he wrecks his car and meets Johnny Crawford, an elderly eccentric with a passion for golf and curious insights into the game. Having seen Luke’s TV meltdown, Johnny invites him to stick around while his car is being repaired, promising to help Luke find his game. Running time: 99 min.

The key to connecting with Seven Days in Utopia is to care about Luke, to wonder what was behind his meltdown (see introduction to the story, below), and to hope he can grow past it. If you give the film this bit of charity — and caring about people in crisis is a beautiful thing to do, anyway — there’s much to gain from Luke’s journey in Utopia. How much do we think about why we do what we do? Emotions are a wonderful gift, yet how often do we live purely by shallow emotions based on superficial things? Do we whistle in the light, thinking that disaster and death will not strike us and thus we don’t need to prepare? How stable are we in ourselves, over and against the little things people say? Though the film plays such questions out in a perhaps gimmicky one-lesson-per-day rubric, it is good to pause and think about foundational life issues.

The filmcraft has some bright spots, but it is uneven, to say the least. Noteworthy on the good side are the opening of the film’s action (i.e., the tail end of Luke’s meltdown), Luke’s explorations of Johnny’s study, and Johnny’s handling of Luke. Numerous other character interactions are strong, although Luke’s relationship with his Utopian arch-rival is not so much, and relational reconciliations in the film are underdeveloped. The film’s biggest failing involves multiple interactions with sportscasters (likely enough, the filmmakers thought these were necessary for non-golfers to understand the story, but it was a cheap way out — viewers might offer the film a good bit of grace here).

All in all, Seven Days in Utopia is worth seeing, but don’t put it as a high priority unless something about it really grabs you. And, if you can’t give the film a bit of grace for filmcraft weaknesses, then definitely stay away. Still, Johnny has some very good things to say that are well worth the time — and these come from the well-credited experience of sports psychologist David Cook, who wrote the book on which the film is based. Oh, and one final note: The film does play an evangelical game with a redirection to a website during the credits. Follow it if you want to, but the film’s ending (which is not unlike that of Inception and will similarly set some to whining) stands on its own without it.

A few scenes of intense anger and temper tantrum, an almost kiss, a sort-of fist fight, and a theme of non-violent but all-to-prevalent parental abuse through emotional strong-arming.

  • Director: Matt Russell
  • Screenplay: David Cook, Rob Levine, Matt Russell, and Sandra Thrift based on novel by David Cook
  • Leads: Lucas Black, Robert Duvall
  • Cinematography: M. David Mullen
  • Music: Klaus Badelt, Christopher Carmichael

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