Lee has a bachelor's in English Lit. She loves analyzing fiction and obsessing over books, film, and television.
The Pursuit of Happyness is a 2006 biographical drama film starring Will Smith and his son, Jaden Smith. The story is based on the real life of Chris Gardener, a famous business man and stockbroker who spent one year living on the street and eventually became a millionaire.
Despite the controversy that surrounds the film (colorism, racist tropes), I think it imparts a marvelous lesson. As I've been learning these past few months, happiness is a choice and love -- true love -- is unconditional. Chris Gardener's year on the street was a lesson in that regard (one that he likely never forgot), and once he embraced it, it turned his entire life around.
Within the first ten minutes of the film, Chris' wife, Linda (Thandie Newton) is ready to leave him because they're behind on the rent.
While I do have a problem with her being the only female character in the story, I don't agree with other reviews of this film that her anger at Chris was reasonable.
Chris is not sitting on the couch all day, watching television. He is out there everyday trying to make ends meet for his family. Sometimes families fall on hard times. When you marry someone, you stand by them through thick and thin -- excluding times, of course, when it is detrimental to you. You don't abandon your family because it falls on hard times financially. Linda's attitude is shitty.
When your parner can't find work and is busting their ass trying, you stand by them and support them. Having two jobs and standing by her husband is what Linda was supposed to do -- not mock him, berate him, and treat him like crap because he's struggling to find work.
In other words, Linda loves Chris on the condition that he can pay the bills. But what's the point in loving someone if you're going to put conditions on it?
There's a difference between healthy boundaries -- saying you won't date someone who is abusive, for instance -- and turning your back on someone who has fallen on hard times because it's inconvenient for you.
Linda did the latter.
When I fall in love, it's going to be unconditionally. My partner could lose their job, and we could wind up on the street. I'd still love her. And I'd still be there.
It's kind of like Linda was so stressed out and anxious, she couldn't see what a good husband she actually had.
When Linda finally leaves, Chris decides that happiness is something that must be pursued, and in his low state of mind, even manages to convince himself that it is something that can never be found. Ergo, we are doomed to the endless pursuit of it.
But -- as is so often the case -- just when things are looking their darkest, they get better. After running home to find his wife and son gone, Chris gets an internship offer from Jay Twistle (Brian Howe), a man he impressed with his solving of a Rubik's cube.
Chris has an argument with Linda and calls her weak (I agree). Linda shouts over and over that she isn't happy, but it's only because she made the choice not to be. She could have been happy in spite of their circumstances, she could have stuck it out for richer or poorer, but she chose to bail when things got hard -- not because Chris cheated or abused her or refused to find work or was a bad father. She didn't have a legitimate reason for bailing.
Things getting hard financially is not a legitimate reason to leave your spouse. Why get married if you aren't going to take it seriously?
It seems to be in this moment that Chris realizes happiness is a choice, that he can choose to be happy with his son no matter the circumstances. He asks his son if he is happy. When Christopher says yes, they agree to live together through the hard times.
This is what Linda would have done had she really loved her husband. This is what I mean when I say love should be unconditional: Linda loved Chris on the condition that he would always have money.
After the hilarious pants joke, there's a scene where Chris tells his son he doesn't want him playing basketball. It's heartbreaking when Christopher gets sad. I knew exactly how he felt, because my father did the same thing to me when I was a teenager, told me I couldn't do something and laughed at my dream.
Because he actually has emotional intelligence (unlike my asshole father), Chris realizes that he's said something horrible to his son and apologizes with one of the best quotes from the film,
"Don't ever let someone tell you that you can't do something. Not even me. If you gotta dream, you gotta protect it. You want something, go get it. Period."
The part where Chris gets hit by a car and loses his shoe is pretty painful to watch. He then has to go to work missing a shoe, and he can't skip out and go home or he risks losing his internship.
Every time it seems like things are getting better, the legs are knocked from under Chris. He makes a little money, and the IRS takes it all from his account because he didn't pay his taxes. With his bank account empty, he and Christopher are evicted and have to stay in a restroom at the BART station.
It was a pretty touching scene when Chris starts playing "Time Travel" with his son in order to cheer him up and keep him happy. They pretend the public restroom is a "cave" to hide from dinosaurs in and lock themselves inside for the night. It's particularly scary when someone comes along and starts banging on the door, demanding to come in.
Looking at the restroom scene really touched me. I was homeless once. I remember what it was like to wash up in public restrooms and then sleep in my car, always terrified someone was going to come along and kidnap me or assault me. One guy tried to get me to come back to his apartment with him under the guise of giving me a place to sleep -- but he really just wanted sex.
Chris and Christopher were desperate and in danger. And yet, they chose to be happy throughout, going to football games, playing "Time Travel" while homeless.
Remaining positive and having a good attitude doesn't mean you never get to be sad. It means you continue believing things will get better, even at the worst of times.
There's a scene after this where Chris and his son try to enter a homeless shelter and are turned away because they're male -- the shelter is only for women and children.
I thought it was interesting when this scene came up because the exact same thing happened to me when I was homeless. I tried to take sanctuary in a church that offered nightly shelter for homeless people, but the church refused to take me because I was a woman: they only took men because they were using them for free manual labor.
I also couldn't get into the women's shelter because I had a dog and couldn't bring myself to abandon her. So I lived in my car.
Chris donates blood, fixes the last x-ray machine and sells it to keep himself and his son afloat, and after all that -- after so many tests, trials, and tribulations -- he was hired on as a stockbroker.
Chris never gave up, never stopped believing things would get better, kept a positive attitude, worked hard, and things worked out for him. For anyone who understands the Law of Attraction, there is so much truth to this film. The situation was never out of Chris' control. Like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, he discovered that he had the power all along.
I can't understand how anyone could see this film as "depressing."
© 2019 Lee
Umesh Chandra Bhatt from Kharghar, Navi Mumbai, India on February 21, 2019:
A good review.