Number 354 but actually the 360th post.
I saw an interesting movie yesterday and it pertains to our discussion here. It is a fictional drama intended for spiritual intervention and self-improvement, without being frankly Christian. The title is “The Ultimate Gift” (1999) based on the novel by Jim Stovall.
One reviewer summed up the messages in this story this way. Life is how you live it, not how you consume it. Beware materialism and its dangers. Think outside yourself. In seeking happiness, seek fulfillment. Stress the importance of relationships. Give and engage in philanthropy when you can.
The plot goes like this. An old man passes away. He happens to have gotten extremely wealthy from his business in the oil industry. When the will is about to be read, greedy family members and associates eagerly anticipate great fortunes to be turned over to them, but are disappointed with their inheritance. The will holds back most of the wealth. Instead, it requests that the estranged grandson carry out several mysterious tasks. The grandson has been spoiled and lived a luxurious life without having to work, so he expects a lot to be given for him. However, his father died young and he has had a bad relationship with his grandfather, so he only has scorn for his grandfather’s passing and does not expect to receive a nickel from him. Rather, he can live off his allowance his mother provides.
A lawyer who was a close friend o the deceased acts as the executor and calls upon the grandson to follow the instructions left on a video tape by the grandfather. The young man, 24 years old, is finally persuaded to watch the video, which makes a series of requests called “gifts” left by the old man. The grandson finds that his mother has been made to cooperate with the lawyer and obey her former father-in-law’s wishes. She takes away a luxurious apartment, fancy car and monthly income from her son so that he is forced to find a way to survive on his own. In short, he as to work and learn to appreciate the value of money. Also, he is forced to face the reality when he finds out that none of his friends are supportive; rather, they are only interested in his wealth and drop him when he needs help. He must find true friends to satisfy the requirements of the old man’s orders, and encounters a single mother and her chronically ill daughter. A true friendship develops and he tries to help the mother and daughter. On Christmas, he arranges a special day for the girl to enjoy. He has to learn a lot of things and accept the challenges of problems. On one task, he is sent away to the place in South America where his adventurous father passed away during some idealist project serving a remote community that cost him his life. The son learns about the project, his father’s role in the community, his broken relationship with the grandfather, the hardships he endured and the good works he did without any monetary return. He gets into a jam in South America after some paramilitary capture him and another man and torture them, threatening them with execution. The young guy manages to escape and rescue his companion, bringing him to safety. Once that obstacles is overcome, our main character is granted $100,000,000. Without being asked, he uses the money to develop a non-profit project to construct a treatment center and hospice for terminally ill children, fulfilling a dream, though he thinks it is the dream of others and not himself. He has fallen in love with the single mother and changed his attitude completely, so he does not expect any further rewards.
In all, there are twelve such “gifts.” They are aspects of life that the grandfather counsels people to be conscious of and cherish. I list them here.
Of all the items named in this list, I appreciate four of them the most. It is remarkable that the list starts out with work, with money subordinated to it. Of course, this is consistent with the so-called Protestant work-ethic of capitalist, especially American capitalist, society. Still, it is quite significant, for starting the list with work means that we should earn rewards, and appreciate labor and its production. We should neither take the people who do labor for granted nor the things that they produce. I like that. Closely tied to work is learning and problem-solving, naturally. Our lives are richer when we deliberately engage in learning, and put the learning to good use solving important problems—especially the problems of society, and not just one’s personal or individual problems. Finally, I really like appreciation for the value of the day on this list. Be grateful and appreciate every day of life you get, and be aware of its riches and splendor that it gives us.
The weakness of this story is that it is put in the context of a family of extreme wealth. It is incredible that there is such a society where some people are so wealthy they have to be reminded to be nice. They have to be reminded of the context of reality. They have lost the kinds of traditions and morality that curtail excesses. Okay, the story needs drama and excitement to sell. It cannot be political, so it does not raise questions about how extreme wealth is acquired. I mean, there is much to be criticized about the oil industry alone, never mind the whole concept of “capital,” especially capital made from the financial sectors. In reality, very rich people can be philanthropic, love their wives and children, helpful to communities, and such, but they are supporting socially harmful policies and wars.
Anyway, I am satisfied with the principles and attitude toward life that is presented in the movie. I have not read the book, so I cannot properly comment on it.