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"In its truest sense, 'pay it forward' is seeing the interconnectedness of all life so that giving unto others is actually giving unto one's self."
Raymond Teague is the author of Reel
Spirit: A Guide to Movies That
He is an award-winning
His book is available by clicking the "Buy the Book" link above or by clicking here.
"Reel Spirit" Movie Reviews
Pay It Forward
There's a question at the very heart of Pay It Forward that must be considered, and it involves an objectionable word. The question, which comes up several times throughout the film, including from seventh-grader Trevor (Haley Joel Osment), is this: "Is the world just sh--?"
"No, it isn't," responds Trevor's social studies teacher, Eugene Simonet (Kevin Spacey), a disfigured loner on whom life has dumped plenty.
Exactly why the world is not is the crux of this extremely hard-hitting, realistic movie, written by Leslie Dixon and based on the novel by Catherine Ryan Hyde.
A sensitive child (played by Osment of The Sixth Sense), Trevor takes seriously an assignment by Mr. Simonet, designed to inspire the kids and start them thinking beyond their own spheres: "Think of an idea to change our world - and put it into action."
Trevor's idea, suggestive of the Random Acts of Kindness movement that has spread throughout our culture in recent years, is a "pay it forward" plan in which one person does something truly big for another person. The recipient does not repay the kindness to the doer, but "pays it forward" to three other people. Each of those three people in turn "pays it forward," and so on. You can see that the plan could change the world.
What must be grasped about Trevor's plan, however, is that it is not a simple, touchy-feely, spread-a-little happiness kind of idea. Trevor's plan, Mr. Simonet recognizes, "requires an extreme act of faith in the goodness of people." At its spiritual essence, "pay it forward" is based on the truth that a spark of divinity is within each person (often hidden perhaps but always there), and it is designed to change the world by igniting that spark into full view.
Further, to "pay it forward" requires a person to give through unselfishness with unconditional love. Trevor puts his "pay it forward" plan at work on his alcoholic mother (Helen Hunt); on Mr. Simonet, a victim of an abusive father; and on a friend, a target of discrimination and bullies. Trevor's plan is designed to tackle life's most difficult problems, and that's how Trevor applies the plan.
"Pay it forward," Trevor realizes better than anyone else, is not about the individual, but about others. It is truly about doing to and for others to improve their lives and the entire world. In its truest sense, "pay it forward" is seeing the interconnectedness of all life so that giving unto others is actually giving unto one's self.
Sure, there are scoffers to any such plan of pure altruism. Mr. Simonet even refers to Trevor's "overly utopian idea," to which Trevor in childlike innocence and determination responds, "So?"
In his youthful wisdom, Trevor says, "people can't always see what it is they really need." Sometimes others must see it for them -- others must hold the vision of the goodness inside them, others must believe that the world is better than it often appears. Others must "pay it forward" to help them see the divine possibilities of life.
Just as this is not always an easy movie to watch, "pay it forward" isn't always an easy concept to practice. Life sometimes does seems seem like "sh--." But Trevor wants us to take life to another dimension and to see that there's goodness at the heart of existence. If nothing else, pay that idea forward.