The film begins with James, Pepper’s loving father, being sent off to fight in the war. In an effort to cheer up, Pepper goes to a live show featuring his favorite superhero, Ben Eagle the Magician. In the show, Pepper is chosen to go up on stage and use “magic powers” to make a bottle move across a table. To Pepper’s astonishment, it works and he now believes he has powers.
Pepper then attends a church service where the priest, Father Oliver, preaches on Matthew 17:20 and how having faith the size of a mustard seed allows you to move mountains.
Meanwhile, Pepper’s older brother, London, becomes bitter about his father having gone to war. This bitterness finds a victim in a Japanese resident of the town, Hashimoto. London and others repeatedly threaten Hashimoto to leave town, but he won’t leave his home.
One night, a drunken London takes Pepper to Hashimoto’s house to throw rocks at it and set it on fire. Their attempt fails, but they succeeded in doing two things: getting London arrested and landing Pepper in church answering to Father Oliver for what he did.
While there, Father Oliver clears up a misconception Pepper had about mustard seeds and unlimited power and helps clarify how faith and prayer work. Father Oliver finds out that Pepper helped terrorize Hashimoto because he believed it would help bring his father back. Now that Pepper understands things better, he decides that he is going to use faith to end the war and bring his father back.
Father Oliver hesitantly gives Pepper a list of things to do that will help increase his faith. The list reads, “feed the hungry, shelter the homeless, visit those in prison, clothe the naked, visit the sick and bury the dead,” but Father Oliver scribbles in a note of his own as the last to-do on this list: “befriend Hashimoto.”
Pepper then embarks on a journey to bring his father back safely from war by completing the works on the list, even befriending Hashimoto and, in doing so, enduring the wrath of many in his town.
Faith, prayer and worldly concepts
The movie goes over what faith is and how prayer with faith can make a difference. Oddly enough, the film doesn’t come across as a “Christian” movie (the way that “God’s Not Dead” does, for example). It has clearly Christian themes, but also throws in some views from a worldly perspective in the form of Hashimoto. He holds an atheistic, naturalistic worldview where he reprimands Father Oliver for playing mind games with Pepper over faith and cautions him against making promises that cannot be kept. Hashimoto never tells Pepper to abandon his beliefs, however, and only tells him to do what makes sense for him — a worldly view if ever there was one.
Dealing with doubt
“Little Boy” touches on the doubt many believers experience when telling others that God answers prayer and that faith can move mountains. Too often, we doubt God’s ability or willingness to move the mountains in our lives when we really ought to be putting our faith in his Word.
Many in the Christian community will probably wish that “Little Boy” was more overtly Christian. While I understand the concerns many have over not using such valuable screen-time to give the gospel and reach more people with it, I have to say that “Little Boy” did an excellent job.
This is something that we as Christians have struggled with for decades and have failed at so often.
When speaking candidly, many will admit that most Christian films are not very entertaining and that they only watch them to support the cause but not because they look forward to the film. It’s because Christian filmmakers focus too much on the message they want to send and not enough on the story and cinematography.
In the meantime, Hollywood is spitting out the greatest storylines with the best graphics while subtly injecting their beliefs. These tiny little expressions of their beliefs have shifted the thinking of the entire Western world.
“Jurassic Park” and “X-Men” are great films, but they are filled with tiny references to evolution and millions of years. “Avatar” and “The Day After Tomorrow” are two more blockbusters; they both send the naturalistic message that creation is more important than humanity, and that the military is evil — ever notice that no protagonist in “Avatar” ever wears camouflage-print, but pretty much every bad guy does at some point? “Footloose” and “The Lego Movie” are favorites for many people but both bash Christianity — in “Footloose” the antagonist is the self-righteous preacher who outlaws music and dancing, and in “The Lego Movie” the man upstairs turns out to be the bad guy and following the guidelines laid out in the instruction book is a bad thing that stifles creativity. Are you seeing the pattern?
The point here is that while we Christians have been busy making movies that shout out our beliefs and that only other Christians will go to watch, the world has been pumping out movies that we all see and love but that also imperceptibly influence our way of thinking.
Don’t get me wrong: movies that openly and proudly proclaim the Gospel are great and have their place. They just shouldn’t be the only option out there.
Many will frown upon this strategy, but it’s even done in the Bible. The book of Esther is loved by children and adults and has a clearly God-centered message. Surprisingly, God is never mentioned in the book of Esther, nor is the Gospel. Yet, Esther pushes readers closer to God.
It’s time that we learn from that model and start making movies that Christians and non-Christians will want to watch and will enjoy from beginning to end, movies that won’t feel like a preaching but like a story and that will share our beliefs and start to turn the tide toward God.
“Little Boy” is the first step in that direction, and I think Christians ought to support it en masse. It is a truly inspiring movie with moments of genuine laughter and heart-wrenching tears. There are some whimsical moments that are reminiscent of “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” and “Secondhand Lions.” It has that off-beat independent film feel while still looking like it had the budget of a full-fledged Hollywood production.
“Little Boy” is a must-see film for your family, your church, and youth group.