Soul Surfer is considered to be a movie with strong representation of differently-abled individuals because the film centers around Bethany Hamilton, a physically handicapped teenage girl determined to return to competitive surfing after losing her left arm in a shark attack. AnnaSophia Robb stars as the 13-year-old Bethany and Lorraine Nicholson co-stars as the 13-year-old Alana Blanchard. Other key characters are the Hamilton and the Blanchard family members, as they help Bethany as she struggles to get back in the water after her injury.
This article will cover many elements that track the representation of a physical handicap through the lens of Bethany Hamilton's experience.
Firstly, the horrific shark attack that Bethany encounters at a young age is considered by viewers to be a very scary situation, as she fears that she will lose her life instantly when the shark bites off her left arm. Her family and friends notice that she is in mortal danger; they get her out of the water quickly before she loses too much blood. The loss of her left arm captures the grief and terror of losing a part of oneself.
As told in Bethany's voiceovers, she also struggles with her daily activities during her recovery period as she navigates life with only one arm. She becomes self-conscious about her body, as she sees who she perceives as "normal" people around her without any impairment. She feels frustrated when people stare at her. She is also overwhelmed when the paparazzi and the staff from Inside Edition start to interview her about the accident. Bethany shares a memorable quote that others with physical differences can relate to:
"I thought at least with clothes on, that I can have two arms, that I can look normal."
Bethany expresses how frustrating life can be for the physically handicapped, as they feel they aren't able to perform activities that others can. For example, in one scene, Bethany cannot tie her hair in a ponytail with only one hand. She also struggles with surfing during a big competition, as she is unable to catch a wave on time and loses the competition to her rival, Malina.
Despite her tragedy, Bethany joins Sarah Hill, her church youth leader, on a mission trip to Thailand to recover after a devastating tsunami. During one pivotal moment, the "soul surfer" uses a surfboard to encourage a little boy to get into the water. Bethany realizes that she can use her gift of surfing to help other people face their fears of the ocean, and discovers that she can make a difference in the lives of others.
Her courage in getting back in the water makes her a highly influential advocate. She faces her fears, as she can embrace more people now than she ever could with both her arms. Bethany's ability to surf with one arm proves that we all have our own ways of accomplishing our goals.
She also shows the viewers that a loss of a limb can't stop her from experiencing normal life. The "soul surfer" shows that people with physical differences can look at the world from a unique perspective, as they too have a special gift within, and they have a story to tell.
Sean McNamara, the director and the screenwriter of Soul Surfer, shared with the viewers that he wanted the surfing stunts to be real, and not simply done with a green screen. When shooting all of the surfing scenes, cameras were positioned at many different angles. Some camera crew members were on a jet ski, some were on an inflatable raft, and some were in the water itself. Filming took place in Hawaii as that's where the major storyline takes place.
One feature that stands out is when Anna Sophia Robb wears a green sleeve on her left arm, which acts as a green screen, along with a stump mold. After the shark attack scene, the green sleeve and stump mold are made to look like she had no arm. Overall, Anna Sophia Robb is perfect for the role of Bethany because her physical features are similar to Bethany's.
Many of the characters that play major roles in the movie are based on people in real life. Bethany Hamilton, Sarah Hill, and Alana Blanchard are some key characters based on Hamilton's family and friends, as told in the 2007 short subject documentary film Heart of a Soul Surfer. In addition, Hamilton's autobiography serves as the blueprint for the storyline of the film itself.
In the end credits, there are archived video clips of Bethany Hamilton surfing today. As she herself performed all of the one-armed surfing stunts, this conclusion is the perfect homage to celebrate her beauty, perseverance, and stellar performance.