Warning: This article contains spoilers.
I don’t go to movies to cry. People who do so make no sense to me. The world is plenty hard enough without paying someone to help you tear-up. But if you watch 'Won’t You Be My Neighbor?' – you better have some Kleenex because the joy it will cause you will bring you to tears.
Just like Fred Rogers - widely known as Mr. Rogers - 'Won’t You Be My Neighbor?' isn’t flashy. Unlike the other films, there wasn’t even a poster of the film in the theater. But, in its simplicity, it is the best documentary you will see all year.
Honestly, you probably don’t need to see this film in the theater. The big screen does nothing to enhance the footage. But I would encourage you to do so if you can, simply so you can say you did. You won’t regret it.
I saw it during a weekday matinee and there were maybe a half a dozen people in the theater in addition to myself. An elderly woman in a wheelchair and a child, fittingly in a Pittsburgh Pirates jersey, and myself as Rogers’ fellow PCUSA Pastor -were appropriately among the crowd.
But after watching the film I have to admit – my words here will most certainly fall short of conveying the wisdom and depth that 'Won’t You Be My Neighbor ?' conveys. So that won’t be my intention. Instead I want to convey that this is a true piece of theological art. A life depicted in praise to God.
I was absolutely stunned when 'Won’t You Be My Neighbor?' was snubbed this year at the Oscars, but it did win the Spirit Award for Best Documentary. It is well crafted and uses a nice mix of old footage and new commentary. More importantly though it tells the compelling story of a humble man who sought to help be a repairer of humanity and creation by helping children through the formative stages of life.
Numerous elements of the movie stood out to me. The deep wisdom of Rogers in loving others in ways that brings forth the question – who is this man really? The deep reverence for the connectivity that allows us to be the people we are. The deep internal struggle to believe that continuing on was not only possible but necessary.
The film also highlights moments in Rogers' life where he convinces others of such importance. From the 1969 Senate Subcommittee hearing where he single-handedly won PBS twenty million dollars in funding
to his Dartmouth Commencement speech where he dispenses wisdom to the graduates like a true Apostle of Christ. Take few minutes to listen and read through that speech and enrich your life.
The speech concludes with this second to last paragraph saying: “And what that ultimately means, of course, is that you don't ever have to do anything sensational for people to love you. When I say it’s you I like, I’m talking about that part of you that knows that life is far more than anything you can ever see, or hear, or touch. That deep part of you, that allows you to stand for those things, without which humankind cannot survive. Love that conquers hate. Peace that rises triumphant over war. And justice that proves more powerful than greed.”
But above all of these observations, it struck me most that Rogers truly held the theological belief that that the only way to change the world was to engage it. And what he loathed was that that the new technology of his day - television – was being used in negative ways to influence children. Rogers dared to be a technological optimist and thus sought to use the new medium to positively impact people everywhere. It wasn’t framed as showy or glamorous – instead it was deeply heartfelt, caring and Christ-like.
In that same way, 'Won’t You Be My Neighbor?' – honors Rogers by continuing to urge its viewers to dare to be hopeful redeemers as well. And the question that it leaves you with ultimately is not, What would Fred Rogers do, but instead; What will you do?
Reality Changing Observations:
Q1. How do you think our intentional care for children impacts the betterment of the world?
Q2. Spend one minute to describe or just think of the persons or people who have shaped your life for the better.
Q3. How can you use technology to show someone that you love them?