If you have an open mind to being touched by an idea “whose time has come” – this is multilevel entertainment. It’s what I call, “Entertrainment®” – which is “Entertainment with an engaging purpose.” On a basic level, it’s a feel-good movie, crafted to hit all the major emotional buttons… you’ll be touched, enraged, heart-broken, and healed – largely thanks to the excellent acting. You’ll feel associations with the innocence and sincerity of “The Sixth Sense”, the raw emotive neediness of “As Good As It Gets” and the thrill of resolution of “What Women Want”… (I even think one of the same buildings is used from “What Women Want”). At this level the film almost gets 5 stars because, like “The Time Traveler’s Wife” – I felt the film had an unnecessarily sad/happy ending. The same effect could have been achieved as a happy/happy ending.
Now, at a higher level, you are introduced to an idea that is perhaps even more eloquent than the Starfish Principle*. With “Pay It Forward” – the concept is blissfully simple: RAOK = “Random Acts of Kindness” to three complete strangers. In practice, the film, as in life, allows some of these acts to be invested in people you know, but the principle is beautiful: be kind to three other people, and in so doing, change the world from the shitty place it has become.
The deeper truth of the movie is to be found in the young lad’s frustration with the “Pay-It-Forward-Principle” apparently ‘not-working’ – and that’s where we really need to take hold of the principle for its value, in and of itself. Does it really matter if it doesn’t work? I don’t think so. Stephen Covey’s articulation of the “Win-Win” concept is similar. The idea is always to pursue a win-win for all parties, BUT if it doesn’t work, you’ve still opened and left open a doorway through kindness.
As Burt Bacharach said, “What the World needs now is ‘Love, Sweet Love’…That’s the only thing that there’s just too little of…” and Lennon + McCartney said, “All You Need Is Love”… all very Biblical but I think what the World really needs is Mother-Theresa-type, get-your-hands-dirty-style love. (Perhaps a welcome reframe of the term, “Dirty Love”?!) A better word for this is “Kindness”.
Too gooey? Too goofy? Too tree-huggy? One of the joys of this movie is that the vast majority of those who buy-into the “Pay It Forward Three Times” concept are NOT boy-scouts or girl-guides – rather, they are gritty, ‘failed’, flawed characters who perceive a glimmer of a chance of making things better. We’re ALL sorry; we ALL wish we’d made better choices at times; we’ve ALL made mistakes – well here’s a way to shift the attention to, “OK, what shall we do about it?” – a far more pragmatic, future-focus.
I suggest we do what it says on the cover, and “Pay It Forward!”
[*The Starfish Principle relates to a business consultant walking along a beach one day after thousands of starfish have been stranded by a freak Spring Tide. A young lad is picking up individual starfish and flinging each one back deep into the Ocean. The consultant, not unkindly, points out to the lad that he cannot hope to make a difference to a problem of such magnitude. The child grins cheekily and says, “I made a difference to THAT one!” One Starfish at a time… For me, the Starfish is a lovely icon for the “Pay-It-Forward” Principle – and, since the Starfish has five limbs, I’d like to go out on a limb and suggest we all begin to pay-if-forward not three times, but five times, or seven… or more…]