You might remember a little while ago seeing a movie poster depicting a Zebra with a bow on its head. You may have even seen Matt Damon and Scarlett Johansson’s names on it an thought to yourself: Hm. Both of those people are pretty famous. Wonder why I haven’t heard of this movie… And then you might have gone on into the movie theatre to see something ridiculous like Real Steel. Or, you could’ve been like me and were looking for something to watch on date night with your wife. You might have looked it up and thought: Well, at least it’s PG. Might as well. And then you might have walked out of the theatre in tears because it was so good. That’s right. You should go buy this movie, which just came out on DVD.
There is a certain kind of movie. Movies that aren’t always action-packed or suspenseful, but instead are filled with characters you fall in love with. They are real, human, whole-hearted characters. The kind of characters who make you feel like they are a part of your family, simply because you want them to be. These movies are often focused on a range of topics, but more than anything else they are simply about a life well lived. Not scrupulously examined and planned. Not wasted in listlessness, but lived passionately from the heart and a beautiful set of values. I am addicted to these movies, and they only come out ever so often, but We Bought a Zoo is one of them.
We Bought a Zoo is about a Benjamin Mee (Damon), an adventure writer grappling with the death of his wife. Amid the struggle to somehow move on with life while staying true to his love for his late wife, he is challenged with becoming a single father to his teenage son Dylan and kindergarten daughter Rosie. Somewhere in this midst of it all, it just makes sense to Benjamin to buy and save a struggling Zoo. “Why not?” He explains later in the movie that it was an attempt to move on from the passing of his wife but, as it turns out her memory follows him to the zoo. This is most clearly illustrated in Ben’s relationship to Spar, the zoo’s dying Bengalese Tiger. Johansson’s character Kelly Foster is the primary zookeeper who struggles with her affection for Benjamin while trying to convince him that it is time to let go of Spar. Benjamin’s journey to do so eventually opens him up to repairing a strained relationship with his son, and he finally realizes that it is possible to move on from the loss of a loved one with life-affirming hope all the while holding onto the memory of the good that person brought into his life. All it takes it 20 seconds of insane courage.
This is the kind of artwork Paul must have had in mind when he wrote Philippians 4:8. It is life-affirming, people-affirming and it puts the kind of love the Father has for us first. I find it profound how a movie that may have not been made by Christians at all can preach the Gospel by showing it. It is as if God through this film is saying, “This is how you do family when you are alive in Christ. It is messy, imperfect, and utterly human… But it’s sopping with hope. It’s drenched in goodness. It abides by the law of love.” Perhaps the best picture I can come up with to illustrate the heart of this movie is in the end, when we see that the Mee’s along with the zookeepers, who had become a part of their family, are able to open the park. We see a success story not just of a small business but of a family who have become unified in the process. We see tourists enjoying the park while flying red kites, which previously had been described as a trigger for Benjamin. A painful reminder of his late wife. But they had become something beautiful. An ultimate sign that Benjamin had discovered how to celebrate all the wonderful things about his wife, and still move on into a happy future with his children.
I am not suggesting that you go see this movie. I am asking you to please go see it. In the words of Rosie Mee, you’re happy will be too loud after watching it.