Saturday, October 6, 2007

CINDERELLA MAN (2005): Notes for Mars Hill Video Club

Cinderella Man is about a man and his wife who live through very different and difficult times. This movie is based on a real-life couple – James J. Braddock and his wife Mae – but it is also a kind of mythic tale of the success of an underdog whose character overcomes all obstackes.

Major Characters
James J. Braddock (Russell Crowe) – husband, father and boxer t”Cinderella Man”
Mae Braddock (Renee Zellweger) Braddock’s devoted wife
Joe Gould (Paul Giamatti) – Braddock’s promoter
Max Baer (Craig Bierko) – Braddock’s bid opponent
Mike Wilson (Paddy Considine) – Braddock’s friend who dies

Historical Background: The Great Depression
Following the end of the First World War (1918), the Western nations entered a period of false prosperity called “The Roaring ’Twenties.” This was a time of “easy money” as people borrowed great amounts to invest in the stock market. In 1929, the bubble burst and the stock market crashed. Europe and America were both sent into decade long Depression in which millions of workers lost their jobs and had to depend on some kind of government welfare. People cheered themselves up with sports and other entertainments.

The story of James J. Braddock was one of these encouraging stories. We follow Braddock from his promising success as a young man in 1927 to his failure in the boxing ring and his struggle to keep his family fed and warmed. We see the struggle of men to get even part-time work, and the frustration that leads one of them (Mike Wilson) to plot a revolt against the government.

James J. Braddock was known as “Cinderella Man” because of the “rags to riches” fable of Cinderella, who went from being a serving girl to a princess. The movie follows the real-life story of Braddock and his wife Mae as much as can be known from the records. Russell Crowe in particular was eager to capture the essence of this man’s character.

Christian Perspective
Braddock and his wife are Roman Catholics of Irish immigrant stock living outside New York City in New Jersey (“the bull dog of Bergen, New Jersey”). Clearly Mae is a practicing Christian, who prays for his safety. James embodies the Christian ethic of hard work, self-reliance, and responsibility for the family. One telling scene comes when he has to borrow money to turn on the heat; later when he wins a fight, we seem him go and turn back the welfare money he had received.

The contest with Max Baer reminds us of David and Goliath. James’s character of doggedness is contrasted with Baer’s arrogant self-assurance. “Pride comes before a fall” says the Bible, and this applies to Baer.

Discussion Questions
1. Do you have in your culture a story like “Cinderella”? How does it go? Do you think of people as being “Cinderellas,” going from rags to riches?

2. Do you think a person should make a living as boxer? What about a Christian boxer? What are the moral implications of this profession?

3. What do you make of Braddock’s promise to his children never to send them away to stay with relatives? In the African extended family, would someone make a promise like that?

4. Do you think that church people should gather a pray for an athletic contest? Does God care who wins in sports?

5. Describe the relationship between James and Mae. Would you call Mae a weak or a strong person? Why?

6. St. Paul says “I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want (Philippians 4:12). Do you know people like that? Do you think you can keep that attitude whatever life brings?

The Mars Hill Video Club is sponsored by the African Areopagus Society at Uganda Christian University. It is concerned with the intersection of video arts and Christian faith.

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