The other night I actually had nothing to do. The kids were with my husband, the laundry was done, the house was clean and I had done my running for the week. Hmmm, I’ll rent a movie. So off to Redbox I go and I find a movie that looks intriguing, The Sea of Trees. Matthew McConaughey and Naomi Watts, must be good. (A 2015 film directed by Gus Van Sant). I am biased to movies that make you think, man vs. himself kind of movies, and The Sea of Trees was all about that.
**Spoiler alert** If you want to see the movie first, go rent it now.
There are so many themes to this movie, but I am going to talk about the most powerful and that is the atheist turned believer.
The movie starts with a solemn looking Matthew McConaughey, Arthur Brennan, getting on a plane to Tokyo, with a one way ticket bought the night before, and no luggage. He gets to Tokyo and rides in a cab. You see him go into a forest, the Aokigahara Forest, in his business clothes and trench coat. There are message boards going into the forest saying “Your life is a precious gift from your parents.” He sees the body of a dead girl and keeps walking. He sits down at a tree and very deliberately takes a sip of water, opens a prescription bottle and starts taking the circular blue pills, one by one. Headache, you think?
The movie unfolds and you come to find out he is there to commit suicide. In fact his wife said, in a flashback, “find a nice place to die” as her biggest fear was dying in a hospital. You see him Googling for a nice place to die and the Aokigahara Forest comes up because it is known to be a suicide haven. But why would this nice professional man want to kill himself? Well, through a series of flashbacks you discover that he and his wife did not have a great relationship. She was a functional alcoholic who despised that he was brilliant yet taught at a college for little money. He had cheated on her, and never got to really know her. They berated each other in public, it was painfully awkward.
Ok, back to the forest with Arthur sitting by a tree taking pills, he sees this Japanese man, Takumi Nakamura, struggling to walk and he goes over to help him. The man tells him he is lost and cannot find his way out. He must go back to his wife and child. He too was there to commit suicide, as his wrists were cut, (bandaged by our leading man). He states he didn’t want to die, he just didn’t want to live. This man is the distraction that stops Arthur from taking pills and together the men attempt to find a way out. We also learn that Arthur’s wife is dead. She had a brain tumor but died in an ambulance transfer ride. There are struggles, it’s cold, no water, multiple injuries. Then their conversation turns spiritual.
Takumi says “You believe in God.”
“Why would you think that?” Arthur
“Because you are American…if God is not waiting for you on the other side who is?” -Takumi
“I am a scientist. God is more our creation then we are his.” Arthur
“There are answers for God in science.” -Takumi
“There are answers for everything in science.” Arthur
Takumi goes onto say that this forest is like purgatory, for lost souls, trying to get out, and when one does escape, an orchid blooms.
After a weeping session at the fire pit, Arthur confesses he is so sorry for never getting to know his wife and for treating her so bad. The guilt of being a bad husband is what is causing him to kill himself. He regrets not knowing what her favorite book, color and season were. They fall asleep and wake up during dawn with the Japanese man half dead and Arthur leaving to find the way out (with the help of a walkie-talkie found). He promises to come back and get him. Arthur is found by the forest rangers, almost dead, and is brought to a local hospital, where he is treated medically and gets interviewed by a psychiatrist. Arthur is insistent authorities go find Takumi. They tell Arthur that they have checked the entrance cameras to the park and that no man entered matching Takumi’s description. Nor can they find a man by that name. The rangers even searched the forest and never found his body.
Arthur is discharged from the hospital and heads straight back to the forest to find his Japanese friend. He uses string and crumpled paper to find his way back, kind of like Hansel and Gretel, a side story, but his wife’s favorite book. He finds the spot where he left Takumi and lifts the coat to and see an orchid blooming, and no sign of any body. He takes the orchid with him and heads back to America, with a new-found happiness.
Back in America, Arthur is tutoring a student when the student sees some Japanese word’s Arthur has written, the names of Takumi’s wife and daughter. “Yellow winter”, the student says, revealing that he can speak Japanese. Arthur realizes that Takumi’s wife and daughter’s names were actually his wife’s favorite color and season. He smiles. He now can sense that his whole experience in the forest was a spiritual awakening, not explained by science. And such and experience could only be orchestrated by God himself.
Ok, serious doctrinal issues here, I realize this. But the underlying story is great. Atheist (scientist) man goes into the forest to kill himself. He gets sidetracked by a Japanese man, (who was possibly his dead wife’s soul), who seems to ask all the right questions and leaves clues to the atheist’s questions. Atheist survives and is renewed with hope. He sees that his near death experience and survival in the forest was by the grace of God. He also finds happiness in knowing his wife soul is no longer lost, as evidence by the blooming orchid.
Waaabamm! Go God! The message this movie sends to the atheist is simple. Not believing in God doesn’t change the power God has over you and in your life. At any given moment, God can present himself to you so you no longer can deny his existence. You may be sitting there (in a forest), when you are sidetracked (by a japanese man), knocked off course (lost and injured in a sea of trees), saved by the grace of God (Japanese forest rangers), and then have answered questions and happiness that you never imagined (yellow, winter). God is all-powerful and all-knowing. Whether or not you belive in Him, does not change the power he has over you.
For example, in the book of Acts in the bible, Saul, later to become the Apostle Paul, was on his way to Demascus, when he was literally blinded by a bright light and the voice of the Resurrected Lord. Saul at the time was very anti-Christ and was persecuting Christians. Saul was blind for three days and when a man named Ananias prayed over him he could see again. He changed his name to Paul and became the greatest Christian missionary of that age, contributing to much of the New Testament in the Bible.
Personally, I was knocked off my course by God as well. I wouldn’t say I was an atheist, but I thought it was a bunch of fairy tales. I was doing life miserably when one day while visiting a pre-school, it hit me, God hit me. I finally understood and my heart was changed. That was 7 years ago, and my life has never been the same.
Even though The Sea of Trees got horrible reviews, I think it was an interesting story with a deep message for non-believers. What do you think?