If you want a tearjerker movie with a message, Pay It Forward is for you. “Sometimes the simplest idea can make the biggest difference.” Unfortunately, modern Hollywood movies have a desperate need to give you a heavy dose of the wrong take-home message. I should have foreseen the thoughtful kid being murdered at the end because as the conclusion was imminent, he had just been declared a heroic success and Hollywood hates people with a good idea having a successful outcome. He even had a mini-TV-documentary about his wonderful idea of helping people. When Hollywood declares someone a success for a good deed you may put your money on his getting killed or worse in the next scene.
The kid’s sociology teacher had challenged the students in his 7th grade class to do something spectacular to improve the world. “Think of an idea to change our world — and put it into ACTION”. “It’s possible.”
Our kid thought of the idea of doing something life-changing for three different people, with the provision that those people “Pass It Forward,” and that they do something life changing for three other people. “Just, Pay it forward. — Just three big favors for three other people.” It was a chain reaction sort of idea which would soon explode across the local world and it is about to make the whole world better.
The problems chosen were common enough, but the examples were particularly difficult because each of the people had been involved in various extraordinarily violent personal situations and were horribly scarred. They had been victims and all but the teacher were repaying their world with destructive behavior to themselves and those around them. The kid succeeds for a time in reversing their destructive life styles and gets each of them onto a better life trajectory. It works for a while, and his recipients do change for the better, until they hit a serious problem, and then they fall back into their destructive patterns of behavior. The kid picks them up again, but is challenged with hopelessness at their recidivism.
Enter a heroic TV reporter who follows the story and makes a documentary about this wonderful kid. Unfortunately, just as the video is being aired, the kid sees a bullying situation and intervenes, and gets stabbed and dies. There follows a mournful scene with the public giving bunches of flowers and — THE END.
It is a good enough movie until the end, but the premise of helping people with one great act of sympathetic largess is flawed. The opening scene to the movie, with a rich guy giving an expensive car to a reporter, sets up the story. It was that man’s one-third repayment for some earlier magnanimous but hidden gift. People are not changed very much for the better with one big gift; they are changed by changing their relationship with their world and themselves and that is done by repeated giving of kindnesses; and the best form of kindness is lots of little kindnesses given by the suffering individual.