Things We Believe: Secondhand Lions (盛夏獅王)

Sometimes the things that may or may not be true are the things a man needs to believe in the most. That people are basically good; that honor, courage, and virtue mean everything; that power and money, money and power mean nothing; that good always triumphs over evil; and I want you to remember this, that love… true love never dies. You remember that, boy. You remember that. Doesn’t matter if it’s true or not. You see, a man should believe in those things, because those are the things worth believing in."

–Hub’s line from 《Secondhand Lions》

I remember seeing this film shortly after its VCD/DVD was released.  At the time what drew me to this film was Haley Joel Osment.  That was his first and only time showing up as a teenager on the screen, and then we heard less and less about him.  So as I watch it again a decade later, it brings back my memory about this young actor and about those films he’s involved, like The Sixth Sense, Pay It Forward, or AI.  We still come up with these films on TV, but the first memory about them is unique to me as it is linked to the memory of my mid-twenties.  I was still supported by my family and it was a time I could spend time on reading, writing, and thinking with full attention and with no need to care about personal finance.  It is a wonderful time in my life, and then, things changed greatly after I started working.  So seeing the teen Haley at the time when I just entered a new phase of my life made me a little sad as he also came into a new stage of his life, and something seemed to miss from him.  It is cruel to say appearance does count in the entertainment business, but the real problem is the way human brain works: we love repetition and do not welcome changes (in the way we are attracted less).

Looking twice, I found that Secondhand Lions is actually not bad at all.  A young boy named Walter was sent to spend summer with his two uncles in Texas.  The elderly told Walter about their adventurous past and it sounded too much like a fiction, or, say, it did not fit the image of two old men living in the Midwest.  The exotic, heroic, and romantic element of the adventure still fascinated the boy, but Walter knew better what he really longed for: a father figure, a role model, someone that could give him guidance in life.  That is why he desired to listen to Uncle Hub’s “long speech to the young men" and why he chose to stay with his uncles.

The quotation above is a part of Uncle Hub’s speech, and it is his response to Walter’s question about what to believe.  Through Osment’s performance Walter’s eagerness seems excessive and unnatural, but this unusual eagerness leads us to think about our own puzzle about what to believe.  When we were young, we might now know, or we did not care about what to believe.  When we grow old and experience lots of disappointments, we may not want to talk about what to believe.  But still, we consciously or unconsciously want to know what to believe.  The belief in love, though it sounds like a cliché, is a belief we should keep.

Secondhand Lions is not just a story about a young boy looking for guidance in life.  It is also a story about the elderly becoming someone else’s father, the role model in life.  Since Walter’s uncles remain single at their age, becoming a father and taking care of Walter becomes their new adventure.  At the beginning, they may not be used to taking care of someone, but in the end, they agree to accept “the conditions," the dos and donts for Walter’s sake.  Love is not just what we believe; it is also what we do and don’t do, and from the limitation we set to ourselves, love is expressed and felt by others.  This is a lifelong lesson, a lesson worth learning.

Secondhand Lions is a 2003 film directed by Tim McCanlies.

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