Several months ago, I sat on the couch, flipping through the channels with my two older daughters and landed on the movie, The Way, Way Back. It was billed as a coming of age story about an introverted 14 year old boy named Duncan who is on summer vacation with his mom and her less than likable boyfriend. Jeffrey Overstreet at patheos.com describes it like this:
“It’s not likely to stick with you. It’s sweet, it’s good for you, it’s simplistic and unsurprising, and it vanishes. In other words, it’s one of those summer juice pops that’s designed to make your daily dose of Vitamin C appealing. No harm, no problem, and no big deal.”
Part of me agrees with Overstreet, but the other part of me finds myself, three months later, still thinking about this quirky film.
The scene that continues to replay in my mind is the opening scene where Duncan(Liam James) sits in the “way way back” of a 1970s type station wagon while his mom’s boyfriend, Trent (Steve Carrell), drives everyone to the beach. Duncan stares out the back window as Trent lectures him about the summer and berates him with condescending questions. The one that sticks with me the most is when Trent, with a half smile, looks in the rear-view mirror and nonchalantly quips, “Duncan, on a scale from one to ten, what do you think you are?”
Duncan doesn’t move. He just sits staring out the window, looking annoyed. “I don’t know. A six.”
Without missing a beat, Trent shoots back, “I think you are a three.”
We watch as they drive down the street, Duncan’s face absorbing the harsh words as his shoulders slump even more.
Who says things like that?
I think a lot of people. How many stories have you heard from friends about a teacher who crushed them with his or her words? My sister still remembers a comment her second grade teacher flippantly made about her one day before recess. Friends tear up when they share a story about comments that wounded them, and we can all recall moments when our faces reddened with embarrassment as other people used their words to make us feel small.
I vividly remember my dad telling me about a time in his life when he dropped out of high school and decided to leave home and find a job. He walked towards a local gas station to see if they were hiring, but something inside of him told him to keep walking. He trudged to the top of the hill and found a local hotel and went inside. He found more than a job that day. The owner of the hotel immediately saw potential in my dad. He trained him for the job, but also began speaking words of life to my dad and encouraged him to finish school and to pursue a college education. I am so thankful that man, who would later become my Godfather, never told my dad he was a three.
My daughters just finished their first full week of school, which is probably the real reason The Way Way Back has been on my mind. I often get caught up in the homework, tests, athletics and achievements, but when a teacher speaks life into one of my girls, I recognize just how much I long for that in their lives more than anything else. It happened the other day. A teacher came along side my daughter and encouraged her, allowed her to process, and helped her to find the space to set aside her anxiety and fear and discover the strength and ability to handle a difficult situation. My daughter has seemed more comfortable in her own skin, more settled, more of who I believe God made her to be. I will remember that more than any “A” on a test, and I have a feeling my daughter will too.
Someone took the time to write an email to me the other day after I participated in a project. The written words encouraged me so deeply that I cried. I then printed out the email, carried it to my car, and read it again while I waited for my daughter to finish soccer practice. I will remember those words more than the project. Even at age 46 I am hungry for words of life.
Later in The Way Way Back, Duncan meets another character named Owen (Sam Rockwell), who sees something greater in Duncan and helps him to unravel the lie that he is only a “3.” It is powerful to watch Duncan’s transformation.
I know there will always be Trents in the world, but I am reminded today that we can battle back with our words and speak life into people. Matthew 18:20 (The Message) says, “What you say to one another is eternal.” Our words matter.
We can all choose to be like Trent or like Owen. All of our lives will probably move along just fine if we never watch The Way Way Back, but our words can make an impact that will never be forgotten.