The Longest Ride

The_Longest_Ride_posterYou would expect a movie based on a Nicholas Sparks book to be a sappy romance… and it is. But it’s also a celebration of long-lasting marriage, which we Presbyterians welcome anywhere in cinema.

Scott Eastwood (yes, the son of Clint Eastwood, and the resemblance is startling) plays Luke Collins, an ambitious professional bull rider. He’s eager to make it to the top of the world rankings, though he’s already suffered some serious injuries in the process (which he says happens to all the real pros). He happens to meet Sophia (Britt Robertson), a sorority girl from Wake Forest who’s going to graduate in a couple of months. They hit it off immediately, even though they come from different worlds. But they also both realize that there doesn’t seem to be much future for them since she’s an art major who’s already accepted a post-graduate internship at a prestigious gallery in New York City and he’s committed to the rodeo circuit. Not much intersection there, but they date a couple of times because neither can deny the mutual attraction.

On the way back from one of those dates, they happen across a fresh wreck, an automobile that has plunged off an embankment and is starting to catch fire. Luke impulsively rushes to see if someone needs his help, with Britt close behind. When they arrive at the crash scene, they find an almost-unconscious older gentleman, whom Luke pulls out of the wreckage while Sophia retrieves the basket he was babbling about.

The man, Ira Levinson (Alan Alda), recovers in the hospital, but is depressed. He recently lost his lifelong wife, Ruth, and he re-reads the basket of letters that he wrote to her over the years. When Sophia visits him in the hospital to check on him, he persuades her to read the letters to him. This, of course, provides the occasion for lots of flashback scenes: a much younger Ira (Jack Huston, Anjelica Huston’s nephew) and the lively, artistic Ruth (Oona Chaplin, granddaughter of Charlie Chaplin), in a whirlwind romance prior to World War II. Ira goes off to the war, but unfortunately is injured there (trying to save another soldier) and winds up unable to have a family. This is a great sorrow to them both, and it almost defeats the relationship – but eventually they settle into a life that includes much togetherness and a lot of art collecting.

You can see where this is going: The presentation of Ira and Ruth’s lifelong romance, despite the absences and obstacles, is starting to make Luke and Sophia think twice about assuming that it wasn’t in the cards for them. OK, for all you true romantics out there: When it’s the right person, you make it work. Because real love involves sacrifice. And compromise.

Expect many happy romantic scenes, from fields of bright flowers blowing in the breeze, to the local watering hole, to a romp in the clover. It’s a little steamy in places for the kids, but maybe the teenagers in the youth group would benefit from seeing a celebration of mutual commitment, a commodity which is otherwise in short supply in Hollywood these days (Alan Alda’s 58 years of marriage being a notable exception).

OK, so it’s a little sappy. How many movies make you want to walk out of the theater holding hands with your spouse?

Questions for discussion:

  • Ira says that “love demands sacrifice.” Do you agree with that on a romantic basis? How about its Christological implications?
  • Though the term “soul mate” is not used in this film, that’s what’s implied here. Do you believe that there is only one of those out there for each person?
  • Both Luke and Sophia and Ira and Ruth appear to consummate their love prior to marriage. Does that appear to be increasingly common? Do you think it’s the kind of moral issue that requires forewarning the youth group?

Ronald P. Salfen is the supply pastor at First Presbyterian Church in Kaufman, Texas.

Click here to read Ron Salfen’s roundtable interview with Noclas Sparks, Scott Eastwood and Britt Robertson.