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Some people are smart. Some are not so smart. Some are gifted, others not. At least, that’s what many people believe. Yet it might be true, as some hypothesize, that everyone has the capacity for great intelligence and achievement, if they learn to tap into their brain’s potential.
Based on the true story of Dr. Ben Carson, Gifted Hands: The Ben Carson Story tells of a man who has to overcome the label of “dumb” to realize his own potential—combining hard work and determination with a natural giftedness to impact the world. Whether or not everyone could excel like Ben Carson if they applied themselves is debatable, but the value and excellence of this film is not. Honoring the real Ben Carson’s Christian faith, Gifted Hands is a skillfully acted, well-produced movie that offers a plethora of uplifting messages.
For young Bennie Carson, failing grades are the norm. At his elementary school, he’s known to the other kids as the “dumbest” in the class or, as they tease him, “in the world.” Bennie isn’t proud of his poor performance, and he lashes out physically against the kids who ridicule him. Bennie’s fighting calls the bad grades to his mother’s attention, and Bennie becomes the focus of Sonya Carson’s formidable problem-solving skills.
As a single mother, Sonya’s primary concern is the welfare and future success of her two sons. She works as hard as she can at low-paying jobs, scraping and saving to support her boys. Sonya, however, isn’t worried only about her sons’ physical needs—she’s even more determined that they will make something of themselves and be able to do more with their lives than she has. This mother isn’t content to just keep her boys out of gangs, she wants to see them excel academically and get the education she never had.
Though fighting depression, fatigue, and a belief that she herself is dimwitted, Sonya battles her boys’ insecurities in a constant effort to convince them that they are intelligent. Sonya single-handedly inspires Ben and his brother Curtis to act smart and be smart by telling them that they have “the whole world” inside their heads, if they will only use their minds to their fullest potential.
Thanks to the pushing from his mother, Ben starts to discover that he may not be as unintelligent as he had believed. [MILD SPOILER WARNING] The new world of information that opens to him, however, is not enough to help him control his frightening temper that only worsens as he grows into the teen years. A near disaster of violence forces Ben to confront the anger he can’t control and seek God’s help.
This pivotal moment in Ben’s life is only the beginning of the inspiring journey and lessons to learn as he strives to overcome obstacles in his education, his life, and career as a neurosurgeon.
The positive themes that permeate Gifted Hands start early on with the appearance of Ben’s mother. Sonya is a remarkable woman who demonstrates a truly sacrificial, unconditional love for her sons. Despite her personal insecurities, tragedies, and clinical depression, Sonya focuses on her sons to the best of her ability.
With an attitude that is becoming rare among modern parents, Sonya isn’t trying to be her sons’ friend, but rather their mother. She knows that she must drive and discipline her boys, even when they hate her for it, because in the end they will be better off because of her efforts. The success that the Carson brothers do achieve is directly the result of their mother’s determination to make them reach for their best and beyond.
Even more importantly, Sonya also gives her boys a spiritual foundation on which to build their lives. In the midst of one bout of depression, Sonya still encourages her boys with the promise, “God will not abandon you.” What could be a theme of the unreliable American Dream (hard work earns success) is thereby placed in the larger, more accurate context that ultimate control over the future is in God’s hands.
With the tremendous start his mother gives him, Ben ultimately makes her faith, work ethic, and determination his own. Between Ben and Sonya, then, Gifted Hands is chock-full of lifestyles worth emulating. Neither Ben nor Sonya are perfect, and their difficult periods are where the film gets its minimal negative content. Among them is repeated use of minor obscenities, some fairly tame “mother jokes” (of a non-sexual variety), and one use of “Oh, my G—.” But through the struggles and less-than-stellar moments for the Carsons, viewers are given good examples of how to overcome trials and personal challenges.
Thanks to Ben’s faith and the Christian principles that he was taught, Ben emerges as a rare movie hero. Like many films, this story is about someone pursuing his dreams. The crucial difference in Gifted Hands is that Ben’s dreams are not for personal glory, but rather to help others. Recognizing the human brain as “a miracle,” Ben aims to work on and study that incredible organ by becoming a neurosurgeon. Proving the power of love, dedication, and the God-given brain, Ben’s dream means that he can help others achieve their dreams of life and health for their loved ones. Thus, viewers can wholly root for Ben’s success, as he works for the benefit of other people.
Don’t be fooled by the lengthy list of lessons this film communicates—Gifted Hands is constantly entertaining and engrossing, never becoming a heavy-handed teaching tool. The script is largely to be thanked for delivering this story with emotional power and dramatic impact. Screenwriter John Pielmeier and director Thomas Carter deftly handle layered themes and different eras, as Ben grows from youngster to neurosurgeon, without ever losing sight of the story’s core and primary thrust.
The acting is also a highlight of this character-driven piece, with Cuba Gooding, Jr. as Ben delivering a performance worthy of the Oscar-winning actor. Nevertheless, Kimberly Elise in the role of Sonya threatens to take over the film with the emotional force of her portrayal. The child actors and other supporting cast are also solid, though not exceptional.
What is of great note is this uncommon case in which a remarkable, uplifting film was made of an inspiring true story. Too often, the touch of Hollywood destroys the positive truths that actually defined the original events, but that is not the case with Gifted Hands. Instead, excellence and integrity in the making of this film allow the beauty and life-changing meaning of Ben Carson’s story to shine.
Through Gifted Hands, then, it becomes apparent that because Ben Carson chose to use his gifts for a good purpose, they are gifts that keep on giving, in his life and in this film. The movie’s implied question: What are you going to do with your gifts?
Check out these similar titles:
Front of the Class (Hallmark Hall of Fame, 2008)
Jane Eyre (Focus Features/BBC Films, 2011)
The Pursuit of Happyness (Columbia Pictures, 2006)