To be honest, I go into the Nicholas Sparks movies with a mixed bag of emotions. I’m hoping I’ll love it, because I’m a bit of a romantic, but I also go in skeptical, resenting that I can be so easily emotionally manipulated, and feeling like these movies generally hit on all of the icing without any meat and potatoes, so to speak. The more I think about the The Longest Ride, however, the more I realize this one had some meat and potatoes to sink your teeth in. If you unwrap the glossy sheen covering it all, you’ll discover there’s actually something behind the smoke and mirrors (which, in this case, come in the form of the schmaltz and sap of pretty people, perfect lighting, instant chemistry, and stirring music…)—there are actually several powerful statements and illustrations worth your time and some discussion.
*Please see the “Parental note” at the end for a concern about the rating and sexual content.*
I think it’s worth noting that Nicholas Sparks’ movies are pretty much a guaranteed box office success. Girls are going to flock to see the romance. In this case, it’s easy to see why. I’m not just talking about the handsome Scott Eastwood, or beautiful Britt Robertson—I’m talking about the fact that all through this movie is this beautiful ideal of a man pursuing a woman’s soul. And frankly, that’s something that’s been largely lost in our culture. In fact, right from the start, Sophia realizes that Luke isn’t like the guys she’s known—she sees that he wants to be the man, to offer her his strength, to pursue her and invest in her. He asks her out.
Sophia: You mean like a date? … Most guys just say, “What are ya doing?” or text you and ask if you want to hang out or something. Luke: It doesn’t work like that where I come from.
Later, he again shows that he’s not like the guys she’s been around who are passive and willing to receive. Luke does the giving, the providing, the pursuing.
Luke: Can I guy you a drink? Sophia: Well, you’re the big winner, so, I should buy you a beer. Luke: It doesn’t work like that where I’m from. I’m buying.
On their first official date, Luke goes to a lot of effort to find a beautiful spot and prepare a romantic picnic (even down to the table cloth). They don’t just “hang out” and Luke doesn’t just do what’s “easy”—he makes an effort, and it’s not lost on Sophia. “No one has ever done anything like this for me before,” she comments. Furthermore, on their date, we see him asking her questions, listening, getting to really know her. Luke pursues Sophie at the level of her soul (not just her body)—that takes patience and work, and it’s something all women long for.
John Eldredge, in his book Wild at Heart says that every man, at his core, needs 3 things: a battle to fight, a beauty to rescue, and an adventure to live. He says women, on the other hand, need: to be fought for, to be the beauty, and to be part of the adventure. The reason these Nicholas Sparks movies are so popular is that he taps into these things, showing how they are meant to fit together. Sophia was the beautiful girl that Luke had to fight for. He fought to win her heart, and he fought to keep it…and to do so, he had to be willing to sacrifice greatly, realizing that being with her was better than the potential fame and glory (and risk) of riding bulls.
As a single woman, who has spent years and years listening to other women, single or not, talk about their desperate longing to be pursued, to have a man want to know her, to be treated not just as a commodity or servant, but as a treasure… it’s no wonder than a movie like this is so appealing. The entire movie is about men pursuing a woman’s soul—not just in Luke and Sophia, but also in Ira and Ruth, the other parallel story in the movie, and in subtler subtexts, too. For example, Sophia spends time with Ira, a lonely, elderly man, listening to (caring about) the stories of his past. And Ira and Ruth take in a poor orphan child, loving him, nurturing him, helping him rise above the squalor of his family and his past. The movie isn’t just about the romantic pursuit of someone’s soul, but about the concept in general—about learning to really see people, to invest in them, to value what they value.
This theme culminates beautifully in the end [spoiler alert!]. Ira willed that after he died, his and Ruth’s extensive art collection would be auctioned off in an invitation only event. The first painting offered was the only one that wasn’t from a famous painter. It was from their beloved orphan child, who painted a portrait of Ruth. It wasn’t particularly beautiful and wasn’t worth anything to the art world. In fact, no one bid on it, except for Luke. Luke didn’t see much value in the art by famous artists there, it was all too modern for his taste, but he saw great value in the painting of Ruth because he had spent time with Ira. You couldn’t spend time with Ira without learning to love Ruth after seeing her through his loving eyes. Luke wanted the portrait of Ruth—not for its artistic or monetary value, but for its sentimental value.
THIS was the best moment of the movie: after Luke bought the painting, the lawyers announced that the auction was over. Ira had dictated in his will that whoever bought the portrait of Ruth would have the whole gallery. Why? “Portrait of Ruth may not be the most valuable, but it was the most precious, because it reminded me of Ruth every day.” Here is why I loved this movie—because this is a beautiful illustration for the Christian life: When Luke valued what Ira valued, he got everything else along with it. The same is true for us with God. When we love what God loves, when we value the things God values, everything else comes with it. “Seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, and then all these things will be added unto you.” Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, the life. No one comes to the Father but through me.” If you’re paying attention, you’ll see this throughout scriptures. When we value what God values, we get it all, so to speak. Nations who treated Israel well, God blessed. Nations who persecuted Israel, God demolished. If we accept Jesus, we get eternal life, the Holy Spirit, access to the Father…but if we deny Jesus, we get Hell. If we seek the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, He promises that everything else will fall into place. Why? For the same reason that Ira gave his whole collection to whoever bought the homely picture of Ruth—because he knew they would treasure most what he treasured most.
It’s a beautiful illustration—of spiritual truths and of just a great principle in life. If you want to win someone’s heart, love what they love. If you want to put up barriers between you and someone else, criticize what they love. Try it. Try taking an interest in what someone else cares about. Get involved in their kids’ lives, love on their pets, praise their hobbies and interests… My cousin used to say that it was easy to make friends with a Texan, all you had to do was say how Texas was the greatest state in America (or even better, the greatest country!)…and you were in! That’s pretty much how God works. The only “rule” he has (although he has a lot of suggestions about how life works best—he only has one real rule) is, “love my son.”
You know, there were a lot of art collectors at that auction who loved Ira’s collection. They understand and valued it deeply—far more than Luke ever could or would. But, none of that mattered, because they didn’t see the value in Ruth’s portrait. Just so, there are people throughout time who have loved religion, loved God’s laws and traditions… they even thought they loved God…but they didn’t love what God loved. God’s not in love with His laws and traditions or even Himself, really, He’s in love with His Son. This is why the Bible says there will be people who, at the end, say, “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy… and cast out demons … and [do all kinds of great stuff] in your name?” But God will tell them He never knew them. Why? Because they loved the collection of rules and traditions, when God wanted them to love Jesus. Let The Longest Ride be a reminder to us all to take heed that we love what God loves.
Questions for Discussion:
- Why are Nicholas Sparks movies so appealing to women? Is it possible that the somewhat universal appeal of his stories means that they are speaking to some intrinsic desire that women have? What might that be?
- Are there any elements of the movie that seem too good to be true? If so, why?
- What made Luke different from other men Sophia had known? What has been your experience with men? Have you had someone like Luke pursue your heart? (Or for men, have you ever really pursued a woman’s heart?)
- When you think about the top things that mean the most to you, have you had times when they were criticized? How did that make you feel, not only about yourself, but also about the person who criticized it? What about the opposite? How do you feel about someone who shows that they, too, love what you love?
- Do you see how Ira’s auction could be, in a way, an analogy for the Christian life? That we can’t have the benefits of the kingdom unless we love Jesus, because that’s what God values most?
- How does the auction scene apply to this verse: “Seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added unto you”?
For more spiritual connections to discuss, Russell Matthews wrote the following in his review on IMDB:
Reel Dialogue: What are the bigger questions to consider from this film? 1. What is sacrificial love? (John 15:13, Ephesians 5:25) 2. What does the Bible say about adoption? (Ephesians 1:5, Hebrews 2:13) 3. Does God care about my dreams? (Jeremiah 29:11, Proverbs 16:3). Written by Russell Matthews based on a five star rating system @ Russelling Reviews #russellingreviews
Parental note: Please be warned!!! The PG-13 rating is for “partial nudity,” among other things. I was shocked at the sexiness of the completely unnecessary sex scenes and the blatant nudity in a PG-13 movie—the only thing that was “partial” was that you only saw one of her breasts, not both. Both couples had sex out of wedlock, which I might unfortunately expect of the modern day couple, but I think was probably unlikely for the devout Jewish couple in early 1940’s—showing this was purely for the gratification of modern audiences, not for any sort of contextual, historical accuracy. Furthermore, in a movie that was so obviously out to promote old fashioned values and courtship…the sweetness and purity of the story and their relationships would have only been enriched by leaving the sex out the story. It wasn’t needed.
My final complaint about the sex (aside from how explicit it was and how unnecessary it was), has to do with how inappropriate it was for the target audience. The Nicholas Sparks movies draw a wide audience, and a lot of that is mothers and daughters who are eager to enjoy a chick flick together. The main character was a college student—which means her story will particularly appeal to a younger audience. High school girls (and dare I say Jr. High girls) will be wanting to see this, and because it’s PG-13, the general consensus is that it is appropriate for ages 13 and up. But do 13 year olds really need to be watching a young girl seduce a guy by stripping down for a shower in front of him, standing naked while he stares and inviting him to join her…and then watching the ensuing, rather steamy (literally and metaphorically) sex scene between them…and on top of that…being “treated”, all the while, to some “partial” nudity??? I just don’t think the sexual content was appropriate for the target audience—not that it’s really appropriate for anyone, frankly…but all the more inappropriate for the youth.
I fully understand that probably the majority of people will argue that it’s no big deal and doesn’t “bother” them, (that’s ok—I’ll still wonder if it’s actually “good” for us even if it doesn’t “bother” us), but for those parents/people who are sensitive about these things, I would want you to be aware, lest you think this review, talking about what is good in the movie, is an endorsement to see it. Like most movies, it’s a mixed bag.
 Matthew 6:33
 John 14:6
 Matthew 7:22-23