‘Partner, do you believe we can do this?”
“Partner, I believe we can do this.”
That’s from a conversation between a father (Michael Rapaport) and his young son, Pepper, known as “Little Boy” (Jakob Salvati) in the movie with that title, in theaters this weekend.
The film recounts the great adventures the two of them would go on, reading comic books and creating great, creative dramas together. Anything is possible for Little Boy, despite the children who mercilessly picked on him for his slow growth. He has a father who loves and protects him, and every risk they take in the course of their adventures is worth their time together.
But time soon runs out when his father has to enlist in World War II after the bombing of Pearl Harbor.
And while his dad is still his partner, at this point in the film Little Boy begins his journey of faith.
In the most understated church scene I’ve ever seen in a movie, Little Boy hears a priest talk about having the faith the size of a mustard seed:
If we have faith the size of a mustard seed we can a move mountain. If we can move a mountain, nothing is impassive for us, not even ending this war. And having our relatives back.
The movie then turns to Little Boy’s quest to encounter the power of faith.
It’s not faith in God, mind you, that Little Boy is thinking about so much as he is determined to get his father returned home safely from the frontlines. One of the father figures who enters his life while his dad is away is a good and wise and humble priest, Fr. Oliver (Tom Wilkinson). He introduces Little Boy to an “ancient list,” one that becomes his to-do list:
Feed the hungry
Shelter the homeless
Visit those in prison
Clothe the naked
Visit the sick
Bury the dead
#related#If the words “corporal works of mercy” were ever uttered in the film, I missed them, so subtle and yet luminous is the movie’s message. People of faith — true, honest, child-like faith — make the people around them better, and make them want to be better.
But there’s one more “to-do” added for Little Boy: Make friends with “that Jap,” (Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa), a Japanese immigrant whose real name, Hashimo, few cared to learn in that time of war, seeing him as the face of the enemy many of their loved ones were off — or had already died — fighting.
It’s a long, hard road — a passionate way — but this boy’s witness of faith moves boulders and mountains — including, tenderly, the boulders in the hearts of mad men and boys, made so by violence, fear, and the deep, deadly pain of the time. It’s a remarkably sweet — in the least saccharine but also most humane way — movie, one about manhood, about family, and about a mother’s gentle courage and care, a mother who is never too hardened by the pain of war to not be open to learning from the love in her Little Boy’s heart. Little Boy doesn’t get preachy and doesn’t pretend that faith is easy, but it leaves even the skeptics wondering about the unseen world to which Little Boy appears to have a strong connection, confounding his small town.
Little Boy is a tender movie that inspires hope. It’s a story of sacrifice and forgiveness; of heroes, of friendship and fatherhood; of real, broken people and their capacity for solidarity and courage and healing. It’s a story of the Little Boy who becomes the tallest of all. It’s a heart-wrenching and encouraging movie dealing with life and death, and with faith, hope, and love. You might just be happy you saw it. And the better for it.