Today’s Associated Press story about a 17-year-old girl in Bismarck, North Dakota, who called 9-1-1 to report herself as a drunken driver is eerily similar to the actions of Will Smith’s character, Tim Thomas, in the recently released Seven Pounds.
Whether the teen had seen and been inspired by the movie to call police to rescue her from herself is hard to say, since that wasn’t reported; but she was found seated in her parked car with her keys safely stowed in her purse. And although she admitted to driving drunk in the previous two weeks, she seemed determined to be more responsible this time around.
Yes, she could’ve called a cab rather than the cops; but maybe she wanted to be exposed, if not punished.
In Seven Pounds, released last month (19 December), an easily understood but not easily forgiven error contributes to Tim’s emergency call: He had been driving while under the influence of his hand-held device when he caused an accident, killing seven people, including his fiance.
Under the weight of his negligence, he decides he is not fit to live; but decides to redeem himself by donating his useful parts and possessions to those more needy, albeit by using his brother’s identity (Ben Thomas).
The movie has been largely panned by critics but stirs debate about what Smith describes as the “bittersweet in life.”
Unlike the young girl who said her life had been “spiralling out of control” prior to the incident, Tim’s life seemed perfectly in control prior to his final call for help. In fact, after the accident that sets this story in motion, perhaps the most precarious situation for Tim is one that simultaneously offers salvation and suffering, where he (despite cunning planning in other regards) falls in love with critically ill Emily Posa (Rosario Dawson).
Unfortunately, this heartbreaking quagmire makes you wonder if by falling in love with Emily, Tim was further validating his earlier decision to be her heart donor. And sadder still is the idea that finding another love was the quintessential punishment for a man who feels undeserving of love and life.
In decoding Tim’s actions, the audience must consider weighty questions, such as: Who is most deserving of life? How can a man redeem himself after a major mistake in judgement? And, if you know you’re dying, should you avoid falling in love? — Is it really better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all?
Had Will Smith’s excellent comedic talents been used more effectively, the story would’ve been less punishing, for in the rare scenes where humour was present, it was welcome, providing that emotionally neutral space needed to counter despair.
Intense as it was, Seven Pounds sparked subsequent discussions among my friends about forgiveness and retribution. Some had no problem with Tim’s death because of the immeasurable harm he’d caused others, and the substantial weight of living with his actions; while I thought he’d proven that he deserved to live because he clearly understood the gravity of his errors and sought to make amends.
With organ donation Tim embraced self-sacrifice and atonement. His kidney donation also teaching that in some cases organ donation is equally important (and possible) before death as it is afterward.
In the end, calling 9-1-1 helps mitigate the harm Tim’s short-sightedness caused others during his lifetime. The Bismarck teen, however, whether or not inspired by Tim’s actions, benefits from an alternative ending.
She will need help addressing the issues that contributed to her negligent behaviour and her unconventional attempt to curb it; but she may yet find value in her life, and learn to respect the value of other people’s lives, without repeating Tim’s dramatic and irreversible actions.