Making the Grades
Aristotle defined happiness as contemplation. But for people stuck on the street, it can be as simple as a warm meal and a place to sleep. In Chris Gardner's (Will Smith) case, it means a decent income and an adequate place to live with his 5-year-old son, Christopher (Jaden Christopher Syre Smith -- real life son of Will Smith).
Yet things so basic seem entirely out of reach for the medical equipment salesman. Buyers for his expensive bone density machines are scarce and double-shifts at the laundry leave his wife Linda (Thandie Newton) exhausted and frustrated. The landlord is pounding at the door for outstanding rent money and even the daycare where he leaves his son is rundown and crowded. Getting a toehold on the upwardly mobile ladder looks impossible.
In San Francisco's downtown core, the chasm between the have and have-nots is equally evident as well-heeled executives pass sleeping vagrants on the street and flashy sports cars drive past lines of homeless men waiting for a meal. Unfortunately, Chris's alignment with the homeless sector only gets stronger when he is deserted by his wife, evicted from his apartment and ambushed by the IRS for overdue taxes. Now he finds himself struggling to keep even a scrap of cash in his wallet.
However, a chance to turn things around finally seems within grasp when he applies for an internship at the city's prestigious Dean Witter Reynolds brokerage house. Possible at least, until he discovers the grueling six-month application process comes without pay or an assured position at the end of training. Competing with 19 other interns, who apparently find themselves in better circumstances, he fights to juggle his work schedule, parenting responsibilities and sleeping accommodations.
Meanwhile, Chris tries to maintain the exterior of a qualified, capable employee during office hours while being homeless himself. Suddenly the worth of a five-dollar bill and a clean cot is monumental. But after a while, the facade takes its toll, even on a man as determined and persistent as Chris Gardner.
Refusing to follow the normal pacing of a film, The Pursuit of Happyness (based on a true story and best suited for adults and teens) takes a hard look at the plight of the homeless who for various causes find themselves without shelter. For Chris, it's a combination of choices, bad luck and a cruel turn of events. Yet despite his dire situation, he looks after his family's dignity by encouraging his son's dreams and refusing to let him repeat the sexual expletive scrawled on the wall outside the daycare. In a society that is often quick to blame its ills on another, he is a man that deserves respect. While each of us may believe in our inalienable right to the pursuit of happiness, Chris's example of passionately chasing that privilege is commendable and worth the price of admission.
Discussion Ideas After The Movie
Teaching ideas and topics to discuss about The Pursuit of Happyness.
Many times Chris and his son are shown riding on public transit. What types of commuters were likely on the train or bus with them? What conditions may people be living in that are not readily evident?
Why does Chris try to maintain a certain public image even when he is struggling? How does his perseverance pay off? How might things have gone differently if he had whined at the office about his situation? Instead, what qualities do you think made him stand out from the other interns?
What circumstances may lead a person to end up on the street? What kind of programs or social aid do you think should be given? Do all homeless people need the same kind of help? What contributions can an individual make to improve the lives of people living in shelters?
For more information on the real Chris Gardner’s story, check out this link: http://www.chrisgardnermedia.com/