“Salmon Fishing in the Yemen” is the new movie from director Lasse Hallstrom. He’s made some excellent movies – “Chocolat,” “What’s Eating Gilbert Grape,” and “The Cider House Rules” are some of my favorites. He also made “Dear John.” Nobody’s perfect.
“Salmon Fishing in the Yemen” is a light, enjoyable movie. Perhaps it is too light at times, but there is something to be said for, as one character says, “a story from the Middle East that doesn’t involve things blowing up.”
Briefly, the story involves a Yemeni salmon-fishing Sheikh (Amr Waked) with the titular dream. He wants to go salmon fishing in the Yemen which is, of course, pretty much desert. Ewen McGregor is Dr. Jones, a fish scientist with Asperger’s who is pulled into the Sheikh’s scheme despite his insistence that it is impossible. There’s also a sort of love story between McGregor’s character and a financial adviser played by Emily Blunt, and a sub-plot about a soldier missing in Afghanistan, and . . . in the movie’s best performance, Kristen Scott Thomas as a ruthless (at her job and with her kids) Press Secretary to the Prime Minister.
At its heart though, this is a film about faith. The Sheikh has faith in the improbable, and the fish scientist has faith in only what is concrete. That conflict is encapsulated in a dinner conversation between the sheikh and the scientist. (You can watch it here.)
Here’s the heart of that discussion:
Sheikh: It would be a miracle of God if it were to happen.
Dr. Jones: I’m more of a facts and figures man.
Sheikh: You aren’t a religious man, Dr. Jones?
Dr. Jones: No I’m not.
Sheikh: But you’re a fisherman Dr. Jones.
Dr. Jones: I’m sorry I don’t follow.
Sheikh: How many hours do you fish before you catch something?
Dr. Jones: Hundreds sometimes.
Sheikh: Is that a good use of your time as a facts and figures man. But you persist, with such poor odds of success. Why? Because you’re a man of faith, Dr. Alfred. In the end, you are rewarded for your faith and constancy.
Dr. Jones: With due respect, fishing and religion are hardly the same thing your excellency.
Sheikh: With equal respect, I have to disagree.
Now I’m no fisherman (patience is a gift of the spirit that I need to pray for more of), but I love the analogy. Dr. Jones’ journey from skeptic to believer is compelling to watch. In that sense, even in its lightness “Salmon Fishing in the Yemen” is a film with some spiritual heft. With so many “Christian films” having the depth of a dry Yemeni stream-bed, “Salmon Fishing in the Yemen” is a well worth watching and thinking about.
Sounds like an interesting film. Will have to make a conscious effort to see it.
Do you believe that faith is directly correlated to religion as the Sheikh had suggested? Or do you believe that faith can be correlated to what we have experienced and what we know? It is obviously possible for both to be directly correlated because religion can be what a person knows, but is faith possible without religion? I am assuming, because of your URL, you are religious, I, however, and an unproclaimed nineteen year old, curious about the world. ( I just finished the film and I have found myself unable to sleep, as my mind is running wild with these ideas)
Kate, those are excellent questions. First, let me say that questions are awesome, they are our primary way of exploring and discovering what is true. Too many “religious” folks discourage questions, but I believe God values our questions – and that God is big enough to handle our questions and even our doubts. As to your specific questions . . .
Do I “believe that faith is directly correlated to religion . . . or . . . that faith can be correlated to what we experience and what we know?” Yes. You see, I don’t think the “or” belongs between those two questions. If we define “religion” as our attempt to faithfully follow God, then I don’t believe that believing in God and trying to live out our belief faithfully is exclusive to our experiences and/or our knowledge. When I was an unChristian (an atheist/agnostic), I thought that to be a Christian you had to check your brain at the door of the church. But what I discovered once I began to explore the Bible and theology is that there is nothing anti-intellectual about Christianity . . . although there are certainly some Christians who are anti-intellectual. The mind of God is infinite; therefore, we will never fully understand God in a lifetime, or even an eternity, of striving.
If Christianity was totally antithetical to my experience, then I would not be one, much less a pastor. What Christianity explains is what my experience tells me is the human condition – I am capable of incredible selfishness, but also of acts that are self-sacrificing. Lutheran theology has a way of talking about this – we are totally “saint” and totally “sinner” at the same time. We are people created in God’s image, but also people who fall short of God’s plan for us and are therefore in need of forgiveness. We are forgiven totally by the grace of God, not by anything that we do (or that we could do).
You also ask if faith is possible without religion. Certainly! When I was an unChristian I had faith in lots of stuff – friends, family, the power of words and language, and especially knowledge. But I have come to believe that the only “thing” that is worthy of ultimate, eternal faith is God and God’s promises.
So, I am sorry to hear that you are having trouble sleeping, but I am glad that you are searching and questioning. I have been there, and seeking can be an uncomfortable place to be. But it is the way to Truth (and I do believe there is a capital-“T” truth among all the lower-case “t” truths).
Finally, it is awesome that a film could inspire so much thought. It is an example of the power of art, and of God’s power to use artistic expression for God’s purposes.
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