Movies You May Have Missed: Secondhand Lions (2003)


“Two roads diverged in a wood and I – I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.” – Robert Frost

So often in life the best things are hidden behind the most inauspicious beginnings or introductions. When I first met my friend Bryon, well over a decade ago, I didn’t see someone who could possibly be my friend. He was a new coworker who was a bit standoff-ish as was I. But as with most things in life, time took hold and now he is one of my favorite people in the world. I guess you could say we bond in our pessimism.

When Walter meets his uncles for the first time it’s a similar situation of long stares, a bit of mistrust, and a whole lot of misjudgment on both sides. It’s a great example of fear of the unknown, being more fearful of something unfamiliar so much so that one turns to the only thing you know, even if that thing has proven itself, or themself in this case, as anything but reliable. Better the devil you know than the devil you don’t. His mother in this case is the familiar horned presence in his life who has shown time and time again her naivety not only toward Walter but for her own wellbeing too. The uncles on the other hand, however unfamiliar they may be with children, turn out to be the greatest thing to ever happen to Walter. Together, Walter and his uncles Garth and Hub, create a self contained adventure on a rural, rundown farm with dogs seemingly the only animals around.

Of course with a whole lot of pent up energy and an apparent unlimited amount of money these kooky uncles and their newly “adopted” nephew have nowhere to go but crazy on adventure, both past and present. They grow an actual crop, buy literal zoo animals from a giraffe to an old, used up, secondhand lion. They fight, tell tall tales but most importantly they teach. Walter is a young, impressionable kid with a majority of his life being of detrimental disappointment. There is no question that Garth and Hub are eccentric but are no less aware of what Walter is coming from and his desperate need to be shown what it means to be a man, and what it means to show compassion and what living life is all about.

In their care Walter learns of the world through their eyes. He hears tales of unimaginable adventure replete with war, death, treasures greater than any could fathom, including Hub’s greatest jewel, the only woman he ever loved and did so with a passion rarely seen much less felt. In one of the more heartfelt moments it becomes clear that however cynical the world has left Hub and Garth, they have never lost sight of what is truly important in life and that is to believe in things, even if you’re told it’s a fruitless endeavor. Believe. Believe anyway, and do so with your whole heart. Believe in people, believe that good always triumphs over evil. Honor, courage, and virtue mean everything. And he stresses, with a lump in his throat and a tear in his eye, that love, true love, never dies. It’s in this moment we see that Garth and Hub are anything but inadequate but entirely pure, damaged maybe, but ultimately pure and good. Walter realizes in these moments of hearing his uncles speak with such conviction that he’s finally, finally in good hands. He no longer must fear the unknown, but rather embrace it and believe in it.

Michael Caine and Robert Duvall are the uncles, giving both hilarious and poignant performances. They emote such deep feelings of regret, longing, loneliness, and yearning for the next thing all the while staring down their greatest foe, time. They have faced armies, mercenaries, dodged bullets and blades. They have fallen madly, hopelessly in love, garnered endless riches and have done all of it with a kind of fearless grit and unwavering perseverance. And yet, it will be at the whim of a child that will teach them, the oldest of dogs, that they still have value yet. Time has not forgotten them but it’s also not ending anytime soon so why not find things that make it all worth living? Haley Joel Osment is a silly, infirm young man who not only acts as a bridge between the old and new but gives just as much purpose to the here and now for his two uncles who thought they were on their way out.

Secondhand Lions is about finding the beauty in the secondhand items, the throwaways of life. Whether it’s a worn out lion or two mysterious, odd old men with nothing to do but watch the sun rise and set, there is still adventure yet to be had and so eagerly awaits their arrival. This is a tall tale of hope and believing, of finding one’s place in this mixed up world and knowing you’re right where you belong. Embrace it and believe in it.

Rated PG For: thematic material, language and action violence
Runtime: 109 minutes
After Credits Scene: No
Genre: Comedy, Drama, Family
Starring: Michael Caine, Robert Duvall, Haley Joel Osment, Kyra Sedgwick
Directed By: Tim McCanlies

Out of 5 Nerdskulls
Story: 4.5/ Acting: 4/ Directing: 4/ Visuals: 4
OVERALL: 4.5 Nerdskulls

Buy to Own: Yes

Check out the trailer below:

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Chase Gifford

"Cinema is the most beautiful fraud in the world"-Jean-Luc Godard