Tuesday, January 22, 2013

movie night: october sky

October Sky

I have a special place in my heart for Appalachia. Maybe it's because both sides of my family have strong roots in the region, or because I've spent my whole life just a stones' throw away from it all. I don't know. What I do know, is that books like The Open Door by Mrs. J.L. Ragsdale, Christy by Catherine Marshall, and The Mitford Years by Jan Karon are among my very favorites - and films and shows like The Waltons, The Hunger Games (more the book than the movie), and October Sky strike a chord somewhere inside. Especially October Sky.

Years and years ago, my siblings and I and my dad got really interested in rockets. Not sure what triggered it, but we owned several and set them off at many random places and had a blast. During this time, Dad showed us October Sky for the first time. I don't remember much of that first viewing - all I know is Dad skipped half of it, and I didn't really understand most of it.

A year or so later, in all of Dad's genealogy research, he discovered that our great-great-great grandfather was a coal miner in Fraterville, TN - and actually he and his four brothers (age ranging from 16 to 34) were killed in the Coal Creek mine disaster on May 19, 1902. (family name "D'Zern" incorrectly spelled "Dezern" on the roster) I've been to the cemetery, read the plaques, I know the stories if you ever care to hear them sometime.

Coal Creek Mine, 1899. {photo credit}

Anyway. So we have coal miner's blood in us too. Which is pretty neat, when you think about it.

All that said, we watched October Sky again when I was old enough to appreciate it, and then again last week. Folks, it just gets better every time.

October Sky is the based-real-life story of Homer Hickam, Quentin Wilson, Roy Lee Cooke, and Sherman O'Dell - the "Rocket Boys". It tells of their perseverance and desire to make a life for themselves outside of their home town - the mining town of Coalwood, WV.

October Sky♥

The support and driving force behind the boys is the love and encouragement of their science teacher, Miss Riley. She never gives up on her dream of her boys going to college, and following their dreams.
"Miss Riley, our job is to give these kids an education."
"Not false hopes."
"False hopes? Do you want me to sit quiet, let 'em breathe in coal dust the rest of their life?" 
"Miss Riley, once in a while... a lucky one... will get out on a football scholarship. The rest of 'em work in the mines."
"How 'bout I believe in the unlucky ones? Hmm? I have to, Mister Turner, I'd go out of my mind."
- Principal Turner and Miss Riley, October Sky
It's hard to explain why I love this story. The characters are so real, the life so harsh, the pain, the hopelessness, yet the hope so strong…it touches your heart. 
"Let 'em have outer space. We got rock 'n' roll." - Roy Lee, October Sky

"Man, we should be trying to get into that science fair instead of sitting around here like a bunch of hillbillies."  "Well, I got some real sad news for you Homer. We *are* a bunch of hillbillies." - Homer and Roy Lee, October Sky

october sky

The relationship between Homer and his father is one of the focus points of the story. John Hickam doesn't understand his son's desire to go into space, work with rockets, or do something other than coal mining. But despite his often harsh appearance, we see that inside, John is a good man. One of the most moving scenes is when he protects Homer's friend Roy Lee from his intoxicated stepfather. 
[to Vernon:] "You listen to me….If I see him with a bruise, you get a scar. If I see him with a limp, you get crutches! You hear me? Do you hear me?" …. [to Roy Lee:] "Your father was one of the best men I ever had workin' for me. I was lucky to know him." - John Hickam, October Sky
Jake Gyllenhaal in October Sky

"No. Coal mining may be your life, but it's not mine. I'm never going down there again. I wanna go into space." - Homer, October Sky
Homer is one of the most respectful and patient young men I've ever seen in a film, or read about in a book. Despite his father's constant negativity and favoritism towards his older brother, Homer continues to be respectful. He sticks with his dream, however, and eventually he and his father do have it out in pretty intense argument after Homer and his friends are accused of starting a forest fire with one of their rockets. But even after that, the first step towards reconciliation is made by Homer.

It takes courage to stand up for something you truly believe in your heart - especially when there's opposition to it from those you love the most. As Christians, we should be prayerful and seek counsel from the Lord and from others when in situations like these. Sometimes what we may think is right, may actually be dangerous. While the overall "follow your dreams" message of October Sky is a good one at heart, remember how deceitful and deadly the human flesh can be. The devil can take something meant for good and turn it to evil. We need to be watchful, and pray that our will is actually in line with GOD'S will for us.

Just a thought.

"You know, it, uh, won't fly unless somebody pushes the button. It's yours, if you want it." - Homer to John, October Sky
"That's a good idea. Four unidentifiable high school students lost their lives early this morning when their toy rocket exploded." - Roy Lee, October Sky
October Sky

It's a wonderful story. Very inspiring, tear-jerking, and really shows what America is made of. And it may interest you to know that all of those boys went on to college, graduated, and had rewarding careers. The real Homer "Sonny" Hickam went on to be a NASA engineer - dreams do come true.

"God's honest truth, Homer. What are the chances... a bunch of kids from Coalwood... actually winning the national science fair?" "A million to one, O'Dell." "That good? Well, why didn't you say so?" - O'Dell and Homer, October Sky

Notice: there are somethings to beware of. We watched it this past time on ClearPlay with the highest setting, and it got pretty much everything except two little conversations. It's sprinkled with mild profanity, but enough that you should keep subtitles off and use ClearPlay if you have it. Roy Lee, despite being one of the best characters in the film, is also the most…umm….inappropriate, I guess. He has two little conversations with Homer that you can just fast forward over (first: on the porch before seeing Sputnik for the first time; second: as their about to launch their first rocket for an audience) and you won't miss anything. And then, the night after they get arrested, they go to a bar…just start skipping there and stop as soon as you seen Homer's mom come take him to the mine. Really the main thing is language. But be warned.

Closing with the most moving line in the film:
"Dad, I may not be the best, but I come to believe that I got it in me to be somebody in this world. And it's not because I'm so different from you either, it's because I'm the same. I mean, I can be just as hard-headed, and just as tough. I only hope I can be as good a man as you. Sure, Wernher von Braun is a great scientist...but he isn't my hero." - Homer, October Sky

giving this  4 out of 5 stars.

"For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope." Jeremiah 29:11


  1. Hm....I'm going to have to look into watching this one. :) Several friends have recommended it to me.

  2. Excellent review! Love your thoughts on it. :)

    I watched the movie last night on Netflix, and it truly is a great movie. Thank-you for sharing this!