"There will never cease to be poor in the land," Deuteronomy 15:11 prophesied. And that has certainly proven to be true. For some, each day is a struggle to survive—to eat, to find clean water, to stay warm. That's why, in that very same verse, God tells us to "open your hand to your brother, to the needy and to the poor." Yes, maybe the poor will always be with us. But so, hopefully, will those who want to help.
Irishwoman Christina Noble knows what poverty's like. Her mother died when she was 10, and her father couldn't be bothered with her. Some nights the fledgling songstress literally sang for her supper. She was eventually shipped off to a Catholic orphanage, then worked as a seamstress in an Irish sweatshop—skipping meals to save money for her mother's tombstone. Christina knows the hollow feel of poverty. She lived it.
Fast-forward a few decades, and Christina—inspired by a dream—is visiting Vietnam. She knows very little about the country, but she feels an affinity for its people and called to help in some way. She sees children combing through garbage or begging on street corners. She knows the need. But what can she do?
She can march into a Catholic cathedral and talk with God.
"I need You to tell me what to do," she says. Not getting an immediate answer, she continues, "I tell you what: I'll walk. You lead."
And she begins walking, marching through the streets and alleys of Ho Chi Minh City until she runs almost smack-dab into a kite. She looks around, and behind a concrete wall Christina sees an orphanage, a government-run establishment full of kids. Some have been neglected. Others malnourished.
God led, Christina realizes. Now she's got some more walking—and work—to do.
Madame Linh, the woman who runs the orphanage, is skeptical of Christina's do-gooding spirit at first. "Our history is full of foreigners who thought they could help," she says. "Maybe we don't need any more disappointment." But Christina's heart and energy wins Linh over, and eventually many others, too.
Indeed, Christina is a tireless advocate for Vietnam's poorest children—earning a temporary work visa and time to start her own charity organization. She hopes to renovate a building, then start providing food, education and emergency health care for Ho Chi Minh City's teeming population of street urchins. She plies huge corporations for grants—necessary to convince the Communist government that she's actually doing some good there. And when she sees a young girl being preyed upon by a foreigner, she storms the hotel to save the youngster—and eventually gets the perp arrested.
Christina's little talks with God didn't begin that day in Vietnam. For her, conversations with the Almighty have been frequent—even if she's been angry with Him much of the time.
As a child, she prays that He save her mother. "You don't have to make me Doris Day if you don't want to," the aspiring singer says. "I don't have to go to America. I'll stay here as long as You don't let my lovely mum die." But she does die ("God can't cure everyone," a priest brusquely tells Christina), and she's sent to a church orphanage staffed with nuns.
Caught running away to sing at a pub, the nun in charge slaps Christina in the face and declares that she's certainly no Doris Day. Which prompts Christina to ask God, "Do You actually love these people? Because I won't be Your friend for much longer if You do." She wants God to dole out some serious eye-for-an-eye retribution … but she doesn't blame God for what happened. "I know You've got a much better future in store for me," she whispers.
As she deals with trauma after trauma, though, Christina's angry faith begins to waver. She's gang-raped and loses her job. The baby conceived in that rape is given to another family by the nuns without her knowledge. She marries a physically abusive and sexually unfaithful husband.
"I need to know that You're still there," she pleads with God. "Have You forgotten me completely?"
It's shortly afterwards that she literally dreams of Vietnam—a vision, she believes, straight from God. So in spite of her trials and her sometimes spiteful words, she's still talking and listening to the Almighty. And in the end, she finds her "much better future," even though it's much different than the one she would've chosen for herself.
We see church interiors and crosses on walls. Christina lights prayer candles. Incense is burned in memoriam.
When an up-and-coming businessman woos a young Christina, they and another couple go to a seaside hotel before they're married. The social mores of the day require that the men rent one room, the women the other … but we see them then secretly switch, with Christina and a man tiptoeing past each other to couple up with their partners for the night. Christina and her beau do eventually marry, but split after he starts sleeping with someone else. (We see one tryst, his bare back visible along with explicit sexual movements.)
In Vietnam, Christina helps bring a child molester to justice, rescuing a 10-year-old girl. It's intimated that photos in the man's possession (which we don't see) depict underage girls in sexual situations.
We see a woman in a suggestive burlesque outfit. There's talk of tasting different kinds of kisses.
When Christina is raped, we see a handful of young men …
… abduct her and carry her, screaming, into a deserted building. She later wakes up in a muddy field, bruised and bloodied.
Christina's husband beats her. We see them fight, and when she prays to God at one juncture, she bares fresh bruises and stitches on her face. Her father was a violent man, too. One night he comes home drunk and raging, throwing food and furniture.
Christina slaps a nun after learning the woman sent her baby off for adoption. She pushes a home wrecker down and douses her with a bucket of water. We see war footage from Vietnam on television and in a dream sequence. Children suffer from birth defects brought on, we're told, by the use of Agent Orange. Christina's prospective children's center is ransacked. Her mother dies from a lingering illness, and we see blood on Christina's dress after her mother coughs it up.
Crude or Profane Language
One f-word and one s-word. We hear "b--ch," "b--tard," "h---," "f-g" and "bloody" one to three times each. God's and Jesus' names are misused two or three times each.
Drug and Alcohol Content
As noted, Christina's father has a serious drinking problem. After his wife dies, he seems to desert his children, spending days and nights drinking. When Christina's a young woman leaving the orphanage, she meets up with her father again, whereupon he steals what little money she has and abandons her yet again.
Some of Christina's happiest moments from childhood seem to take place in pubs, where she's singing for appreciative, sometimes inebriated patrons. As an adult, she and others drink wine and smoke cigarettes. Potential charitable donors are plied with whiskey in a nightclub.
Other Negative Elements
Beyond just the slap, several times Christina flouts nunnish authority.
Noble is based on a true story. Christina Noble is 70 at the time of this writing, and the Christina Noble Children's Foundation has now helped more than 700,000 children and their families in Vietnam and Mongolia. "She still talks to God and still loves Doris Day," we're told in a postscript.
The movie obviously includes some bad content. And the fact that most of it is pulled straight from Christina's own real-life experiences doesn't lessen its negative impact.
But the pretty great story that those things sometimes (briefly) obscure is one that has the ability to simultaneously challenge and validate faith in Christ. Christina's honest, often painful conversations with God feel both ragged and true. And even though most of us have never gone through the suffering she did, we can still deeply feel her frustration and hurt. Most of us, I dare suggest, have tried to bargain with God to no avail. Most of us have been angry with Him. Most of us have wondered whether God listens to us at all.
And yet, here you are—reading a review in a Christian publication about a Christian-themed movie. Here I am, writing about it. In spite of everything, we believe. We have faith, be it great or small. We know that God has plans for us, just as Christina keeps saying that He has plans for her.
We all know that our salvation from the fires of hell doesn't protect us from the world's anguished throes. Christians hurt—just like Christiana hurt, and just like the atheists across the street hurt, and just like the Wiccans 'round the corner hurt.
But just because we hurt doesn't mean God isn't working in our lives. That He doesn't have plans for us—as improbable as those plans might be.
Noble asks us to be mindful of those plans—to heed how God might be directing us. Christina, as flawed a character as she may be in some ways, feels as though God sent her halfway around the globe to work in a strange country and help its desperately needy children. And it makes us wonder what He might want us to do, too.
Other Belief Systems
Readability Age Range
Deirdre O'Kane as Christina Noble; Sarah Greene as Middle Christina; Gloria Cramer Curtis as Young Christina; Brendan Coyle as Gerry Shaw; Mark Huberman as David Somers; Nhu Quynh Nguyen as Madame Linh
Stephen Bradley ( )
May 8, 2015
September 21, 2015