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The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Runner is an inspiring sports documentary about finding purpose through hardship. It follows Guor Marial, a refugee from Sudan who becomes an Olympian and is an exemplary role model. He overcomes unbelievable odds and achieves a high level of success through endurance, perseverance, and self-control. Marial shares some of his horrific childhood as a Lost Boy of the Sudan, which is softened with animation. He tells enough to make it clear that he was fighting for survival against a heartless enemy, but he doesn't get into graphic details. That said, his story does include the fact that, at the age of 8, his parents sent him away for his own safety, and he wandered Sudan alone for years. He was captured and suffered abuse, and escaped several times. Wartime images include footage of soldiers carrying large guns (one is smoking) and dead bodies lying on the ground. This isn't a faith-based film, but Marial is a Christian and references his faith in God as a source of hope.
What's the story?
RUNNER tells the story of Guor Marial, a Lost Boy of Sudan who wandered South Sudan alone for four years as a child. After arriving as a teen refugee in the United States, he became a star athlete in high school track. The years he spent running for his life provided the foundation for the athletic skill that ultimately led him to the Olympics.
Is it any good?
Guor Marial is a human metaphor for getting through life's hardships by putting one foot in front of the other. His story of courage and endurance is one every person should know. Inspirational figures don't come in more impressive packaging: He's a living example of what bravery, persistence, humility, and self-control look like. Director Bill Gallagher followed Marial for seven years and, with Runner, has put together a portrait that's gracefully understated, even though it could easily have been heart-rippingly rage inducing. The gentler tone makes the film less explosive but likely easier to digest for some, allowing viewers to come to their own realizations instead of being told how to think or feel. But no matter how politely they're put, you'll be shocked at the horrors Marial had to endure. You'll also cry with joy at his victories.
The movie's war images and stories aren't recommended for younger kids, but this compassionate bio-doc is a really powerful story for older tweens and teens. Since Marial's ordeal began when he was just 8 and carried through his high school years, kids will be able to put themselves in his shoes. Gallagher creates empathy and understanding for a horrific situation. There's also an anti-bullying undercurrent embedded in the film. Marial was an African teen who didn't speak English and was pretty abruptly dropped into a mostly White suburban U.S. school. Through interviews, it's suggested that thankfully he wasn't bullied or ostracized but rather was welcomed and treated with respect -- and it's clear the entire school was the better for it. A minor quibble? While Gallagher does a great job telling Marial's story, including collecting a substantial number of news and video clips, the story's timeline is confusing, and some information can seem contradictory. Ultimately, though, the entire film is full of life lessons, including that sometimes participation is success, and living to see another day is victory.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the importance of representation. Why is it important to learn stories about cultures other than your own? What did you learn from watching Runner?
Discuss how Guor Marial transformed the action that represented his trauma -- running -- into something positive. Do you think there's something negative in your own life that you could use for good? How is running a metaphor for endurance?
How does Marial become a leader? What do you think was behind the South Sudan government pulling out their support for him? Why do we need to think critically about the news?
Talk about the impact of civil war. How does Sudan's civil war compare to the United States' in the 1860s? To other historical civil wars?
- On DVD or streaming: June 19, 2020
- Cast: Guor Marial
- Director: Bill Gallagher
- Studio: This Is It Films
- Genre: Documentary
- Topics: Activism, Sports and Martial Arts, Great Boy Role Models, History
- Character strengths: Courage, Humility, Perseverance, Self-control
- Run time: 88 minutes
- MPAA rating: NR
- Awards/Honors: Common Sense Selection
- Last updated: February 23, 2021
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