Acton Institute Powerblog

Material Goods and The Pursuit of Happyness

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In this week’s Acton Commentary, I review Will Smith’s latest movie, The Pursuit of Happyness, which stands as an extended argument underscoring the truth of conservative values. This may sound like an improbable anomaly given the traditional political, ethical, and social allegiances of Hollywood, but the power of the story lies in its basis in fact, the real-life story of Christopher Gardner. This in turn prevents it from being appropriated as a tool for liberal political ideology.

The movie’s depicts American life as a meritocracy, and after opening in mid-December, the film has grossed over $150 million domestically. The movie is up for only one Oscar, however, and this is perhaps a testimony to the incompatibility of the movie’s message with mainstream Hollywood political culture. Indeed, Will Smith is nominated for Best Actor, but this is perhaps as much due to the respect he commands from his peers as it is for his role in this particular film.

The Pursuit of Happyness grossed more than any of the nominees in any other of the major categories, most by a large margin. But what the Hollywood elites can’t see, the American public can, and they’ve voted with their feet.

S. T. Karnick reviews the film here, be sure to check it out. And you can read my review in full here.

This review has been crossposted to

Jordan J. Ballor Jordan J. Ballor (Dr. theol., University of Zurich; Ph.D., Calvin Theological Seminary) is a senior research fellow and director of publishing at the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion & Liberty. He is also a postdoctoral researcher in theology and economics at the VU University Amsterdam as part of the "What Good Markets Are Good For" project. He is author of Get Your Hands Dirty: Essays on Christian Social Thought (and Action) (Wipf & Stock, 2013), Covenant, Causality, and Law: A Study in the Theology of Wolfgang Musculus (Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2012) and Ecumenical Babel: Confusing Economic Ideology and the Church's Social Witness (Christian's Library Press, 2010), as well as editor of numerous works, including Abraham Kuyper Collected Works in Public Theology. Jordan is also associate director of the Junius Institute for Digital Reformation Research at Calvin Theological Seminary.


  • William Gissy

    I too loved the movie. What I have a hard time with, however, are the naive neo-cons who see this story as proof that the virtuous private market works for all who put forth the effort. Ignored by the spewers of pseudo-Christian platitudes is the role of something called dumb luck. A dozen people can be trapped in a cave and because one, by oure chance, found a way out before running out of air the unholy neo-cons dance and sing and say "see! see!…..the private escape system works!" Or maybe the Jordan Ballors of the world consider one in twelve surviving an example of meritocracy in action.

  • Laura

    This is beautifully written and sheds light on the underlying spiritual tone of a film that makes you want to believe.

  • Jordan

    Dr. Gissy,

    I fail to see the relevance of a cave-in to the points in my article. Perhaps you can clarify.

    Are you referring to the real-life mining accident of the past year or comparing Gardner’s situation by analogy to a hypothetical construction?

    Furthermore, within the confines of your analogy I might respond that it is merely luck that there is a cave-in in the first place, and that it is vain to seek purpose or meaning in a world where luck is given explanatory significance.

    Or perhaps instead of believing in luck we are to place our faith in government to deliver us?

    And moving beyond this thought experiment (if that’s what it is), I would contend that as a Christian (whether "pseudo" or not in your judgment), I don’t believe in "dumb luck" or "pure chance," but rather divine providence.

  • the female helicopter pilot

    I am going to bring you down….you are pure evil

  • mustapha

    Inteligent analyse but can you indicate cleary the religion element in this film?May be in the movie we show the church as support for the victims of the market.Great movie,in the pardoxe of a America as place for effort and for social drame



  • José Luis Morrás-Etayo

    The article is fantastic and remeber us something
    common but very neccesary not to be forgotten:It’s better for all the people to have a spiritual sight even of the material thigs because it brings us hope, peace and serenity when we are in difficult and dangerous situations.

  • tommy balogna

    it was GGGRRRRRRRREAT!!!