In Ways to Live Forever, Sam Oliver McQueen (Robbie Kay) is an eleven-year-old child, terminally ill with leukemia.  Encouraged by his teacher, since Sam needs answers to the “questions nobody answers”, he complies a diary/scrapbook/video blog during the last two months of his life.  In that book, he includes stories, amusing facts, lists, and his own diary. One of the lists he makes gives the movieits structure. “List No. 3: Things that I want to do”.  So with the help of his best friend Felix Stranger (Alex Etel), an ill 13-year-old child, he embarks on a quest to do things like go up down escalators and do teenage things, like kiss a girl.

“Mrs. Willis told us about how works of art launch themselves into people’s hearts.  She told us we should write something about ourselves.” –Sam

With the help of his teacher, they conduct various experiments, Sam and Felix break world records (including the world’s smallest night club).  But the diary continues to return to Sam’s numerous lists of “questions nobody answers”, centering around wrestling with the questions about why kids have to die.  Questions about God, death, dying, the nature of pain, and suffering – questions that don’t really have answers, though we often comfort ourselves with platitudes, but are important to wrestle with nonetheless.  One of the first question people ask in the face of tragedies like this is “why?” And it is a perfectly reasonable question to ask: how could a good God allow such evil things to happen?  In fact, the question gains a more terrible weight in light of the fact that the laws of nature is so out of the control of humans, and the “evil” of nature can only be set at God’s doorstep.

Many children go through a phase where they become fixated on the idea of death.  As in the movie, My Sister’s Keeper, the prospect of dying forces us to face the stark reality that we’re all going to die we just never know when. Be it by disease, accident, age, or random crime, death adds gravitas to life. By thinking about death, we focus on what’s important in the time we have. It causes us to re-prioritize and make us realize what is really important. Yet in the living, we have to find a way to feel and navigate the pain of life in a fallen world without numbing ourselves from it.

“Who’s going to be interested in my story?” –Sam

Like in the movie Snowmen, Sam tries to find meaning and a sense of eternality by leaving his story behind as well as pursuing the breaking of world records.  Part of our soul yearns for immortality. Sometimes, it’s an issue of our self-worth, wanting to show that our lives meant something and that we made a difference or mattered while we were here. Thing is, as a relational being, not only do we find our meaning in our friendships and in our family, but our relationships have an eternal aspect to them. We can get caught up in wanting to do something big, something profound, only to realize that setting the world records wasn’t the point. As we go about our daily lives, we experience God moments, opportunities to create memories and touch other people’s lives. Where the doing the things that “matter” may be as simple as helping people through tough times and thus impacting the lives of lose around him. As we reflect on our life stories, when people talk about someone living, good life, it’s not what they think, but how they did it. Being a good friend leads to ripple effects and becomes truly profound.

“Somethings in life are perfect from start to finish, but you don’t know that until you’ve lived them.”  -Sam

Given the subject matter, there was no way Ways to Live Forever could avoid being a non-stop tear jerker, even if it didn’t push any of the manipulative buttons.  Yet, the movie maintains a kind of distance from the audience, as if knowing the sheer weight of the emotion of the story could crush the viewer.  It’s like it remains above the emotions to be more of an intellectual meditation on death.