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October Sky
There are two parables in the film: one intended, the other implied


I confess. A movie about a young boy's dream of becoming a rocket scientist as a means of escaping a bleak future in a declining coal mining community of West Virginia appeals to me profoundly, and connects with my own life story. Hence, I am not an objective reviewer of October Sky.  Having grown up in precisely the same time frame as the high school students in this film, not in a mining community, but in the identically fated steel manufacturing region of the Mahoning Valley in Ohio, I share a great deal with Homer H. Hickman, Jr whose autobiography, Rocket Boys, is the real life story that is the basis of this movie. To be sure this is a "feel good" movie without apology. From Homer's inspirational teacher, played by Laura Dern, to his stern, uncommunicative father, played by Chris Cooper, the characters in this movie are stereotypes. Homer and his group of buddies triumph against all odds and manage to transcend the obstacles that they face as idealistic adolescents growing up in Appalacia. Homer's way out is the dream of becoming a rocket scientist and we follow him as he confronts in succession, skeptical parents, incredulous peers, high school administrators, the police ... and more.

october.jpg (15367 bytes)At the same time, this movie is also a period piece which chronicles this country's own rude awakening in the early days of the Cold War when the Russians beat us in the first lap of the "space race."  Sputnik, the first artificial satellite to orbit the earth, was a wake-up call to America.  It inspired John F. Kennedy's dramatic pledge that we'd be the first nation to place a "man on the moon," and provoked massive new   investment in science and technology.  Now, looking back upon that period, it is clear that the United States not only triumphed over the Russians in the space race, but we've become the preminent nation on earth in terms of  technological prowess. Yet there is also a shadow side to this success story: a tale not touched upon by October Sky. For while we focused our attention upon the places where science and technology could lead us, we appear to have neglected the interior work: the renovation and renewal of the human spirit that must accompany any real progress in the material realm.

Today the abandoned coal mines of Appalacia, like the rotting steel mills of the river valleys in Ohio and Pennsylvania, stand as cruel symbols of the human wreckage that is often left when one technology is replaced by another and insufficient attention is placed upon the moral and spiritual price of making such transitions. Today, in the opening years of a new millennium, as we complete this move from the industrial to the information age, what we need is a new wake-up call that will focus our attention upon those perennial questions that need attending to:  How do we care for those who are left behind or even destroyed by the engines of progress? How do we address the questions that remain even when all our material needs are satisfied?  And above all, what purpose does all our prowess serve?  For today, as always, without a sufficient purpose, even the most powerful nation on earth will one day surely perish. 

Charles Henderson
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