Two months ago today, Patrick Swayze passed into eternity, succumbing to pancreatic cancer at age 57. It seems just like yesterday, which only goes to show how fast and furious things move forward in this cyber-information age we live in.
Swayze left behind quite a life, starring in some 33 movies, including the box office hits “Dirty Dancing,” “Point Break” and “Ghost.” An accomplished dancer and songwriter, he was voted the sexiest man alive in 1991, and for me, he always carried an aura of optimism in his life, right down to his last breath.
When once asked about his faith, Swayze replied: “I became a Buddist many years ago, but in many ways, my belief system is a melting pot of everything I’ve studied of Buddha, Mohammed, Jesus, Allah, they’re all important to me in my world.”
Patrick Swayze was clearly a spiritual guy, and it comes through loud and clear in some of his movies. In “Point Break” he plays a likable leader of a surfer gang caught up in existentialism—robbing banks and surfing for the sheer thrill of it. In “Ghost” we find a good dose of right and wrong, good and evil and the spiritual dimension of relationship. I found both movies highly entertaining and they rank among my all-time favorites. But Swayze’s most powerful and spiritually riveting movie, by far, is one that many people have never seen. I am referring to the 1992 non-blockbuster production “City of Joy.”
Director Roland Joffe (who also directed such classics as The Mission and Killing Fields) said the City of Joy was the most difficult movie ever directed, mainly because of the logistical hassles of filming completely on location in Calcutta. Even more daunting than that was the task of condensing a 552-page book into a 2-hour movie, especially a movie that depicted the struggles of the poor and needy people of Calcutta.
In City of Joy, Swayze plays the part of “Max,” a frustrated surgeon who leaves his life in the states in hopes of finding “enlightenment” in India. After experiencing some trials and tribulations of his own, Max stumbles upon a clinic run by an Irish woman that ministers to lepers. Reluctant at first to get involved, Max ultimately finds his life radically changed by what he experiences and sees at the “City of Joy.” For Max, it was a life-changing experience. For Patrick Swayze, making the movie, too, was transformative.
To prepare for the role, Swayze worked for several days in Mother Teresa’s hospice for the dying and home for lepers where he encountered a young boy with a serious burn. The wound had been dressed weeks earlier, and Swayze had to remove a bandage that had grown into the skin. “I’m not squeamish, but working with this little kid, trying to get the bandage off him — it was incredibly painful, but his courage was inspirational. These people live with such suffering, yet when they smile, the whole world lights up. There’s some true power to be learned in this place.”
The peasant Hasari Pal, played by supporting actor Om Puri, sums up the movie well with the statement “All that is not given is lost.” His words are very reminiscent of the words of Jesus in Matthew 16:25: “He who seeks to save his life will lose it, but he who loses his life for my sake shall find it.” I love the Message version on the passage: “Anyone who intends to come with me has to let me lead. You’re not in the driver’s seat; I am. Don’t run from suffering; embrace it. Follow me and I’ll show you how. Self-help is no help at all. Self-sacrifice is the way, my way, to finding yourself, your true self. What kind of deal is it to get everything you want but lose yourself? What could you ever trade your soul for?” That’s the Savior talking! Game, set, match! Check-mate! Bingo!
If you haven’t seen City of Joy, rent a copy, sit down with someone you love, and WATCH IT! It is “must-viewing” for everyone, especially those who Jesus referred to as “the salt of the earth.” The very act of watching this movie might inspire you to step out and give what you can to help others in need.