Skip to main content

Finding true love in 'Secondhand Lions'

“Sometimes the things that may or may not be true are the things a man needs to believe in the most. That people are basically good; that honor, courage, and virtue mean everything; that power and money, money and power mean nothing; that good always triumphs over evil; and I want you to remember this, that love... true love never dies. You remember that, boy. You remember that. Doesn't matter if it's true or not. You see, a man should believe in those things, because those are the things worth believing in.”

—Hub, giving his nephew Walter part of his "what it means to be a man" speech
I saw Secondhand Lions in the theater when it first came out—and it’s still one of those films I’ll pause to watch whenever I come across it on cable. It’s the story of 13-year-old Walter (Haley Joel Osment) who’s dumped by his sorry-excuse-for-a-mother (Kyra Sedgwick) with his two eccentric bachelor uncles (Michael Caine and Robert Duvall) in the middle of nowhere. It isn’t the best film out there (though it did get a fresh rating at Rotten Tomatoes), but it moves me every time I see it. Partly it’s Duvall (who plays Hub)—I just plain adore that man in roles like this. And partly because I’m a sucker for stories of a broken world and broken people and how love makes them whole. I love the way these two old men choose to love this boy in a way his mother never does.

And I like the moments like Hub’s speech to Walter (above) because it echoes a larger truth that folks seem to sense is out there. It’s like C.S. Lewis says in Mere Christianity, “that human beings all over the earth, have this curious idea that they ought to behave in a certain way, and cannot really get rid of it.” Hub senses that there are certain ways men should act, certain things men should believe in enough to affect and guide their behavior. And that idea, argues Lewis, is not a mere herd instinct, a social convention given to us by education, or the like. Instead, it is something that exists outside of us, a “real truth” (like mathematics is true). This idea, argues Lewis, is in fact of God. (For more on this subject, see Ken Brown’s musings here and here, or read that wonderful little book.)

And then there’s that moment right after Hub gives this speech, when Walter turns the tables on him and shows him that love indeed trumps all the virtues Hub listed—but Walter shows him just what true love really is. While Hub may have been referring to the love between a man and woman (and especially the love he shared for Jasmine, a woman he loved long ago who died in childbirth with his child), Walter makes him see love is here-and-now, making choices and sacrifices for the people in front of you. Hub has some health problems and hasn’t been taking care of himself, and Walter (who’s never had an adult actually care enough to guide him in what really matters in life) challenges him to live out his own words—but in a way he might not have seen before:
Walter looks up at Hub and says, “You’re my uncle. I need you to stick around and be my uncle. What about Uncle Garth. He needs you. What about the dogs and the pig and the lion? We all need you. I need you.”

Hub’s uncomfortable with the whole line of conversation and waves Walter off: “No, you’re just being silly.”

Walter, his desperation rising, tells him, “No, it’s true!”

“You’re being silly,” Hub repeats.

Walter yells, “It’s true!” He pauses, looking up at Hub, his voice lowering: “I know you miss Jasmine an awful, awful lot. But if you go, we’ll miss you just as much.” He
grows in resolve, and this time he speaks with full assurance: “It’s true.”

Hub looks at him, thinking. Walter stares back, trying to keep from crying. Hub gruffly gives in: “All right, damn it, you win. I’ll stick around and be your damn uncle. Don’t expect me to be happy about it.”

They look at each other. “All right?” Hub asks, holding out his hand to the boy. “Deal?”

But Walter rushes him and wraps his arms around him, burying his face in Hub’s shoulder. Hub's moved and chuckles, holding the boy, patting his back and head. Then he tells him, “You’re a good boy.”
No, true love does not die. Or as Paul puts it, true love never fails. It lives—here-and-now. And this film, as sentimental and cliché as it may be, gets that across.

(Images: New Line Cinema)