The film presents the story of Michael Oher (as played by Quinton Aaron), a physically immense but shy and depressed black teenager from "the projects," drifting in and out of foster families and homelessness in Memphis, Tennessee. A man with whom he's living gets him admitted to a private Christian high school as an athletic prospect, but he's withdrawn and dysfunctional in classes and has nowhere to go at night. An affluent white family, Sean and Leigh Anne Tuohy and their two children, see him wandering on campus one evening and take him into their home so he has a place to stay. Michael seems grateful but unsure what to make of the Tuohys' generosity, and is painfully awkward at school and in the Tuohys' home.
The "temporary" arrangement grows more permanent as the Tuohy parents and children try to penetrate Michael's abiding sadness, and help him feel loved and accepted in their family. Leigh Anne decides that the only way to secure their relationship is for her and Sean to become Michael's legal guardians, which launches Leigh Anne on a harrowing journey through the family protection bureaucracy, into the drug- and violence-infested world of the projects from which Michael came, and eventually to the squalid apartment of his drug-addicted mother. The scene in which the two women meet and try to understand each other is exceedingly touching.
The other great challenge the Tuohys face is helping Michael to feel capable in school and to find his hidden talents. He's helped by the Tuohy children and by a caring, determined woman (played by Kathy Bates) whom they hire to tutor the boy. At first, Michael's progress on the football field is as slow as in the classroom, but his confidence builds with his own persistence and that of the Tuohy family--spearheaded by the salty-tongued, irrepressible Leigh Anne, who shows teachers and coaches how they need to work with him to bring out his best.
And out it eventually comes, in football and (if just barely) in academics. Michael becomes a highly-recruited college football candidate--a source of great pride for him and his family, as well of the film's climactic challenge when NCAA investigators shake his confidence in the family by suggesting that the Tuohys' objective all along was only to prep him for attendance at their alma mater, the University of Mississippi. Michael wanders back to his old "home" in the projects to find his mother and himself, in the mirror of his past--and makes a decision with explosive, but positive, consequences.
That's the central point of the film: Michael's struggle to find out who he really was and could be. What the Tuohy family gave him was not just a safe and comfortable home, help with school, or coaching at football--but a chance to trust others, to believe in himself, and to be everything that God enabled him to be. The movie also highlights the miracles that can be wrought by faith and unconditional love. Some have criticized the film as too "feel-good," avoiding the tension and conflicts that they suppose "must" have existed between the Tuohy spouses and children, and between them and Michael. Probably, only the Tuohys and Michael Oher will ever know that full story. But the filmmakers chose to focus on Michael's inner struggles--can I trust these people? why are they doing this? how can I fit into this white, wealthy world? don't I really belong back where I came from? what am I good for? --and how he surmounted those challenges with the Tuohys' help. Indeed, it will be ironic if Sandra Bullock wins an Oscar for her performance, because The Blind Side is at least as much about Michael Oher as it is about Leigh Anne Tuohy.
Near the climax of the film, it develops that Michael can raise his high school GPA high enough to qualify for an athletic scholarship only by writing a good essay for his English class. He chooses to write about Alfred, Lord Tennyson's poem The Charge of the Light Brigade, which explores how men can valiantly charge into mortal danger prompted even by a leader's mistake:
Half a league, half a league,
Half a league onward,
All in the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.
'Forward, the Light Brigade!
Charge for the guns' he said:
Into the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.
'Forward, the Light Brigade!'
Was there a man dismay'd?
Not tho' the soldiers knew
Someone had blunder'd:
Theirs not to make reply,
Theirs not to reason why,
Theirs but to do and die:
Into the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.
(read the entire poem here)Sean Tuohy explains the poem to Michael as a metaphor for the game of football, with the players as the cavalry and the coaches as the generals making the wrong decision and "dooming" them--and still they play their best, together. This prompts a remarkable essay by Michael highlighting the meaning of courage and honor:
Courage is a hard thing to figure. You can have courage based on a dumb idea or a mistake, but you’re not supposed to question adults, or your coach, or your teacher because they make the rules. Maybe they know best but maybe they don’t.In the end, Michael Oher achieved distinction (All-American at Ole Miss and being drafted in the first round by the NFL Baltimore Ravens) through his own courage and honor--qualities that even the Tuohy couldn't give him, though they showed him what they meant, and that he was thoroughly capable of them.
It all depends on who you are, where you come from. Didn’t at least one of the six hundred guys think about giving up and joining with the other side? I mean, Valley of Death, that’s pretty salty stuff.
That’s why courage is tricky. Should you always do what others tell you to do? Sometimes you might not even know why you’re doing something. I mean, any fool can have courage.
But honor, that’s the real reason you either do something or you don’t. It’s who you want to be. If you die trying for something important then you have both honor and courage and that’s pretty good.
I think that’s what the writer was saying; that you should try for courage and hope for honor. And maybe even pray that the people telling you what to do have some, too.
The Blind Side isn't all serious; in fact, it's bursting with humor--the gentle, humane sort. Where else can you see a good half-dozen real college football head coaches, including Lou Holtz and Nick Saban, stumbling all over each other (literally) in pursuit of the same recruit and being lectured to by a middle-school kid (Michael's diminutive "brother" S.J. Tuohy) and a middle-aged woman? But you'll also come away with damp eyes and a deeper understanding of how people can transform their own lives and help others do so, too.