Last Friday night, I found myself scrolling through Amazon Prime’s movie section with the goal of finding a movie I had not yet heard of. I have done this in the past, and all of the movies I have discovered have had a profound impact on my life. I spent about twenty minutes scrolling through the options, before my eyes stopped on The Letter Writer. As someone who loves writing, I was immediately intrigued. As I watched the trailer, I knew that this movie was truly a magical find.
The movie opens with a scene of an older man methodically writing a beautiful letter, sealing the envelope, and placing it in the mailbox. The story switches to that of Maggy Fuller, a teenage girl whose passion lies with her rock band. Maggy has a complicated relationship with her mother, as her parents are divorced and her father has a new family. We learn that Maggy lacks motivation for schoolwork and home life, especially when her mother doesn’t approve of her decision to put her band first.
After a tough day of clashing band relations, Maggy finds a letter addressed to her from a sender with no return address. The author calls himself Sam Worthington, and he tells her that he has been wanting to write to her for a long time. He told her that she should never forget that she is on the planet to do something wonderful, and that she serves a unique and invaluable purpose. Inspired by his kind words, she sets off to find him and express her appreciation.
She finally locates him at a local retirement home, and asks why he decided to write to her. He confesses that Sam Worthington is his pen name, and that he finds names in the phonebook and writes letters to those who he feels need them most. At first she feels hurt, thinking that his words meant nothing because he didn’t know her before writing them. He responds by saying that the words came from the bottom of his heart, and that he meant each and every one.
She returns week after week, and eventually accompanies Sam on his daily walk around town. Sam’s friend Stella tells Maggy that this journey will be life-changing, and wishes them well. Before leaving, Sam takes a stack of cards from his desk and puts them in his pocket. The envelopes are unlabeled, and when questioned he says they are cards that he hands to those he thinks need it most as he goes about his day.
While walking in the park, Sam asks Maggy if she can see anyone who she feels needs one of his letters of encouragement. She scans the park, looking at every face. Her eyes land on an older woman dejectedly throwing bread to the ducks, and Sam encourages her to give the woman a letter. Maggy hesitates, but she approaches the woman and shyly gives her the letter. When she sits back on the park bench with Sam, the woman looks up from the letter with tears in her eyes and expresses her gratitude. They continue their day, giving letters to those who they believe need them most. At the end of the day, Maggy takes a letter back to her apartment complex, and leaves it in the shoe of her young neighbor Michael. Michael is very young and chronically ill, and she hears his coughs every night as she walks to her apartment.
The next day, Maggy sees a letter from Michael addressed to the letter writer. She brings the note to Sam (which includes an invitation for milk and apple pie), and Sam accepts the offer. Meanwhile, Maggy is becoming increasingly disconnected from her band and her social group. Her friend encourages her to cheat on an exam in order to raise her grades, and she faces severe punishment for her actions. That same day, her boyfriend (the guitar player in the band) breaks up with her to be with this same friend, Kim. With this breakup comes the separation of her beloved band, and she feels lost in an ocean of emotion. Just when she thinks things can’t get worse, she finds out that her father and his family are moving to North Carolina and abandoning her formally.
Despite these setbacks, Maggy keeps returning to Sam’s wise words and contemplates what is meaningful in her life. Stella invites her to be the conductor for the retirement home, and Maggy hesitantly accepts. She forms an inseparable bond with the choir, and abandons her old friends who did not give her emotional fulfillment. After a few weeks of reconstructing her life, she walks in for her normal visit only to find Sam collapsed. He is rushed to the hospital, and remains there in frail condition. He encourages her to resume her search for her passion, and Michael comes with his much-anticipated apple pie and milk. The three sit in blissful harmony, even if just for a moment.
Sam reveals that his motivation for writing letters of encouragement to strangers stems from a mistake that he carried with him through life. He had a heated argument with a friend, exchanged fierce words, and didn’t speak to her for a significant amount of time. He found out that she had died shortly after their argument, and his guilt became crushing as he realized that he would never be able to make amends. From that moment on, he decided that he would always use his words to manifest happiness and strength in others. Maggy was moved by this story, and became lost in the memories of her own words.
A week later, Maggy returns to the hospital to visit Sam. When she enters the room, she finds an empty bed and a nurse rearranging the medical supplies. Upon seeing her, the nurse regretfully informs Maggy that Sam passed away earlier that morning. She collapses with grief, having just lost someone who understood her the most. Stella and the choir arrange to sing at his funeral, and Maggy attempts to pick up the pieces she is left in.
Sam’s words of advice run through her thoughts as she thinks about how to make amends:
“There’s a balance in all things. If you give, you will receive. If you give a lot, you’ll be rich. It’s magical! You see, life is like a mirror, if someone steals or is dishonest, they’ll invite people into their lives who also steal and are dishonest. The good thing is you can choose who and what enters your life. Within every human being there is a God given ability that if you find it and nurture it you’ll be able to bless the lives of others”.
Maggy realizes that all of her relationships were attracting negative energy, and decides to invest her time in writing a song and conducting for the choir. She records audiobooks for Michael to listen to during his hospital stays, and discovers that her true talent is her voice. She confesses this realization to Stella, who presents her with a gift that Sam wanted her to have when she was ready. Inside the wooden box is a metal key and a note from Sam. The note tells her that she had blessed his life, and that the key is meant to unlock all possibilities in her life. He declares that she has the power to bless the lives of others, and present them with their own keys.
At the end of the film, she has built strong relationships where she least expected them. She composes a song and dedicates it to Sam’s wisdom and Michael’s strength. She also makes amends with her mother, who has supported her through their collective struggle.
By the end of the movie, I had cried more tears than I ever have with any other movie. They were tears of sadness, joy, and surprise. This movie brought out all of my emotions, and made me reflect for many hours about my own life. This movie’s message, though simple, is profound: Life is a mirror, and what you give you will receive.
I have come to realize that I need to put more effort into sharing joy. This could be giving words of encouragement, smiling at strangers, expressing my gratitude, and becoming more aware of those who need kind words of support. It is well-known that there are speed bumps in life, and times when everything seems to be against you. But without fail they bring a recharging burst of joy. My joy has finally manifested after a long journey with struggle, and I believe that my new task is to manifest joy for others.
I could not have picked a better time in my life to watch this movie, and I highly recommend it to anyone looking for inspiration. How do you spread joy in the world? 🙂
© The Wise Willow and Alyssa DeBella. All rights reserved.