Zach Sobiech wasn’t expecting a miracle when he went to Lourdes.
His family made the trip to France shortly after doctors told Zach that his cancer had moved into his lungs. The 17-year-old songwriter was dying. And while he and his mother, Laura, believed that something might happen when Zach waded into those waters—waters that, since 1858, believers have said were miraculous—they knew that miracles were rare: That God might have other plans for Zach.
That’s really the most overt spiritual reference we see to the Sobiech family’s real-life faith in Disney+’s Clouds, which was released today (Oct. 16). Based loosely on Laura Sobiech’s book Fly a Little Higher: How God Answers a Mom’s Small Prayer in a Big Way, Clouds underplays the family’s Catholicism a bit: We see crosses on walls, we hear small references to heaven. But in the film, faith feels about as ethereal as a cloud itself: There, but not so it’d draw much attention to itself.
That was, according to Laura’s interview with The Christian Post, by design.
“I don’t need to sell God,” she says. “I don’t want to be preaching at people. I just want to live my life and if you can pick something up from that, great. The rest of it’s the Holy Spirit’s job. I just do my part.”
I often think that faith is more effective in film when it’s underplayed a bit—an undercurrent rather than the focus. It allows to seep in at the corners, to run under the doors, to find access into someone’s soul where a frontal attack, if you will, might fail.
But just because the Sobiechs’ faith is subtler than some might want, that doesn’t mean that it’s not important to the film: In fact, I think Director Justin Baldoni deftly, and rather cleverly, stresses just how important it is.
Early in the film, we’re given a picture of Zach (played by Fin Argus): He loves to sing and entertain but seems unwilling to reveal much of himself in what he does. He kids. He jokes. He deflects. And when he sings, he sings other people’s songs.
After a talent show, where Zach sings a tongue-in-cheek acoustic version of LMFAO’s “Sexy and I Know It,” Zach’s rather disapproving mother (Neve Campbell) gently scolds him for not singing his own songs. She’s seen Zach’s lyrics. She thinks they’re pretty good.
“I’m just glad you’re not trying to be Ed [Sheeran] or anyone else,” she tells him. “The world already has them. What would be great is if it had more of you.”
Mother and son are together again as they wait their turn to enter the grotto at Lourdes and wade into its holy waters. Laura cautions Zach to not expect to much—to take whatever comes in stride. And then they’re whisked off to their own individual pools, where they’re attended by gently humming and praying helpers as they’re slowly immersed in the cold water. Laura weeps throughout the ceremony; it’s clearly a deeply emotional experience. Zach is quieter, more contemplative. We can’t be sure of what he’s thinking or hoping or praying as we watch his face sink below the water … as if he’s already receding from the dry, waking world.
It’s important here, to think about the nature of this ceremony. It’s not seen in the film as a simple act of submersion, after all: It feels like a baptism of sorts—Christianity’s most important sacrament. And baptism itself is symbolic, of course, of dying to yourself and being born again into a new life.
The next time Zach’s best friend, Sammy (played by Sabrina Carpenter) sees Zach, Zach’s furiously writing music. She’s amazed.
“Dude, what happened in France?” she says.
“I don’t know,” Zach says. “I just feel like I’ve got this music in me that wants to come out.”
From then on, Zach pushes into musical territory he’d barely even glanced at before. He and Sammy form their own band. They write music, eventually getting signed by a large record company as songwriters. And, of course, he pens the song “Clouds,” a strangely optimistic goodbye, if you will, that the movie tells us has been streamed and downloaded upwards of 200 million times.
Zach Sobiech didn’t get the miracle that perhaps he and his mom were most hoping for: that his cancer would be taken away. But Clouds suggests that, in those frigid blue pools, something miraculous still happened. Zach was given new life—not chronologically, but deep down, where it counts the most.
Clouds tells us that we should live life without fear—to live it as it should be lived—no matter how many flips of the calendar and ticks of the clock we have left. As Zach notes, we all have limited time. And God wants us to use it to its fullest.