Movie Clip Discussions

Pay it Forward (forgiveness)

Dynamic ImageIf you haven't already seen the Mimi Leder film “Pay It Forward” with Kevin Spacey, Helen Hunt, James Caviezel, and Haley Joel Osment, I recommend checking it out. This isn't an action flick, it's not a comedy, it's a compelling drama that follows the efforts of a young boy who has a desire to make a difference in the world.

Let me warn you- this film paints a pretty accurate picture of the world today: an alcoholic mom (Helen Hunt) with a shattered past working two jobs to try to get by, a teacher (Kevin Spacey) bearing the scars of an abusive past, a homeless lady, a convict, and a boy caught in the middle. Although there is no sex or nudity in this film, it is PG-13 and full of content that you would want to review first. Please refer to for a full content review.

The movie “Pay it Forward” brings up many issues that hit home for kids today, and provokes many positive discussions about how we can respond to what life throws at us.

Discussion Idea:
I've described the scene and provided discussion questions. I haven't included start and stop times for the particular scenes for two reasons: 1) If I do, many youth workers will not preview the film and they'll just go rent it 5 minutes before youth group and show it. I recommend previewing any film before showing and considering the ramifications. 2) I also didn't provide the start and stop times because . . . I'm lazy!

Topic: Forgiveness
This film addresses forgiveness head on. The alcoholic mother, Arlene (Helen Hunt), struggles with the alcoholism and abuse in her own past, holding her mother responsible for all that happened. Her grudge against her mother kept their relationship at a distance.

Arlene comes to a point in the movie where she is compelled to follow her son's example and help someone in a way they can't help themself. She realizes that the help that her mother needs is forgiveness for the past. Arlene seeks her mother out and basically tells her, “You know all the drinking, all the men, all the stuff that happened to me that shouldn't have . . . I FORGIVE YOU!” A powerful scene.

Her reconciliation goes a step further by allowing her back in their lives. That step of boldness by Arlene continues on the “Pay It Forward” process that eventually caught on.

Divide into Small Groups:
Let’s go ahead and split up into our discussion groups, and then afterward we’ll come back together for a final word.

CLICK HERE for a quick training article on how to maximize your small groups using our small group format—a great resource to equip your small group leaders.

Discussion Questions:

  1. ASK A FEW: Arlene cut off relations with her mom because she was so mad for all the bad things, all the “unforgivable” things that had happened in her past. Is there such a thing as an unforgivable act?
  2. ASK A FEW: Are there people that we know or were once close to us that are hard to forgive?
  3. ASK A FEW: Arlene realized that she alone had the power to finally forgive her mom. If we alone have the power to forgive someone who has hurt us, why don't we do it?
  4. ASK A FEW: Have you ever done something to someone that made it hard for them to forgive you? Did you want their forgiveness, even if you didn't deserve it?
  5. AROUND THE CIRCLE: Read John 8:1-11. This woman was caught in the act. Yet Jesus forgave her saying, “Then I don't condemn you.” Think of something that you have done wrong in the past–a time when you really messed up bad, a time when you had trouble forgiving yourself. How would that make you feel to know that Jesus forgave you?

Wrap Up:
Read Matthew 18:21-35. Jesus told this story to let us know how serious he is about forgiveness. We aren't worthy of forgiveness, yet he gives it to us. We need to follow his example and extend it to others.


Jonathan McKee

Jonathan McKee is the author of over twenty books including the brand new The Guy's Guide to FOUR BATTLES Every Young Man Must Face; The Teen’s Guide to Social Media & Mobile Devices; If I Had a Parenting Do Over; and the Amazon Best Seller - The Guy's Guide to God, Girls and the Phone in Your Pocket. He speaks to parents and leaders worldwide, all while providing free resources for youth workers on Jonathan, his wife Lori, and their three kids live in California.


  1. Michelle
    January 31, 2011 at 12:00 am

    Great discussion on forgiveness. It always opens the floodgates of hurt in my kids, but it’s so important for them to understand that God can heal their hurts…and that sometimes they are the ones who have inflicted hurt on others.

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