Learning from The Intern (2015)

Brief Summary of the Film

This film is about Ben (Robert De Niro), a 70-year-old widower, who is tired of retirement. He applies and is hired to be a “senior intern” at an online fashion company and works under the founder and head of the company, Jules Austen (Anne Hathaway). Jules is an overworked and extremely driven boss who spends long hours at the office and has high expectations of her employees. At first Jules is very close-minded about hiring a senior citizen as an intern and finds Ben in particular to be quite nosy. However, as the film unfolds, Ben turns out to be an essential asset for Jules and a mutually beneficial relationship develops between them.


FWE Themes in The Intern

1. Generational approaches to work

One of the main comedic effects of this film is that a start-up company with a majority of employees in their 20s and 30s hires a 70-year-old intern. While the idea of a 70-year-old intern rightfully makes us laugh, the film is exploring the larger issue of the generational gap. Younger people can easily dismiss older people as outdated and naive about the modern world. On the other hand, older people can just as easily dismiss younger people as inexperienced and overly focused on innovation rather than simply getting the job done.

Many people have their own preconceptions about other generations, but The Intern shows us a great example of the mutual benefit each generation can have on the other. Jules and Ben both learn by working together and become more effective employees because of this.

In the Bible, it is clear that God is a God of generations. He desires for people of all ages to learn from one another in all aspects of life, including the workplace. Younger people have much to learn from older people, but older people also have much to learn from younger people. The kingdom of God includes and welcomes those of all ages and our workplaces should too. Consider such passages as Deuteronomy 6:4ff where parents are commanded to teach their children; and Titus 2:3-5, where Paul instructs older women to teach younger women. Indeed, God is a God of generations.

2. Retirement

Retirement is a privilege that may or may not be available to everyone. In The Intern, Ben is fortunate enough to be able to retire from his lifelong career. Yet in the beginning of the film, he finds himself no longer enjoying retirement. He’s not the only American who feels this way. Many Americans retire for a few years and then decide to go back to work; some even follow a new career path.

The Bible gives no explicit reference on whether or not one should retire. Therefore, it is left up to the individual to decide for themselves whether or not they want to retire or are able to retire. If we do retire however, we must recognize that retirement from our respective workplace is not retirement from the vocation of glorifying God. As long as we have life and breath, we are created to contribute, whether we are paid or unpaid. Ben’s angst is a cue to our fundamental human desire to serve others, whether that be in a volunteer capacity, taking care of grandchildren, taking care of our spouse, serving in the church, or (re)entering the paid workforce.

3. A Desire to Work

One of the many themes in this movie is a desire to contribute in economically meaningful ways. Both Jules and Ben find contentment in working and being successful at their workplace. This desire to work led Ben to return to work after being retired. A love of work is also one of the reasons why Jules and her company became so profitable.

Finding contentment in work is a Biblical concept that originates in Genesis 1. God created us to labor, therefore it makes sense that we find contentment while working. In this film however, Jules’ contentment in work is actually disordered. For Jules, work becomes the center of her life and controls her relationships. God desires for us to love our work, since we were created to do it, but He does not desire for our work to replace Him and become an idol in our lives. Our love for work should be rightfully ordered and God should be placed in the center of our lives.

Final Thoughts

There are many other themes and insights about work in The Intern. This film is worth watching and paying attention to the messages it communicates about work. In closing, here are a few additional take-aways…

  • The more we seek to learn from other generations, especially in the workplace, the better our work and our workplace will be.
  • In both retirement and work, it is important to keep our priorities in line. As a Christian, this means seeking the Kingdom first (Matthew 6:33).
  • Workaholics are simply people with disordered priorities. Finding contentment in work is very good, even biblical, but it must be ordered. Faith, marriage, family, and friends should also be prioritized. If our job never allows for this to happen, it’s time to reevaluate.

Discussion Questions:

  1. If there is a generational gap in your workplace or in the workplace of someone you know, what steps can you take or encourage them to take to begin to bridge that gap?
  2. If you know someone who is retired and feels purposeless, how can you encourage them about their vocation as a Christian?

Lindsay Green is serving as a Philanthropy Intern for Made to Flourish this summer. She will be a sophomore at Wheaton College in the fall and is studying Business Economics.

Topics: Issues Facing Workers, Meaning in Our Work, Overload and Burnout