Taking God to the Movies (4): Deep Thoughts By Braveheart & Tommy Boy
Bruce Riley Ashford
Now that we have taken a look at the nine elements in (nearly) every movie, let’s try our hand at picking out those nine elements in a couple of popular movies. I’ve selected Braveheart and Tommy Boy, because in my experience teaching seminars on cinema, those are two movies that nearly everybody has seen, and because they are two very different movies. While many of us expect movies like Braveheart to have a serious theme, perhaps we do not expect movies like Tommy Boy to convey any sort of message or philosophy of life. But we would wrong to think that even goofball comedies have no message. All movies are conveying messages! For those of you who have seen these two movies, hopefully it will be a helpful example of how to pick out the nine elements. Because of time and space limitations, I have not answered each of the questions, for each of the nine elements. I have settled for a very brief analysis of each film.
In Braveheart, the hero is William Wallace and his goal is to liberate Scotland. His adversary is England in general and Longshanks in particular. Wallace’s character flaw is perhaps more difficult to discern than the other eight elements, but my best shot is that his flaw was in being gullible when he wrongly trusted the noble Robert de Bruce. The apparent defeat occurred during the Battle of Falkirk, when the nobles did not ride in to help Wallace and his army. The final confrontation occurred when Wallace was tortured on the rack. His self-revelation was that his death was for a worthy cause, and the resolution is that Scotland was indeed liberated. The theme is something like, “Sometimes victory and liberation come only through great sacrifice.” Screenwriter Randall Wallace said that the story was a reflection of the gospel. And to an extent, it is.
A critique of this movie would include the following recognitions: (1) the basic storyline does follow the storyline of the gospel, and can open up a conversation with others that easily leads to the gospel; (2) the hero, William Wallace, is a good hero who is nonetheless flawed as is every fallen human. He is a good example in some respects, such as his courage and sacrificial dedication to a good cause, and yet is a bad example in other respects; and (3) the movie is rated “R” for brutal medieval warfare, and for that reason would not make for good younger viewers. I have been told that the cinema edition of Braveheart also has a brief sex scene.
In Tommy Boy, Tommy Boy Callahan is the hero and his goal is to rescue his father’s auto parts business. His adversaries are Dan Ackroyd (Zalinski’s auto parts), Bo Derek (step-mom), and Rob Lowe (his step-mom’s “son”). On the one hand, the viewer immediately likes the hero Tommy Boy because he is genuinely friendly, funny, and possesses character flaws that are endearing. He is a goofy, irresponsible college grad who has no tact or business sense about him whatsoever. On the other hand, the viewer has many clues that he is not supposed to like the adversaries. Rob Lowe is introduced clothed in black, wearing a foreboding expression on his face, throwing his trash into an occupied baby carriage. (A not-so-subtle hint that the viewer should be suspicious of Lowe. One should not expect such subtlety and nuance in movies that star Chris Farley.)
Tommy Boy experiences an apparent defeat when the adversaries sabotage the computers at the Callahan business, so that Callahan’s products are shipped to the wrong cities. The final confrontation occurs when Tommy Boy walks into Callahan board meeting with road flares strapped to his gargantuan torso, and delivers a speech to the board and the media. Tommy Boy’s self-revelation is that he can still “be himself” and rescue the Callahan business, as long as he corrects some of his character flaws. In the movie’s resolution, the Callahan business succeeds. The theme of the movie, I think, is that one can be an ordinary person and succeed even in the face of great difficulty and evil, if one believes in oneself and corrects some character flaws.
A critique of this movie would acknowledge that (1) the hero of the movie is a good-hearted and loving fellow who rightly corrects some of his character flaws and proves that the good guys can win without becoming bad guys; the basic message of the movie is fairly good; and (2) there are nonetheless some elements of the movie that are undesirable.