Taking God to the Movies (4): Deep Thoughts by Braveheart & Tommy Boy

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.

Taking God to the Movies (3): Nine Elements of a Hollywood Storyline

Taking God to the Movies (3): Nine Elements of a Hollywood Storyline

Bruce Riley Ashford

This third installment of the “Taking God to the Movies” will include a brief look at the nine elements in nearly every Hollywood movie: theme, hero, hero’s goal, adversary, character flaw, apparent defeat, final confrontation, self-revelation, and resolution. Once the viewer can identify these nine elements, he or she is ready to begin analyzing the movie and responding to its storyline from a confessionally Christian viewpoint.

The first element is a movie’s theme. The theme is the author’s message, the ultimate point he makes. It is what the movie is ultimately about. For example, in the movie Braveheart, the theme is that some things are worth dying for, because in dying we might set others free. In The Incredibles, the main point is that the family must band together to fight the forces that would come against them. From Shrek, we learn that we should not be afraid of others who are different from us (even if they are green and have ears that look like small saucers). In Ocean’s 11 and Ocean’s 12, the theme, as best I can tell, is “crime is cool.” A movie doesn’t necessarily have one theme; it might have two or three or even more. One question we should ask is, “Is this a theme that resonates with what I believe to be true and good?”

The second element is the movie’s hero. The hero is the main character of the movie. In the Rocky films, the hero is Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone). In The Lion King, Simba is the hero. In Christmas Vacation, the hero is Clark Griswold. The hero is the person the screenwriter and director want you to like, and they will use everything at their disposal to help you like the hero (script, lighting, sound, etc). This element of the movie is the rather easy to discern and very important to the movie’s story. One question is whether or not the hero is a character that should be admired. “Does the hero correct his character flaw? Is the virtuous? Does he stand for what is true and good?”

The third element is the hero’s goal. The hero’s goal is a strong desire with which he is obsessed, and which drives the story of the movie. The hero may want to win the love of a woman (Titanic), gain control of his own destiny (The Truman Show), free Scotland from the control of those bad English people (Braveheart), or to win the love of a man (Legally Blond). The screenwriter and directors are able to craft the story in such a way that we usually find ourselves pulling for the hero to achieve his goal. We should ask, “Is the hero’s goal an admirable one? Are there any ways in which it is wrong-headed?”

The fourth element is the adversary. This character is the character in the movie who opposes the hero and tries to keep him from obtaining his goal. The adversary could be a person (Drago in Rocky IV), several persons (Dan Ackroyd, Rob Lowe, and Bo Derek in Tommy Boy), an animal (Ursula in The Little Mermaid), or a force of nature (the storm in The Perfect Storm) or even God (Christof in The Truman Show). The adversary usually is the person who the screenwriter and director want you to dislike. They will use visual effects (the adversary may wear black), audio effects (ominous music), and scripted lines to let you know who the adversary is and why you shouldn’t like him. This is a significant clue for the viewer as to whether or not he agrees with the theme. We should ask, “Is the adversary actually bad? Does the adversary represent someone or something which I would actually want to disagree with or pull against? Is the film calling something evil or bad which is actually evil or bad?”

The fifth element is the character flaw. Whereas the adversary is the external opponent of the hero, the character flaw is the internal opponent. The character flaw might be a wrong way of seeing the world, a wrong way of living, etc. If the character corrects his flaw, the movie is be a drama or a comedy. If the character does not correct his flaw, the movie is a tragedy or a comedy. In Braveheart, William Wallace’s flaw was his gullibility in trusting Robert de Bruce. We should ask, “Is the character’s flaw really a flaw? Does he rely on God’s grace to correct his flaw? Does he refuse to acknowledge the flaw?”

The sixth element is the apparent defeat. This scene usually occurs during the middle of the movie. The hero is being thwarted by his character flaw and adversary. He cannot achieve his goal, and it seems that all is lost. He may have a near-death experience or a time in which his life appears to be worthless. Often viewers are so caught up in the movie, and so committed to pulling for the hero, that they find themselves afraid, or very sad, or caught up in hair-curling suspense. Perhaps the plane is about to crash (Top Gun), the hero gives up because he will never fit in (Elf), the dad will never find his daughter (Taken), or the nerds will never win (Napoleon Dynamite). The apparent defeat is usually connected to the next element, the final confrontation.

The seventh element is the final confrontation. Usually, this comes toward the end of the apparent defeat, and is a scene in which the hero and adversary square off. Usually, the adversary explains his rationale for who he is and why he does what he does, and the hero does the same. This is an exercise in “worldviews in conflict.” The adversary’s rationale is the one that the screenwriter and director do not want us to accept. We should ask, “Is the screenwriter correct that I should oppose this adversary and his rationale?”

The eighth element is the hero’s self-revelation. This is a scene, often at the end of the movie, where the hero has an “aha moment.” In Braveheart, William Wallace is being tortured on the rack when his eyes focus on a crowd of Scots, and a small child in particular, and realizes that his death is for a worthy cause, that of setting the Scots free. We should ask, “Is this self-revelation a good one?”

The ninth element is the resolution. This is the “happily ever after” or “sadly ever after.” It shows the result of the hero’s decisions and actions.angry racing gamessmm smo