October 23, 2010
America's Casting Call
I confess: Sometimes, after a long day of political blogging and all the infuriating news relayed by Fox I can take, I reach for the comfort mind-food of my stack of well-worn DVDs. There are a few that I shamelessly enjoy watching repeatedly, to the point that I have most of the lines memorized. Many of these movies are not just the usual lighthearted "chick flicks" you might expect. Instead, epic films of inspiring heroes captivate me most -- favorites like Gladiator (2000), Braveheart (1995), and The Patriot (2000), and of course, I can't leave out the classic Tombstone (1993). "Itn't that a daisy?"
I have found that the most often-replayed favorites lists of many of my friends, both male and female, include these same movies. Try inserting a casual mention of one of them sometime in a conversation, and you'll find it's true for you, too. Throw out a cowboy-twanged "I'm your huckleberry" or "I forgot you were there; you may go now" or an African-accented "I will see you again; but not yet, not yet." Or scream a throaty "Freedom!" and see what happens. I'd wager an instant rapport and lively exchange of memorable quotes and scenes.
These films all share the basic element of a famous and handsome leading man cast as an electrifying hero, complete with dazzling photography, exciting fight sequences, and beautiful scores. But really, beyond the great entertainment they provide, what is it about these movies and their protagonists that we find so memorable and compelling, something that tugs at our emotions and resonates with our souls? Especially of late, I find it impossible to sit through any of these epics, with the weight of America's political scene and economic disaster heavy on my mind, and not feel, in some way, moved and inspired to look for parallels.
The central theme of all four movies is the classic "good versus evil." We find heroes like the gladiator Maximus (Russell Crowe) battling a corrupt Roman prince, Wyatt Earp (Kurt Russell) wiping out an outlaw cowboy gang, William Wallace (Mel Gibson) waging a war for Scotland's freedom against a ruthless King, and patriot Benjamin Martin (Mel Gibson) fighting for liberty from the tyranny of the British crown. And we see an evil, ever lurking in the backdrop, that at once becomes up close and personal when, in some form, it destroys those whom each cherishes the most.
These were all reluctant heroes; they didn't go looking for the battles that would ultimately define them. Wyatt had retired from law enforcement and just wanted to run a gambling venture with his family in the western frontier town of Tombstone until the gang murdered his brother. Benjamin longed to simply tend to his family and his farm in colonial America, as did William in 13th-century Scotland, before Benjamin's son and William's wife were brutally murdered by ruthless English soldiers. Maximus, after refusing an award from the Roman emperor for military valor, requested simply, "Let me go home," but later, when he dared oppose the emperor's son, Maximus was imprisoned and his family ravaged.
Even though each film is dominated by the ensuing heroic and bloody battles, we are occasionally offered glimpses of other facets of the protagonists' natures: in scenes of Maximus's tender fondling of the little figurines of his wife and son, Benjamin's tears as he finds his young daughter finally able to speak again, fleeting images of his wife that haunt William's memories, and the anguished cries of Wyatt as he holds his dying brother in his arms.
It is in the tragic moments that the hint of a battle plan first emerged in these heroes' bearings -- and although each of the central conflicts begins as personal revenge, all become a war for a much greater cause. As Doc Holliday describes it Wyatt's quest, "Make no mistake -- it's not revenge he's after. It's a reckoning." Maximus ultimately kills the evil prince in the gladiator's ring, yet afterward, he commanded that the ruling power of Rome be returned to the Senate: "There was a dream that was Rome. It shall be realized." Benjamin and William both fight in wars that liberate entire nations.
All of these leading characters have a charisma that motivates others to fight alongside them, against all odds. Once, caught in a crossfire in a bloody shootout, Wyatt decides that he's had enough and "walk[s] on water" to directly confront a cowboy leader. Benjamin finds himself the leader of a ragtag militia, forced to use guerrilla tactics. Maximus instructs his soldiers before a battle: "Hold the line! Stay with me! Strength and Honor!" and encourages his fellow gladiators: "Whatever comes out of these gates, we've got a better chance of survival if we work together." William Wallace tells his men, "Aye, fight and you may die. Run, and you'll live...at least a while. And dying in your beds, many years from now, would you be willin' to trade all the days, from this day to that, for one chance, just one chance, to come back here and tell our enemies that they may take our lives, but they'll never take...OUR FREEDOM!"
These brave and inspiring men of action are also humble, thinking of themselves last. When the emperor's dying wish is for Maximus to become the next ruler of Rome, Maximus answers, "With all my heart, no," to which the emperor responds, "Maximus, that is why it must be you." William Wallace declares, "There's a difference between us. You think the people of this country exist to provide you with position. I think your position exists to provide those people with freedom. And I go to make sure that they have it."
There is a casting call for heroes all across America this November 2, in elections ranging from local school boards to the U.S. Senate. Some will be called to leadership, others to run the details behind the scenes, and many others will have supporting roles, while all citizens are called to exercise their freedom and let their voices be heard by casting their vote.
All around the country we find candidates who may never have imagined a run for office, perhaps reluctantly entering the fray. Many of these heroes find themselves fighting against an entrenched political machine, a ruthless media, or the establishment, requiring them to forsake their own businesses, careers, and even their families for months of hard work. Heroes, humble yet inspiring and courageous, struggling against all odds. Heroes who are willing to lead the charge against forces that strive to weaken our Constitution, heroes who instead stand on the solid foundation of the absolute truths our founding documents embody -- that we are all indeed endowed with certain unalienable rights by our Creator, not the government. Men and women who do not want to transform America, but who pledge to preserve, protect, and defend it. Those who, to paraphrase G.K. Chesterton, do not love America just because she is great, but rather make America great because they love her.
And after this midterm show is over, and a new Congress begins its run, America will be looking for a new leading man or woman for president. Perhaps this person will be reluctant at first, or maybe we will not immediately recognize his or her star potential hidden in a humble nature. That's okay. God, in writing the great masterpiece of His creation, sometimes casts the most unlikely people in roles much larger than they would have ever imagined for themselves. People with the heart, mind, and potential for greatness, who, if they keep their eyes focused on Him and on what is right, true, and honorable, will find that their Creator will honor their efforts, transforming them into heroes who inspire and help lead us to that shining city on the hill.