The other day I stumbled across a blog post by Dave Trott over at CST The Gate – great blog by the way, I highly recommend it. In the post he talks about the lessons we learn from Hollywood movies not being an accurate portrayal of real life. He uses the example of Bruce Wayne’s imprisonment in that cavernous pit in the new Batman film ‘The Dark Knight Rises.’
In the film, men try to escape from the prison by climbing out of the pit, a journey so perilous that the men all wear a rope around their waist to prevent certain death should they fall. No one, Bruce Wayne included, can ever escape. It is at this point that a wise old man suggests making the journey without the rope; suggesting that by having no other option but to make the climb successfully Bruce will be compelled to give it everything he has.
Regardless of whether or not you agree with that line of thinking – which Mr. Trott clearly does not – the article made me think a little bit about the lessons we can find in Hollywood movies. I instantly went back to classics like ‘Gone With The Wind’ and ‘Citizen Kane.’ Lessons abound in these films. I thought of the Trott article I had read and found that it too contained its own unique lesson independent of the film it was discussing.
I happened to have on the olympics briefly and I caught Alysson Felix win gold for the US in the women’s 200 meters. They talked about her struggle to win gold after winning back to back silver medals, as well as her desire to be an elementary school teacher when all of this was said and done. After finally realizing her dream, she was asked what she would tell her students about the experience and she told them about the need to never give up on their dreams, and to keep pushing forward as hard as they could. The event was quick and the story was short but there was a real lesson here powered by the depth of real life experience. Maybe it was as cliché as a Hollywood film, but in this case the happy ending was real.
Can we find a lesson to learn in anything? I thought back to some recent movies that didn’t connect with me like I hoped. I also considered why I recently called the web series ‘Casters’ the first series I’ve seen that I would be comfortable recommending to anyone with a critical eye. I’m sure if I tried I could read some lesson into all of these movies and series. For the ones where the writers did not put themes directly into the work I found them because the stories were written with the depth of human experience baked in. We learn lessons through all of our life experiences and when you as an audience member cannot find a lesson in a piece of art it is because the work does not ring true in your soul – there is an incongruence between what is being presented to you and what you already know to be true.
Hollywood themes exit for a reason. They are the lessons taken from deep within the heart of human struggle. After reading the Trott blog I thought of another theme present in the same sequence of The Dark Knight Rises – and that is the power of hope. Bruce Wayne, imprisoned with a television set tuned to the news in perpetuity, must watch the slow destruction of Gotham and witness the populations’ waning hope of it being saved. The evil villain Bane does this because there is nothing more painful than living with hope during a long drawn out and fruitless struggle.
As with most things in life and in comic book movies, there are two sides to everything – for every hero and every villain are forged in the fires of suffering. Bane sees in Bruce Wayne only what he had become without hope, by giving him that hope back he created something he could not foresee – something he could not defeat.
Hope is what compels us whenever we take on any new endeavor. The longer we hope for its success the more painful it is to see it slip away when things fail. At the same time, hope is what makes the triumph of success so sweet. Hope may be a dangerous and painful thing to live with, but without hope we are destined to the depths of suffering and despair, our own prison. Whether or not we make it – whether or not Bruce really jumps further because he knows there is no safety net – does not matter. We connect with the theme because deep down we know that some day we all have to take that leap.