Sunday, February 19, 2012

Great movie heroes

Following up on a post I wrote about a year ago, entitled Great movie villains, a list of some of my favorite movie heroes.

Paul Dano as Howie Blitzer in L.I.E.

Howie Blitzer is a 15-year-old boy in crisis.  His mother recently died in a car accident on the Long Island Expressway.  Howie's father wasted no time, bringing his trophy girlfriend into their home a month after the death.  Howie is just discovering his sexuality and develops feelings for his best friend, Gary, a delinquent and a male prostitute.  While Howie's father faces prosecution for fraudulent real estate dealings, a middle-aged Vietnam veteran pedophile named Big John Harrigan begins stalking Howie, whose lonely world is quickly falling apart.

This is a great film for many reasons.  But chief among them is the story.  Howie is an unlikely protagonist.  He's vulnerable and naive.  The viewing audience is filled with dread as it perceives all the dangers that surround this innocent young man facing challenges that would overwhelm people twice his age.  And yet, through it all, Howie displays grace, courage, and compassion.  In weathering the terrible storm that descends upon him, he not only saves himself, but offers redemption to the irredeemable.

Jon Voight as Ed in Deliverance

Jon Voight's Ed in the 1972 classic, Deliverance, is another character who triumphs over unimaginable adversity. Ed is part of a group of West Virginia businessmen who set out on a camping trip in rural Georgia. While canoeing down a remote river, they are set upon by armed hillbillies. Violence ensues and Ed finds that he must not only negotiate a dangerous river, but fight off hostile locals and concoct a story to hide the grim events from a suspicious sheriff upon return to civilization.

Although less sympathetic than Howie Blitzer (after all, Ed, is a grown man), Ed faces down an impossible situation, overcoming his own fears and validating himself.  Viewers may recoil from the ghastly challenges that Ed faces, but they secretly envy him as well, for proving himself in the face of mortal threat.

Robert De Niro as Roderigo Mendoza in The Mission

Robert De Niro's Captain Roderigo Mendoza is a ruthless slaver and a master swordsman in 18th century South America who, in a fit of passion murders his younger brother.  In spite of his belief that he is beyond redemption, he agrees to enter the service of a Jesuit priest who is bringing religion to the very people that Captain Mendoza once enslaved.  Flummoxed and amazed by the forgiveness of the people he oppressed, he dedicates his life to their service, even as politicians in Rome, Spain, and Portugal callously decide their fate.

Mendoza's is a powerful story of redemption, and of the power of love, of how it may triumph even in defeat.  Every would-be hero longs for a cause that is worthy of his life, a cause for which he would gladly die.  Mendoza is one of the lucky few who find it.  And if his ultimate acts are futile; if in the end his path is folly --well, there are plenty among us who would choose the same path, even knowing its futility.

Anyway, those are a few of my favorite movie heroes.  There are plenty more, but it's late.  I've got to get to bed.

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