Life Lessons From Film

23 Aug

Winning and Losing in Film

Winning and losing has been at the forefront in recent weeks due to the Olympics and various issues have been brought up including whether athletes should apologise for getting silver, the graciousness of winners and losers and how we reward those who have done well. All this got me to thinking about how this works in film. Because the characters and plots aren’t constrained by reality, winning and losing are tied to the morality and likeability of the characters. Winning comes about through means other than hard work and experience etc.

1) Often the prize is not worth the competition.
In some films coming in second is better because the reward is so undesirable or that prize is often at odds with the method by which it was won. The 80s film Highlander (Russell Mulcahy, 1986) revolves around a bunch of immortals cutting each others heads off because “There can be only one” and when that one is left they get untold power. Fair enough. Fast-forward to the end of the film and our hero has done it, he is the only one left and he gets to claim The Prize. Mortality. That’s right, if they had just quit killing and absorbing each other’s powers they would have been able to keep their immortality. The film itself zigzags on whether its a good thing or not and this is most evident in the epic Queen soundtrack. “Who Wants To Live Forever?” is a painful ballad about watching your love ones grow old and die without you while “Princes of the Universe” is basically “Immortality is awesome!”

2) Second Place is better than First Place because it comes with a life lesson™. This one is seen in every other sports film EVER MADE! If the rag tag bunch of misfits don’t triumph over the odds then the come in second with a dose of dignity and strength and heartstrings being firmly tugged. It’s always the technically superior but often morally bankrupt team/player who comes in first and they get nothing for it. It’s good for children’s films because it teaches how to be a gracious winner but if the Olympics are anything to go by, most athletes aren’t looking for a life lesson. Similarly….

3) Plucky Underdog Status ensures a win
Everyone loves an underdog and in contrast to real life where talent and hard work equals success, not being the favourite to win in a movie pretty much guarantees you will win. In fact…

4) Hard work counts for nothing
Possibly the lesson furthest removed from real life. How many times has a character with “natural talent” popped up in a film only to completely thrash the characters who have been practising 20 hours a day since they were knee high to a grass hopper. Luke Skywalker has a handful of days training as a Jedi but his role as “The Chosen One” sees him in good stead. Forrest Gump falls into amazing situations and again the good old children’s flick teaches that anyone can be special but the protagonist is special-er than most.

5) There is always room for a slow clap

This has even reached the point of parody!

That’s not a sports movie but it does show the prevalence of this particular trope in cinema. Also, it’s Captain America!

About the writer: Sarah is a filmmaker and writer with an obsession for luscious visuals and a distain for tomatoes (they are a sneaky and untrustworthy foodstuff). If she’s not blogging, she’ll be watching films or running around with her video camera.

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