catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 7, Num 11 :: 2008.05.30 — 2008.06.13


Give me liberty or give me death

Accounting for the cost of peace, Patrick Henry uttered these now immortal words in his speech in March of 1775: “Give me liberty or give me death.” Potentially, they are merely that—words. They’re inspiring to a point but without context, they loses some life. We’ve become quite skilled at providing pill-popping anecdotes to mend our wounds and to motivate our ineptitudes. I reference these words, because they are famous last words, to quote the ol’ idiom.

Words that are famous, like people, take on a life all their own. They’re larger than life. Characters in stories function much like this. They’re like a portal in which we can vicariously travel. As such, we can become famous. We can tell-off people using words we’ve never imagined. We can have that romance that we’ve always fantasized about. We can take on life with a new sense of perspective—and then the credits roll.

Yet, when they do roll, they provide us each with a unique opportunity to reflect. Many of us have developed a default mode that merely tunes out—“Ah, good movie…on to the next thing.” Others, much to the chagrin of friends who employ the aforementioned default mode, excavate every story to find some correlations with their own life or simply to understand the narrative better. Both approaches can be fitting, but we should ask ourselves what an overindulgence in either would mean in our life.

Most of us will never be famous in the strictest sense of the word. Our names will never be featured in a marquee or in lights. The only moments we might potentially find as such are often as kids in the backyard—playing out the most elaborate action scenes of our heroes or saving the world from annihilation.

One such story that I have a particularly fond memory of is Rambo. When I hear this word, I instantly imagine all the tight shots of his weapons of choice underscored by an inspiring syncopated rhythm. I loved to watch these movies with my father. It was a bonding point for us. In hindsight, the Rambo movies are so significant because they, like Patrick Henry, declare liberty or death. We so desperately want and need characters who can overcome adversity, much like we hope to ourselves.

Even Rambo, humiliated and abandoned by the country he sacrificially served, retaliates not out of sadism but for a sense of justice. Justice! As absurd as an army of one prevailing against an army of many is, it speaks to us because inside and underneath we’d do almost anything to hold true liberty in our hand and to make sense of life’s complexities. If we can’t make sense of our circumstantial meltdowns, our vocational depressions or our relational strife, perhaps we can find resolution in a story. The illusions of cinema allow this as they provide the opportunity to be vicariously famous.

You know—you can always tell when an action movie has truly inspired people when folks want to dress up like the heroes or anti-heroes. Ever thought about putting on that poncho or ole duster that Eastwood wore? Ever looked in the mirror when you were alone and uttered the words, “Go ahead—make my day?” Now, we might not do this anymore because we’ve become more urbane and it’s beneath us. However, I’d like to challenge you to consider the Son of Rambow both for its ability to inspire this idea of vicarious fame as well as offer some reflection. 

Returning to the screen with his new fun-filled and action-packed comedy, Garth Jennings (The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy) unleashes Son of Rambow, a film that awakens the imagination. It’s a film that, like the gear-up montage of Rambo, inspires each of us in our own way to load up and tie off that head band, taking vengeance on life.

In 1982, Sylvester Stallone released the first of his John Rambo tales. Three additions have since been released, most recently Rambo (clever title, huh?), making Jennings’ release all the more timely. What makes Son of Rambow charming is that it’s a story about adolescent friendship. It’s an exploration of innocently clad adventurousness—out back with a shoddy camera and some time to kill. Rambow fun-lovingly examines real relational tensions intertwined in our adolescence and the complexities of family. It draws out a memory lane of both the exhilarating and the frustrating from our childhood experiences.

Our heroes are Will and Lee. Will (Bill Milner) is a victim of circumstantial abandonment, having just lost his father unexpectedly and also being creatively restricted by the rigidity of his family’s religion, The Brethren. Lee (Will Poulter), abandoned more by volition, has been left to raise himself, finding solace in bullying antics and pirating movies at the local cinema house. So when Will’s austere mind stumbles upon Lee’s pirated VHS copy of Rambo: First Blood, his imagination and creativity are blown wide open with the sensationalistic hero, ripe with fantastical escapism.

So, Will and Lee set out to create their own home-video remake of Rambo, featuring Will as a guinea-pig for the film’s death defying stunts. When word of their production begins to spread throughout the school, tensions rise as they both vie for the glory of the production and the affections of Didier (Jules Sitruk), a beautiful French exchange student. Using everything from a stolen guide dog to a runaway Jeep, the two discover the power of creativity and ultimately themselves in the midst.

One scene that epitomizes both the relational tension and the psychological underpinnings comes when Lee, wearing a camouflaged helmet, pointing a cross-bow at a defenseless and blindfolded Will, says, “If you von’t tell me vere zey’re hiding, zen I have no choice but to shoot you and your cat.” The look on Will’s face, bewildered by the shards of ceramic raining down over his face from the obliterated animal, says it all.

Rambow displays film’s alchemy quality—its ability to transform simple minds and lives, if only for brief moments, into mythical landscapes. If you find yourself taking life too seriously, escape vicariously into the shenanigans of Will and Lee. It’s a movie that takes those long-bottled memories of adolescence, opens them up, passes them around, and basks in the reminiscences. It spot-on touches the nerve endings of what it’s like to grow-up. The cinema inspires us to approach life’s enemies with the gusto of Rambo, or in this case the Son of Rambow.

your comments

comments powered by Disqus