Wisdom in Films

Books or films can be wonderful role models and teachers. I like to think about the wisdom given in scripts brought to life by characters. For me, it’s the pinnacle of what makes a film great instead of mediocre. If there’s nothing learned, what’s the point? I’m not talking about the one-liner quotes that identify a film like, “Here’s looking at you kid” or “I’m gonna make him an offer he can’t refuse.” I am thinking about films that demonstrate a poignant moment about what it means to be human. Even shining moments cling in a crappy movie. Here are a few examples of what I’m talking about.

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From Gladiator:

Gracchus: The beating heart of Rome is not the marble of the Senate, it’s the sand of the Colosseum. He’ll bring them death and they will love him for it.

I like this quote because it reminds me of the power of the media. Here, in Rome, the Colosseum was the source of mob entertainment. Instead of reason and laws governing, what governed was the gore and instant gratification of the mob’s desires. A reminder that history often repeats itself and a call to question your government.

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From Key Largo:

Frank McCloud: When your head says one thing and your whole life says another, your head always loses.

All of us have dreams, but the obligations of life can often times keep the personal aspirations from coming true. That struggle between personal goals and caring for others is such a common theme. Go for your dreams. Take care of others. Who wins? Here, life sets up your boundaries and you have to make peace with it.

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From Pride and Prejudice comes my favorite role by Donald Sutherland.

Mrs. Bennet: Have you no consideration for my nerves?

Mr. Bennet:  You mistake me, my dear. I have the utmost respect for your nerves. They’ve been my constant companion these twenty years.

Oh, I think this quote speaks volumes of matrimony. Those that manage to stick through it for decades do so because they are able to accept the foibles of their partners. Those that manage to joke about it in a loving way are the true winners.

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Dory: Just keep swimming, swimming, swimming.

Would you believe me if I told you that Dory is my hero? Who else perfected the art of “ignorance is bliss” better than she? Best of all, her ditzy-ness is veiled wisdom. Life is hard. Fear and tragedy test us. Dory shows the way–what else can one do when disaster strikes? Keep calm and keep on swimming….

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Why was Heath Ledger’s Joker so fantastic? He was wiser than a “sane” man.

Batman: Then why do you want to kill me?

The Joker: [giggling] I don’t, I don’t want to kill you! What would I do without you? Go back to ripping off mob dealers? No, no, NO! No. You… you… complete me.

Batman: You’re garbage who kills for money.

The Joker:  Don’t talk like one of them. You’re not! Even if you’d like to be. To them, you’re just a freak, like me! They need you right now, but when they don’t, they’ll cast you out, like a leper! You see, their morals, their code, it’s a bad joke. Dropped at the first sign of trouble. They’re only as good as the world allows them to be. I’ll show you. When the chips are down, these… these civilized people, they’ll eat each other. See, I’m not a monster. I’m just ahead of the curve.

This is so Shakespearian as well as Deconstructionist Theory. The savage is really the civilized one and the civilized one is the monster. In life, those who seem to be monsters are worse than the ones we’re supposed to hold in high regard.

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Alice Kingsley: Who’s to say what is “proper”? What if it was agreed that “proper” was wearing a codfish on your head? Would you wear it?

Oh, Alice from wonderland. Here’s a person rejecting conformity. Speak to your inner heart and be true to yourself. Even if it means you are different. Finding the courage to speak out against absurdity. At the very least, listen to that inner drummer and follow your own song.

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The Big Lebowski is full of lots of wisdom. You won’t get it unless you’ve seen it.

The Dude:  Yeah, well. The Dude abides.

The Stranger:  The Dude abides. I don’t know about you but I take comfort in that. It’s good knowin’ he’s out there. The Dude. Takin’ ‘er easy for all us sinners. Shoosh. I sure hope he makes the finals.

The unlikely hero that could be you and me. The thought that there are good guys in the world and the human race hasn’t succumbed to the lowest denominator. Long live The Dude.

What wisdom have you learned from film?

31 thoughts on “Wisdom in Films

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  1. From Ordinary People:

    Conrad: “When I let myself feel, I feel lousy.”
    Berger: “Oh. Well excuse me. I never promised you a rose garden.”
    AND
    Conrad: “I jack off a lot.”
    Berger: “So what else is new. Does it help?”
    Conrad: “For a minute.”

    AND (I can’t find this exact quote)

    Berger: ‘It’s not that she doesn’t love you. It’s that she doesn’t love you enough.’

    I guess you could say that movie taught me a lot, about what it means to endure the hardships, survive the sadness and appreciate family for who they are. 🙂

    1. Hi Josh, GREAT example. Redford’s Ordinary People was a great book and the film version handled Conrad’s angst in a tender way. Wow. Wasn’t Mary Tyler Moore and Timothy Hutton wonderful? Letting go. It’s the hardest thing humans had to do.

      1. It sure is. I think we’ve talked about my love for that flick before, but it is easily one of my favorite movies ever made. So I think everything about it wonderful, especially Moore and Hudson. But add in the classical music soundtrack, the astonishing use of close up, point of view and wide angle shots, and the deeply moving screenplay and well … I think Redford’s first feature the best directorial debut ever.

        (Full disclosure … My first exposure to Oridnary People was the play, when, for high school Forensics season, I acted both parts of a self-cut 10-minute version of Berger and Conrad’s conversations. I was quite successful with the piece, which means the material is probably even more personal for me than many others.)

        1. Ha! I was on Forensics team, too, in high school. DI as well! Congrats to you. I can see how it would be a winner. I like Redford more as a director than actor. I was moved with his cinematography in The Horse Whisperer.

          1. In Wisconsin we called it Solo Serious. What does DI stand for?

            Agreed on all points. I have long said I wish Redford would act less and direct more. He gives the occasional Sundance Kid or All is Lost performance, but for the most part, I think he is just fine as an actor. Which contrasts with how terrific he is as a director.

            And The Horse Whisperer is a truly beautiful.

  2. Great post Cindy! Wow!

    Here’s one:
    Stan Laurel – “You can lead a horse to water but a pencil must be lead”

    What does it mean? Much like Oliver I have no clue. Then again Stanley was never good at getting his quotes right. 😀

    1. LOL Keith. The homophone pun on the word “lead” is great. I love the old comedies (I think of M*A*S*H, too) where the joke is on the toying of a word. Language jokes are the best!
      Hawkeye: I will not carry a gun, Frank. When I got thrown into this war I had a clear understanding with the Pentagon: no guns. I’ll carry your books, I’ll carry a torch, I’ll carry a tune, I’ll carry on, carry over, carry forward, Cary Grant, cash and carry, carry me back to Old Virginia, I’ll even ‘hari-kari’ if you show me how, but I will not carry a gun!

  3. This is a very thought provoking post Cindy, although of your selections I’ve only seen “Key Largo”. May I offer.
    “That’s part of your problem, you haven’t seen enough movies. All of life’s riddles are answered at the movies”. Spoken by the character Davis in “Grand Canyon”,
    and “What you take into your hands you take into your heart.” One of my favourite moments from the great film “Witness”.

    1. Westerns are typical for the heavy one-liners that make you ponder about the meaning of life. I’ve always gleaned wisdom from them. I love your Witness example. I believe in that–always been a tactile person. It’s not real unless I can touch it. When you build house or bake bread or can or hold a person, your emotions and your heart go into the making. Speaking of cooking, it’s always been an expression of love when I bake or cook for someone.

  4. Great post Cindy. Not sure if this qualifies but I’ve been partial to Rutger Hauer’s moment towards the end of Balde Runner. It sums up his experiences and appreciation for life perfectly…

    “I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhauser gate. All those moments will be lost in time… like tears in rain… Time to die.”

    1. Thanks Mark for giving your opinion. Wow! Certainly reveals a lot, your quote. Carpe Diem. Live definitely. Cherish and be thankful for the moments. Don’t take yourself too seriously because you will be gone one day. The circle of life. Okay, I’ll stop. However, the perspective of your quote is awesome. 🙂

    2. Oooh I love the tears in the rain quote, great stuff Mark.

      Btw, since you mentioned TDK Cindy, here’s a quote from Batman Begins that I LOVE.

      Alfred: Why do we fall sir? So we might learn to pick ourselves up.

      1. LOL perfect! Ain’t that the truth. It’s easy to survive when all is well in the world. It’s when tragedy and disaster strikes. Everyone (including me) seems suprised about that. Bad things are going to happen. How one deals with it–that’s the trick!

  5. Most awesome post Cindy!! I LOVE that Gracchus quote, I even featured it a while back here http://wp.me/pxXPC-1Z6 Derek Jacobi’s delivery is just priceless! The Joker is fantastic of course, you’re right he IS wiser than a sane man, ahah, which makes him a great adversary for Batman.

    Ooooh I love that quote by Mr. Bennett!! I love that P&P version and Donald Sutherland is an inspired choice!

    1. 🙂 Ruth. Glad you appreciate the Gracchus quote. I couldn’t agree more about Derek Jacobi. What a fine character actor. 🙂 about Donald. He gave a perfect performance and the script was stellar. What meaty, delicous command of the English language. I love the puns and play on words — it’s so beautiful to listen to. And then the score! OMG. 🙂

  6. Cindy ..

    … sometimes Wisdom goes in reverse. Remember “Nothing is written.” in Lawrence of Arabia?
    Lots of things are written. But can we change them? Should we change them?
    Wisdom often raises questions – rather than answers – which we must answer for ourselves.

    One of my favourite soliloquies (not really Wisdom?) is the famous ‘Tears in rain’ by Rutger Hauer in Blade Runner: “I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe… Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched c-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhäuser Gate. All those moments will be lost in time, like tears… in… rain. Time to die…”
    He just wanted to live.

    I like Kirk’s philosophy: “I don’t believe in a ‘No Win’ scenario’.”
    He didn’t think things were ‘written’ either.

    Cindy …. were waiting with ‘baited breathe’ for you comments on the Oscars? on Matthew, and Kate … and the fate of the Galaxy???

    1. Ha Ha, my opinon on the Oscars. Well. It was conservative and on the boring side. No big suprises. I think the galazy is getting a little littered and I wonder how it is that things fall from the sky and we don’t hear much about it. I am glad Matthew won although I kept saying Leo was going to. Kate deserved it hand’s down. I had hopes The Hunt would win Best Foreign film, now I will have to put the Italian winner on my list of films to see.
      I agree with you about wisdom. What’s the answer for one person is not for the next. Take the individual vs. conforming to society. Sometimes, in order to know ourselves, we need the comforts of home and community to identify us. The next person could find that styflying and need to break away to find their own dream. There’s no one wisdom. No one truth. While the world feels black and white, ti’s really a very gray place!

      1. Well we have our favourites of course, but as I said to Mike, I don’t really even qualify to make a prediction – having not seen half the movies that were nominated (nor do I intend to see some of them). But I got shocked = Matthew winning (I liked that tho) and Galaxy losing – nearly fell out of my chair. Good for Kate!

  7. This is an awesome post!!
    I like Dory and Alice too, they are quite a character…eccentric and live they way they want. Other character with the same wisdom as Dory and Alice is Patrick ‘Kitten’ Braden from Breakfast on Pluto. Love his character so much, so many painful memory and rejection but he lives his life to the fullest and avoids being too serious.

      1. I love that movie, that movie is the one that made me fell in love with Cillian Murphy’s talent. I become a huge fan ever since.

        I am from Indonesia 🙂 Thank you for saying that, my blog is too random.

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