If there was a vote to selecting an all time “MAN” movie, I suspect Braveheart, Mel Gibson’s portrayal of the story of William Wallace, would rank as an uncontested number one. Guys from my generation would even joke that if one have not seen the movie, this person has not gone through the rite of passage into adult manhood, quite simply, ‘you ain’t a man.’ But why do men love this classic tale of bravery, freedom, love, and battle so much? What about this film sends our emission of testosterone peaking at levels unimaginable? What about the climactic scene of Wallace crying, “FREEEEDOM!” while under torturous disembowelment makes our fist clench with, not fear, but pride? I believe the answer to these questions is, in some sense, so simple to identify and yet utterly difficult to remedy. But we find a bit of the answer in the meaning of ‘bravery.’
And we must be clear, bravery is not the lack or elimination of fear. I’m sure Wallace was afraid, as Rousseau says, “Whoever pretends to face death without a fear is a liar.” But the reason why we attribute so much “man-ness” in Wallace, the reason why we clench our fists and desire to be like him, the reason why we watch this movie over and over again is because he illustrated great integrity in the face of certain pain, suffering and death, which I believe is true bravery. The attribution of bravery as a male characteristic may be more of a social construct than we realize, but I do know this, men and women alike, we are draw to people who illustrate ultimate integrity even in the face of great opposition.
I heard a talk last night from a man named Michael Oh, about living the American Dream. Chasing money, chasing security, and chasing comfort. We so often desire such a dream to become a reality and chase and chase, but all the while, we crave some sort of vicarious adventure, an excitement, and so we watch Braveheart again, and again, and again…. It is no wonder books like Wild at Heart get published. I actually do not recommend the book because of its erroneous generalizations, but the spirit of the book is indicative of the underlying American sentiment to escape this dream of self-imposed sedation. We chase ourselves into utter boredom and drudgery, and secretly crave adventure and a life of bravery.
The irony is, this life of adventure, of excitement and of bravery is not only found in the films but is offered to us as a possibility. It was mentioned that bravery is the show of great integrity in the face of certain pain, suffering and death, and the epitome of such character was not William Wallace but is found in a man who preceded him 1300 years. And it is in continuing the cause of this person that leads to a life of adventure, excitement, suffering and love. It is in knowing our purpose as a watch knows to tell time instead of temperature that gives us integrity. It is not in wanting to be brave that will make us so but in living for a cause outside our little selves that will make us brave in the process. To the point we can cry “Freedom” in the face of pain, to the point we can learn to dance in the sight of death. As Bonhoeffer says, “Death is the supreme festival on the road to freedom.”