Hero in Popular Culture Term Paper

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¶ … Hero in Popular Culture- One very interesting aspect of the human experience is the manner in which certain themes appear again and again over time, in literature, religion, mythology, and culture -- regardless of the geographic location, the economic status, and the time period. Perhaps it is the innate human need to explain and explore the known and unknown, but to have disparate cultures in time and location find ways of explaining certain principles in such similar manner leads one to believe that there is perhaps more to myth and ritual than simple repetition of archetypal themes. In a sense, then, to acculturize the future, we must re-craft the past, and the way that seems to happen is in the synergism of myth and ritual as expressed in a variety of forms (Bittarello, 2008). What then, does myth have to say to modern humans about defining and living a successful life and building the appropriate intellectual discourse between people and preparing dialectical expertise in the individual? In myth, for example poems like Beowulf, Gilgamesh and the Iliad and Odyssey, especially as oral tradition, frame the journey of the hero through trials and tribulations to, eventually success. A popular archetype for film, too, showing this same trend, pits the reluctant hero in situations that require extraordinary efforts from ordinary people that transform their actions into the "heroic." For this essay, we will concentrate on four films that epitomize this complex, yet often repeated, theme: The Patriot, Lion of the Desert, Tarus Bulba, and Michael Collins.

TOPIC: Term Paper on Hero in Popular Culture- One Very Interesting Assignment

TARAS BULBA- History is filled with stories that combine heroism with nationalism. Such a tale is that of Tarus Bulba, a 2008/2009 film based on the Russian writer Gogol's famous story. This is part of Russia's historical past, the Cossack era, and has numerous similarities to the story of William Wallace and the movie Braveheart. In general, the family of Cossack leader Taras Bulba is deep in turmoil and political/cultural intrigue which threatens the hegemony of the Cossack race, as well as their ability to control the important trade routes of the time. The Polish State, quite powerful at the time, has designs on both land and the economic wealth of the Rus' -- and will do most anything to ensure the demise of the Cossacks. There are a number of sub-plots, fewer in the film than the novel, but when Bulba's son falls in love with a Polish princess and wishes to abandon his people another dimension is added -- duty or family?

There have been a number of film and television versions of the work, among which the most recent was released in 2009 from director Vladimir Bortko. However, the version likely most familiar to the American audience, if not as historically accurate, is the 1962 version that focuses more on the Romeo and Juliet themes than the historical nationalism of the Gogol work. Yul Brynner stars as Taras, with Tony Curtis as son Andrei. In this version Taras has retired and Poland controls most of the Ukraine -- the struggle is between the Ukrainian serfs and the Polish landowners (again paralleled with the Scottish against the English landowners). Since Andrei must choose between his love for the Polish princess and his people, Taras must choose between the love he has for his son and his commitment to retaining the hegemony of his people (see imbd.0056556).

Much like many of the so-called historical epics of the time (e.g. Spartacus, etc.) the film portrays the characters in a rather one-dimensional manner. There are not complex issues at stake, but instead, grand decisions that have epic repercussions. Costumes, sets, and dialog are also one-dimensional, seemingly aimed more at what the audience expected to see as opposed to a greater sense of reality. For instance, when one compares the basic film elements to the 2007 film Mongol, the differences are dramatic. Taras is filled with scrubbed faces, bright colors, shiny weapons and dinner ware; one can scarcely imagine any of the cast living outdoors, much less being warriors of the plains. Given that historical accuracy was less important to the filmmaker or audience of the time, though, one must ask -- did the film accurately represent the conflictual nature of the story and characters?

The characters are not developed within the film, nor is the conflict -- it is apparent from the opening scenes to the closing credits -- we know the choices, we know the small seeds of conflict that erupt between father and son, and the theme of oppressor (royalty) versus oppressed (Cossack/serf) is black and white with absolutely no grey interpretation available. The camera follows a similar point-of-view -- the facial shots meant to show emotion and pathos are typically reserved for the Cossacks, and the broad long shots of pristine mountains and fields are meant to show that the Cossack is the true steward of the land (forgetting their own brutality towards other cultures). The audience is lured into the story, but in the sense of a romance, not of the urgency of a people's struggle, as with Braveheart. The Cossacks, like the Scottish, are portrayed as brave, loyal, heroic patriots that are undermanned and under armed, but fight the overload Polish who are pristine in their armor and technology. Too, the masterful score by Franz Waxman communicates most of the emotion in the movie through the use of themes that actually "tell" the audience what to feel and when. Despite the fact that the movie is really one long romance, the scene that epitomizes the real tone of the movie, is an early scene called "Cossack Brotherhood" in which a swaggering Taras swears that his son will never bow before Polish power and cuts his hairy lock, then repeated by his tribe, as a pledge to warn against incursion and provide fuel for the next two hours (See: http://www.tcm.com/video/videoPlayer/?cid=253615&titleId=17795).

THE PATRIOT- Directed by Roland Emmerick and starring Mel Gibson and Heath Ledger, the 2000 epic The Patriot is likely more about the American Revolutionary War than most students remember from school. Nominated for Best Sound, Best Cinematography, and Best Original Music Score, the hero, Benjamin Martin, is loosely based on a real Continental Army Officer named Francis Marion and other Revolutionary War figures.

The plot centers around Martin (Gibson), a South Carolina veteran of the French and Indian War, is a widower raising seven children. His eldest son, Gabriel (Leger) wants to join the Continental Army to fight the British. Martin is anti-war; knowing that the grandeur and glory promised from the rhetoric is rarely what war reality is like. Gabriel, however, enlists anyway, and some months later returns home wounded, but carrying military dispatches. Almost like a Greek drama with the Gods manipulating humans, Gabriel is thrust into the conflict when the British Green Dragoons burn his house down, arrest Gabriel, and shoot his next eldest son, Thomas.

Enraged, Martin becomes a vehement guerilla warrior, making use of his skill as a woodsman who, along with his two younger sons, seek out and kill British patrols. The children are horrified at the manic nature of their father as he hacks a fleeing solider to death with a tomahawk -- it is something they have never seen in their Father. Martin eventually, and predictably, becomes the leader of a militia unit that uses Martin's guerilla tactics to decimate the formal British warriors. The movie culminates with the death of Gabriel, his father's renewed lust for revenge, and the defeat of British General Cornwallis and the gallant French Navy sailing into Yorktown to save the day. The last scene of the movie, quite Hollywoodesque, finds what is left of the family ready to rebuild their devastated home and build "a whole new world."

Like Taras, the protagonist in the film is forced to act because of the love he has for his son. In the case of Taras, it is between his grand nationalism and love, in The Patriot between and understanding of the futility of warfare and a desire to bury the violence within him vs. The need to protect his family and help his son escape, combined with revenge for the senseless death of his 2nd born.

The movie is epic in proportion, with some of the more powerful scenes the large forest and plain battles. Far more realistic in nature, a modern audience is likely shaking their heads as the British line up in rows to be slaughtered by the hidden American "patriots." This, however, brings up a secondary theme that is well thought out in the film. Who are the "patriots?" To the British, the American colonies are the property of the British Empire, with requisite rights and duties; to the American Continentals, the British are invaders; The Patriot asks the audience to consider -- when is patriotism terrorism, or does it depend on one's political belief and the justification of conflict?

We do find pathos and character development throughout the movie, in particular the cost of… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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