Friday, April 30, 2010

Of Golf and Life

Back to my favorite movies:

Bagger Vance:

Yeah, I always felt a man's grip on his club just like a man's grip on his world...

Yeah the rythm of the game just like the rythm of life...

What I'm talkin about is a game... A game that can't be won only played...

This is one of Will Smith's forgotten movies. Not a box office smash. It was directed by Robert Redford and also starred Matt Damon and Charleze Theron. Jack Lemon narrarates and has the opening and closing sequence making this his last movie appearance.

As an avid golfer, this is the best movie about the game ever made.
Set in the 1930's Adele Invergordon is left with a pile of debts when her once wealthy father commits suicide and to salvage the situation she puts together a golf match between the two greatest golfers of the age: Walter Hagen and Bobby Jones. When the movie came out, having just started my addiction to chasing a little white ball around the links I'd never heard of these two men. My first year subscription to Golf Magazine quickly enlightened me on them being two of the greatest golfing legends of all time.
When I showed this movie, while covering the great depression in U.S. History class I was surprised at how all the students quickly understood the theme of the movie. That golf is like life. Bagger Vance (Will Smith) only says it a dozen times in the movie so it's not a great big secret. Maybe because Will Smith and Matt Damon are recognizable stars most of the students paid attention and enjoyed the movie.
The main plot involves Ranolf Junah the home town golden boy who had once been an item with Adele and a golfing legend himself who went off to fight in WWI and comes back a broken man.
He's drafted into playing in the golf match by a young boy, the son of a high school friend. Like they say never act in movies with animals or children, they steal the show, and this is no exception, but the child is essential in getting Junah to play and as the old man telling the story with Lemon's voice keeps the story moving along.
Bagger Vance comes out of nowhere to offer his caddy services for the match and acts as life coach and mentor to rebuild the broken Junah into a whole man. There's a fantasy aspect to his character and the movie avoids the problems of Jim Crow laws for the most part.
Overcoming adversity is another theme and it's addressed in three scenes. In the first scene Junah has just come in from the first round of the match 12 strokes behind Jones and Hagan. Everyone is sure he doesn't have a chance for the other three rounds. While he's changing in the locker room Bagger starts telling him a story about his uncle which just irritates Junah. When he asks why he's telling the story Bagger says he was telling him about overcoming adversity. Junah explodes and says there is no meaning to life.
Hardy, the boy who talked Junah into the tournament and is acting as fore caddy is telling Junah about how ashamed he is of his father who lost his hardware store and is now sweeping the city streets. How his friend's fathers are too proud to work at menial jobs like that.

Junah: Grow up Hardy!
Hardy: It ain't time for me to grow up, Mr. Junuh.
Junah:: You're daddy is out sweeping streets because he took every last dime he had, and used it to pay up every man and woman he owed and every business who worked for him, instead of declaring bankruptcy like everyone else in town, including your best friend Wilbur Charles' dad, Raymond, which is why he's able to sit around all day long on his dignity! You're daddy stared adversity in the eye, Hardy. And he beat it back with a broom
After that exchange in the next round Junah starts playing some decent golf and closes the gap between Jones and Hagan. Dressed in tuxedos and partying that night Hagan makes an offer to Junah that they team up in match play.

Hagan: You and I are alike, we realize that the meaning of it all is that there is no meaning.

This pretty much said what Junah had earlier that day said to Bagger, but after the exchange with Hardy you could tell that it didn't sound the same. This is one of the few movies that deals with what the history books call the "Lost Generation." The men who came back from the trenches from WWI emotionally broken shells.

There is the tension between Junah and Adele with their past to make the story interesting. Charleze Theron is amazing playing the proper Southern Belle yet hard as steel when she has to be.
I've watched this movie many times and it always entertains and leaves you feeling good.


One Fly said...

Hope we golf sometime Patrick.

P M Prescott said...

So do I.