I set a lot of physical goals. I feel like I have to keep from being a fraud given my job. I’ve woken up more days where I was disinterested in following through than not. I don’t repeat affirmations or watch videos of hero workouts set to motivational music. I flip on Casablanca.
It’s a classic love story, an old-time motion picture. It’s also a commentary on what’s required for an actual virtuous act of sacrifice.
Rick Blaine, played by Humphrey Bogart, owns a nightclub in Casablanca, Morocco a still neutral territory, around the time of World War II. Both German officials and European refugees made their way to Casablanca. Many of the refugees were trying to get passage to the United States who had not yet entered the war.
Before owning his nightclub, Rick was in Paris where he met a woman, Ilsa Lund, played by Ingrid Bergman. They fell in love but she had to leave suddenly for reasons he never understood.
Years later she shows up at his bar, with her husband. She had been married when she and Rick shared their romance in Paris but had thought her husband was dead after being captured by Nazis. He was a very high profile person leading the resistance to Nazi occupation.
Ilsa reluctantly left Rick in Paris when she found out her husband was still alive. She did not love her husband as she loved Rick but felt it was her duty to be by his side.
When Ilsa walked into his club, Rick was understandably upset to see her. But the two eventually met alone and both confessed that they still loved each other. They began planning how they would be together, letting Ilsa’s husband, Victor, to go on to his work leading the resistance without her.
As he planned this, Rick was told in confidence by those who knew Victor, how important the work he was doing was and how he needed Ilsa to follow through on it. She was an impetus for him. Victor himself explained how the thought of her kept him going while he was captured.
Rick is visibly torn. He wants to be with Ilsa above everything else but he knows what must be done and comes up with a new plan without telling Ilsa. Rick makes arrangements for a small plane to leave secretly from Casablanca for Victor without the authorities being aware. The city had already become too dangerous for Victor to stay and he was needed elsewhere.
Ilsa believed the plan was for her and Rick to get Victor to the plane and send him off alone. At the movie’s climax, Victor thanks Rick and gets on the plane believing Ilsa will follow. She stays behind and turns to Rick expecting him to take her away and for the pilot to leave without her.
But Rick instead tells her to get on the plane. He explains they are likely to be captured if she stays with him and thrown in a concentration camp and that he won’t allow that for her. He goes on to tell her that she is part of Victor’s work. And how this work and what it will lead to is more important than the problems of three individual people.
There’s the story. The something that changes my habitual actions and not just my attitude for the day. Stories highlight some fundamental truth that can be almost impossible to explain straight out.
Understanding truth changes behavior and action for good. And this is far more valuable than fleeting inspiration you get from contrived motivational speeches or exciting action movies.
Rick tells Ilsa, in one of the most famous lines in cinema, that If that plane leaves the ground and you’re not with him, you’ll regret it. Maybe not today, and maybe not tomorrow, but soon, and for the rest of your life.
Some people like to be seen as martyrs. They feel like it justifies their personal inaction. It’s usually tied to some addiction to chaos and attention-seeking behavior.
The sincere ability to look at a situation removed from your own perspective and desires, like Rick did, and act for the benefit of the greatest number in the most significant way, is uncommon.
Rick has a definiteness of purpose and is unwavering in making the most difficult of decisions. He didn’t make himself a sad martyr. He saw only what had to be done for the greatest good, despite himself.
The story shines a light on the truth, a guiding principle to live from. Something that could create better habits and frame of mind. It’s what all the great movies do. It’s what all great books do. Because it’s the story that connects itself to us.
I could watch this movie and take more pieces of the story each time I do. It’s a movie mapped out like a great book. Its story. I love story. And I’ve made it a point to find and watch these kinds of movies. Just like great books, they relax some nagging angst in me. The kind that shows up on a Sunday night.
Without a doubt, one of Will Smith’s finest performances is in The Pursuit of Happyness. And without a doubt one, of the best movies after Casablanca to drive me to train and to keep moving on. Based on the true story of Christopher Gardner, the movie shows how a man can make poor decisions for much of his life, reach a new depth, and still reach ambitions.
The movie starts with Chris’s wife leaving him and his young son. They are working-class people who fall on hard times after Chris makes a poor decision to sell medical equipment no one wants to buy. Chris’ wife leaves without much warning leaving him alone, to provide for their son and maintain a roof over their heads.
They lose their apartment and he takes his son to live in motels, homeless shelters, and in the lowest, deeply stirring part of the movie, he spends a night riding the subway and finally in a storage room at a train station. The scene speaks to the very nature of human vulnerability. He’s holding his son tightly in his arms, crying, with complete desperation in his eyes.
But then, Chris illustrates the indomitable spirit of humanity and the potential in us all. He convinces his son this whole experience can be a game. And by doing that, he protects his son’s innocence and his faith that dad is stronger than the world around them. Chris may not believe it himself, but he keeps his son’s belief.
The very next morning, he walks out of that storage room and goes back to working even harder. The night was intensely disturbing but he only let himself have one night of despair. He climbs out of his hell and alters everything necessary to keep him and his son away from that storage room door.
I’ve dealt with people putting me down and situations that were stacked against me. But no person or thing antagonizes me as I do myself. My own obsessive thoughts keep me up at night, not the opinions that others have of me. I’m consumed with what I haven’t done yet. There’s someplace I haven’t gotten to, that I should be. I’ve tried all the ways to be kind to myself and learn to be present but it’s not until I see or read a story like Chris’ that I understand that the story always has moments where we have to spend a night in hell.
Chris doesn’t stop there, he endures sleepless nights and public ridicule to make some money for him and his son and begins an internship with only a slight chance of leading to a secure, paid position and one in which he many people say he’s not suited for.
In another stand out scene, Chris narrates how he was able to work twice as fast as his peers. He figured out the best times to call potential clients, works through lunchtimes, and even refuses to drink water during his workday so that he won’t have to leave his phone to use the bathroom.
He does all of this out of necessity. The other interns are younger, they have only this responsibility. He has to leave earlier to pick up his son. There were months he had to leave even earlier to stand on a line for homeless shelter so his son could have a bed to sleep in.
And that can sum up the lesson that can be taken from the movie – necessity. As you may have guessed, he gets the position and goes on to become very wealthy. And it’s true of the real Christopher Gardner.
There were circumstances thrust on his life. Some, maybe from mistakes he made, but some because the world is unforgiving. It would be understandable if he became a miserable, depressed person, resentful of everyone and everything, and given up completely.
But he had his son to take care of, and in his mind, he needed to keep going and not lose his faith, and that’s what he did. Acting from necessity can bring out the potential in you that seems limitless if you can act despite all the feelings of hopelessness.
My nights in hell make me feel isolated. But watching this movie and seeing this same story told over and over reminds me that it’s a part of this whole big long narrative. To see the story of a man who traveled so far down, and see how the best of us can still come after.
Have you ever watched The Lion King as an adult? Not the new one, the original animated movie. Even if you don’t have kids and don’t appreciate the humor, watch it again. It’s a masterpiece. The story was written so thoughtfully with fully developed examples of fundamental themes found throughout countless epic tales.
It closely follows the outline of Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey which is a model for just about every great story of a champion.
One of the most significant moments of the movie is when Simba, has his initiation, as Campbell describes it, to be called forward as a hero. He’s already been called out by Nala and led through a symbolically dark place by Rafiki.
Then Rafiki tells him to look in the water to see his father. He looks and sees only his reflection, but after being told to look harder, he sees his deceased father in his own reflection.
This follows another fundamental theme in the story of a hero story. He sees the man he could be – a good, competent, brave king, as his father was. It’s a perfect example of a fundamental theme of a hero story.
After being told to “take his place” by his father who speaks to him from the clouds, he crosses the desert to face his greatest trial, his uncle Scar, and restore his kingdom.
If you watch this movie carefully, through this lens, you can see most of Joseph Campbell’s philosophy on the story of what makes up a hero. And the ideas were and are and always will be a model to live by. Seeing your own story as this makes you grateful for what you’ve done and learned and helps keep your faith to keep moving forward.
I grew up watching all of the Rocky movies and enjoying every one of them. But the first is by far the greatest story. It wasn’t an action movie. It wasn’t even really about boxing or training. It was about a man ho had lost hope that the vision he once had for his life was now impossible.
At the beginning of the movie, it seems Rocky has no chance of crawling out from the hole he put himself in. His mistakes were too many and his apathy for change too strong. But as the movie goes on, it reveals two main messages.
The first is that when you find something to use as a force to pivot the direction of your life, have faith that you’re not too far gone. For Rocky, he had both Adrian, his girlfriend, and the extremely serendipitous and remarkably unexpected offer to fight the heavyweight boxing champion of the world.
Adrian was his first chance at some sort of redemption. After many asks, she finally agreed, with a little prodding from her brother, to go out with Rocky. She’s extremely hesitant, but the two begin a relationship.
And with the positivity of having her in his life, he begins cleaning up his life, metaphorically and literally, even improving his appearance. He doesn’t waste the gift he sees in Adrian and this may be the first time in his life he’s ever done this.
After this, he’s called to meet with a fight promoter and offered a shot at the heavyweight title, he refuses at first but is told to think about how this is the chance of a lifetime.
You can see the conflict in Rocky’s eyes as he sits listening in silence. He knows he doesn’t necessarily deserve the opportunity. But as he had just done with Adrian, he takes a step with faith that this is something he can use to change the direction of his life and takes the fight.
The second message is to remain sober in thought while moving forward after drastic change. Not only will failures still come, but they need to be expected and accepted.
And in this acceptance, you need to make an agreement with yourself that you’ll still get up even when you’re getting beat to shit, and you’ll go the distance.
The night before his fight, Rocky tells Adrian that he knows he will lose the fight, that he really has no business being in the same ring as the champ. But he tells her that he just wants to go the distance with him.
He wants to finish the fight without giving up, without being knocked out. He may be knocked down, but he wants to keep getting up and finish, however bad.
Accepting the ugliness of it all, with what needs to be done and with what’s inside you, is how you’ll be able to Eat lightning, and crap thunder, like Mickey, Rocky’s trainer says.
Did you know that Bill Murray created a workout video to support his local gym?
Groundhog Day is definitely not an action movie. It may be a comedy, but there’s much more to it, things that you find between the lines. Bill Murray plays Phil Conners, a cynical weatherman who is assigned to cover the annual Groundhog Day Event in a quiet little Pennsylvania town.
He despises the job and hates the town. He plans to drive back to the city with the producer and cameraman after recording but he has to stay the night because of a bad snowstorm that he, the weatherman, ironically did not know was coming.
The next day he wakes up and finds that he’s reliving the same day over. And to his horror, this continues. Every night he goes to sleep and wakes up to the exact same day. Everyone else in the town does the same thing every day and he is the only one who knows this day is repeating.
It quickly starts to drive him crazy. He begins to do carry out whatever crazy impulse he has because there are no consequences. The next day he’ll wake up and everything he’s done is erased. He lives out fantasies, breaks the law, manipulates people and situations for his own entertainment and pleasure.
Soon, he becomes bitter, resentful, and hopeless that he’ll ever escape this time loop and tries to kill himself. But he wakes up the next morning in the same bed, on the same day. He grows truly sadistic and begins to kill himself in every way possible.
Eventually, he sits down with the producer who came to the town with him for the Groundhog story and tells her the truth of what he’s been experiencing.
Very surprisingly, she believes him. He asks her what she would do if she had an eternity, and she tells him that she would see it as a gift instead of a curse. A gift to make the most of and grow into the greatest possible good from. Learn, experience, put out good in the world, even if it’s never noticed or remembered.
And that’s what he begins to do, every repeating day. He learns languages and instruments. He reads great works of literature and poetry. He acquires skills that make him useful in every situation to every person.
He even finally learns to love someone, more than himself. He falls in love with Rita, the producer, and acts in selfless love. And this is when the spell is broken.
We can see every day in negatively as being just another boring, drab day. Or we can see every day as an opportunity to add more to ourselves and reduce the bad that we have the potential to put out in the world. And we should have more urgency to begin this now because we can’t live a single day a thousand times over
Cinderella Man isn’t just another boxing movie, it is, instead, a beautiful drama about the true story of James J. Braddock’s Depression-era struggles to provide for his family.
Braddock begins as a promising boxing contender. But after injuries and bad luck, he’s no longer offered fights and is forced to walk away from boxing to work on the loading docks to make ends meet.
Things get worse and they can no longer pay to keep the heat on or buy enough food for all of the kids. His wife sends their kids to stay with her sister who is in a better financial situation.
Braddock can’t stand letting his family be pulled apart and, much to his own self-shame has to ask for money from fight promoters and trainers that used to admire him for his ability as a fighter. You can see the shame and reluctance that he feels in his eyes. It almost destroys him but he knows he must do anything to take care of his family.
After some time, he’s offered a fight very unexpectedly. He immediately jumps at the opportunity. He does well and to his surprise gets more fights.
In one of the most moving scenes of the movie, Braddock’s mouthpiece is knocked out by his opponent in the ring. Blood is splattered on the canvas.
As Braddock regains his composure and goes to get his mouthpiece, the movie cuts to his memory from just a few months before the fight when his kids were shivering under blankets in an apartment with no heat and too little food.
Blood in his mouth he turns and looks at the man standing across from him and smirks at him with a bloody mouth. He picks up his mouthpiece and puts it back in his mouth seemingly unphased. His opponent who thought he had gotten the best of Braddock, now looks terrified.
This physical pain was nothing to Braddock, the challenge wasn’t real to him. He had been through real challenges, experienced real pain. He never had a single thought of giving up because nothing was worse than seeing his kids suffer.
Nothing could hurt him more than this thought, nothing could beat him down harder. He knew he’d receive money for his family and that’s all that mattered. The challenge of the man trying to hit him was nothing in comparison to the challenges he’d faced trying to care for and keep his family together. And that’s the great truth to be taken.
He who has a why to live, can bear almost any how
– Friedrich Nietzsche
It’s a Wonderful Life is probably a movie no one expects to see on this type of list. However, if you watch closely, you’ll realize there’s more to learn from it than how to be holly and jolly during Christmas.
In the movie, George Bailey takes over his father’s small business after his death to make sure that his little brother can go to college, that the employees are taken care of, and that the community is taken care of by providing opportunities for those with little to own homes.
George does what’s best for everyone except himself. He assumes this role and remains there although he’s always dreamed of leaving the little town, traveling the world, and creating beautiful things. As the movie unfolds, you see bitterness building in George.
It boils to the point where he considers suicide when a large sum of money that was entrusted to his Building and Loan business is misplaced. If the money wasn’t found there’d be scandal, bankruptcy, and he would most likely be thrown in prison.
He decides his life isn’t worth more than his life insurance policy and goes to take his life so his family would receive this money and at least be provided for. In his mind, this is a final sacrificial act of his life.
As he goes to jump off a bridge into freezing water, his guardian angel sent to him in human form, jumps first and cries for help. As he’d done all his life, George puts his own interests out of his mind for someone else. He dives in and pulls him out, as the angel knew he would.
As they sit drying off, George mentions to the angel that everyone would be better off without him. So the angel shows him a world where he was never born. George is horrified with what he sees and realizes all of the things he bravely stood for and the evil he prevented from happening. And he saw how one man’s life touches so many others.
His lesson and that of the story is unmistakable. His life was the masterpiece he wanted to create, what he wanted to build. And gratefulness for what was all around him was key to realize this. He focused himself on where every great man and woman should focus, first. He saw what needed to be fixed immediately around him and went to work doing it.
He was given the gift to truly dissociate from his own life and thoughts on how he imagined he influenced the world to see how much he really had to be thankful for.
We can’t be given this literal gift, but maybe we can be imaginative, think through, and put to paper everything that our lives have touched, everything we have, and everything we are to others. Then perhaps we can behold our very own work of art.
One of my college roommates asked me once how I remembered so many movies. We were flipping through the channels on a Saturday afternoon and I called out the movies on each channel.
Honestly, I just got lucky. They were all movies I’d seen a few times. I’ve seen my share of movies, but I’m not really a movie buff. But movies I do like, I wear them the hell out.
The first time I watched these movies, I didn’t understand how they gave me a calmness and clarity to keep on moving toward the targets I aim at. But the more I watched, the more I saw in it.
I was watching my story, that’s why I was connected with it. Well written stories aren’t just telling the record of the main character. They’re also reflecting the story of the entire human race.
Regularly making progress in my physical growth has everything to do with character and perseverance. I’ve watched these movies and remembered these stories because they reminded me of my own story.
The story where I take on the same challenges and learn the same truth. Because their story is mine. And like them, I’ll keep moving on even when I can’t see the reward. And this itself is the reward- the journey taken.