Ep. 14: Braveheart


In this episode, Nate rights a nearly 20-year wrong and gets Ryan to watch Braveheart for the first time.  Nate’s been a fan since childhood, and given Ryan’s well known aversion to epic period movies, this has the makings of a battle worthy of…well, an epic war movie.  With Scottish freedom on our minds, it’s only right that we honor the recent vote in Scotland with one of the most revered movies about Scottish freedom.

Braveheart is a very loose retelling of the fight of William Wallace to fight for the freedom of Scotland and to avenge the death of his wife.  The kilts, blood, meaningful gazes, and political backstabbing is in full force, as Gibson brings the violent war epic together with romance in a film the whole family will enjoy!

As always, tell us what you think about what we think about Braveheart.  Are you one of those who have loved it as much as you’ve always loved it?  Has your love waned over the years?  Has it been nearly 20 years since you’ve seen it?  Does Mel Gibson’s charm still make you swoon?

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  1. Still listening, but wanted to say that I want to see “Graveheart,” a zombie re-make of William Wallace’s story.

  2. Kinda saw this coming, given Ryan’s reaction to Gladiator, but I still chortled my way through your disagreements. I love it when you guys fight. 😀

    I could see both sides here. I think Ryan’s criticisms are valid, but so is Nate’s appreciation for it, and I think it has a lot to do with the mental attitude you go into it with. The last time I watched this I also felt like the exposition was too long, but it was well done for what it is. My experience of other revenge-plot (or making-of-the-hero) films made me impatient with it. Mel Gibson is kind of a ham, but he’s an enjoyable one if you can put yourself in the mindset that he’s portraying a legend like Nate was saying. I think Ryan’s comparison of this to Prince of Thieves was apt, because Wallace is a kind of Robin Hood figure here, at least until it gets really serious at the end. The battle scenes were relatively well done, if you’re emotionally invested, but if you’re not they can feel drawn out. As with Gladiator, I think you just have to want and like this sort of experience in your gut to really enjoy watching it.

  3. Hey Dan,
    I think the gut factor is important. Its in my gut that the urge arises once in a while to get wrapped up in big budget, sweeping, generalized cinema. We briefly brought up super hero movies in the podcast which I think fill the same void for some, but aside from The Dark Knight, have never done much for me.

    I believe there are always exceptions. I can say I don’t really care for superhero movies, but as I already mentioned I love the Dark Knight. I’m still trying to figure out what the “exception” could be for Ryan. I haven’t given up. My last attempt might be Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World- Peter Weir’s well-regarded seafaring epic. Could this be the one? In a lot of ways its the anti-epic, but all of the elements are still there. I don’t know. I don’t know if I have another fight in me.

  4. I have loved Braveheart from the first time I saw it as a young teenager at a church retreat. I love the adventure and romance and beautiful landscapes and underdog struggle for justice – probably preferred in ascending order. So while I still come out with Nate on this one, I found Ryan’s challenges quite valid. All except that it is too slow at the beginning. I like living with the characters for a while. Is the pacing a matter of good cinema or of personal taste?
    The topic most arresting in your discussion for me was the question of idealism, legend, and myth. I suspect that Ryan’s ultimate reason for discrediting Braveheart is because its mythic portrayal of history betrays the reality of our flawed world. It may give us a sense of personal inadequacy and dissatisfaction with life if we are constantly barraged with an unattainable ideal, which seems to happen quite regularly to us Americans (in every advertisement!). When the ideal gallivants as history, does this distort reasonable expectations of life and ourselves and set us up for failure?
    Or, as you discussed in the case of Robert the Bruce, does rubbing up against the ideal charge us with the necessary motivation to pursue the good?
    But, could it be that Gibson goes too far? Could he have achieved motivation for justice without depicting William Wallace as the ultimate, flawless leader? Does portraying our heroes with superhuman character actually promote a debilitating status-quo because we cannot conceive of our little and petty selves as capable of steering the wrong towards right? Is this where superhero movies like The Dark Knight might outrank Braveheart in asking hard questions of its hero? The Joker tells Batman that his altruistic heroism is all farce because in actuality, his goodness is only demonstrated in contrast to the Joker’s menace, so that he needs (in italics) the evil of the Joker to be who he is. That is a difficult question to face. But that digresses.
    The quotable line from Braveheart in our family has been, “Every man dies, not every man really lives.” I feel that this is the best that Braveheart and legend/myth, in general, offer to us: a presentation of an ideal to which to aspire. The aggrandizement may cause us to discredit ourselves, but I do hope that instead, we might imagine and live towards a full and giving life.
    Of course, the next question I would ask is whether Braveheart gives us a worthy ideal? While I agree with its compulsion towards justice for all peoples, I would aspire to other means of its achievement. But that is another discussion and this comment is way too long already!
    Thanks for the podcast! You guys are great!

    • Wow, Natalie, that’s some great thinking. I think you did a better job than we did.
      I love what you said about the difference between superhero movies and Braveheart. There is a lot more questioning of heroes. Braveheart is too straightforward and (dare I say) simplistic for me in the good vs. evil. For as much as the movie traffics in scale and bombast, there’s little at stake for me. Even if the hero doesn’t achieve what he’s gone after, his hands are clean, his conscience clear, and the evil still evil. Even though superhero movies are pure fantasy and historical epics presumably and purportedly history, the idealized version of history glosses over any real risk or balance of right and wrong. Superhero movies, for me, do a better job raising questions of what heroism, etc. is for.
      I’d never thought of these movies as setting up unrealistic expectations of life, but you’re absolutely right. To call this history gives people false hopes for what we can expect from our leaders, our patriotism, our heroism, our battling, what have you. To make the hero a supreme good fighting an undeniable bad takes any sort of questioning away from those activities and ideals. Fighting: always good. Killing your enemy: the best. Taking the wife of your enemy, especially when he’s gay: good. And badass. Country above all else: ideal.
      Thanks for your thoughts. There’s a whole episode of ideas there.

  5. “The aggrandizement may cause us to discredit ourselves, but I do hope that instead, we might imagine and live towards a full and giving life.”

    I love this Natalie! You are highlighting one of the reasons I particularly love the historical epic as a genre.

    Braveheart probably isn’t the best movie we could use to springboard this particular discussion because as Ryan points out, the movie has its shortcomings. But I think audiences deserve a little credit, that they can distinguish storytelling from history. Embellishments and strategic omissions are a characteristic of the genre that come with the territory. There is a Rashomon effect in historical films that some might find irresponsible and annoying, but I find fun. Exploring the perspective a filmmaker takes with a particular piece of history says a lot about the filmmaker and, if the film is a success, the culture.

    Some people DO live extraordinary lives and experience extraordinary circumstances. Wanting to retell their stories is part of being human, and its just as human (for better or worse) to tell the story in a manner that happens to lean on the themes of what that life represents over the accuracy of how the events unfolded. And its not always heroism- Bonnie and Clyde took just as many liberties but for completely different ends.

    These are theatrical retellings. Even Shakespeare used history. I don’t think rooting a hero in history necessarily results in the listener/viewer/reader developing unrealistic expectations of life. We are given a proxy through which to examine ourselves, transported into these heightened circumstances and moral decisions.

    To me the critical question isn’t really whether a historical character should be portrayed as a heroic ideal, but rather to question what the filmmaker is offering up as “the ideal.” I suppose that goes for any genre.

  6. “Rob Roy” wuz robbed!

    “Braveheart” has its points, but it’s dragged down by Gibson’s hammy Christ analogue. So why is it no one ever seems to talk about “Rob Roy”, the much better Scottish historical that came out in the same year (1995). I mean just look at the bloody cast — Liam Neeson, Jessica Lange, Brian Cox, John Hurt, Tim Roth — all of whom give excellent performances of a very good script. Also nice costumes, cinematography, score and for the cherry on top, one of the all-time great movie sword fights.

  7. You know, I’m glad you mentioned Rob Roy because I’ve been meaning to watch it for years and have never gotten around to it. As the one who loves historical dramas and defended Braveheart (Nate), I feel its only right to do my due diligence and get to it, if only out of respect for the Scots.

    I have a hunch you’re right and it holds up better. With your stamp of approval I’ll bump it up to the top of the list.

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