When men were men

By Melissa Hardiman

By Melissa Hardiman

One of the wisest people I know left a wonderful trail for us to follow. I’m referring to Roger Ebert, the film critic.

He wrote many informative, insightful reviews that do much more than guide us to the best films. His reviews also guide us to a better understanding of our values.

One of the best, in my opinion, is his review of the extraordinary film, Open Range, starring Robert Duvall and Kevin Costner. Mr. Ebert highlights the decline in values and how that decline is presented in films. He illuminates the ways the lead characters navigate through life and how they deal with the contradictions that exist within them.

Costner’s character is rough and crude, yet he admires and reveres Duvall’s character.

One of the many ways in which the Western has become old-fashioned is that the characters have values, and act on them. Modern action movies have replaced values with team loyalty; the characters do what they do because they want to win and they want the other side to lose.—Roger Ebert

The statement that “they want the other side to lose” helps us define our times. Duvall’s character, we are told, “does not believe in unnecessary violence, and is willing to put his own life to risk rather than kill someone just to be on the safe side.” That insight informs us about the state of the world.

His review of American Graffiti is another that is informative at a profound level. This passage comes from that review:

On the surface, Lucas has made a film that seems almost artless; his teenagers cruise Main Street and stop at Mel’s Drive-In and listen to Wolfman Jack on the radio and neck and lay rubber and almost convince themselves their moment will last forever. But the film’s buried structure shows an innocence in the process of being lost, and as its symbol Lucas provides the elusive blonde in the white Thunderbird — the vision of beauty always glimpsed at the next intersection, the end of the next street.

Note the phrase “innocence in the process of being lost.” We no longer notice such things as the loss of innocence. We now abandon innocence without comment, and probably without awareness that we are doing it. A walk down the cereal aisle at any supermarket is a dazzling statement of lost innocence. Cereal makers are predators, and children are their target.

Reading Mr. Ebert’s reviews is one of the best ways to study history, art, acting, and culture. When you find a personal favorite please share it. You can access them on the Internet Movie Database, IMDB.com.

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