Sunday, October 16, 2011

Braveheart

Reading a biography of this Scottish hero fellow. Points of agreement with the Mel Gibson extravaganza exist, but likewise gulfs of differences, if differences can be expressed in gulfs.

I like the movie and have seen it several times, id est, it sits on our shelf. It presents a plausible world, and feels accurate in its presentation. I’m not asking for historical accuracy but that it holds some sort of internal consistency. The random way hair is tied up and braided illustrates (weirdly, I suppose) the consistency I mean. A real life sloppiness. Altho I must say that the omnipresent mud on people’s faces seems too thoughtful.

The movie predates the public flowering of Crazy Gibson, but even so the taint seeps in. Have to push that aside.

Gibson was older when making the movie than Wallace ever. Sometimes he looks squeezed into the role. Early on we understand him as youthful and, okay, he doesn’t quite look it. Worse occurs as he boyishly courts the young woman. That boyishness simply clanks. And apparently actors directing themselves remain cognizant  of face time. Director Gibson likes that actor Mel.

Historical Wallace stood some 6’6”, which pretty well fulfills the idea of giant at a time when most people were barely 5’ tall. Gibson looks fearsome in battle, but in a superhero Hollywood way, not in the bludgeoning way that really Wallace was. The bio attends to Wallace’s fighting prowess with eye-popping details that make the movie look patty cake. I mean, some English soldiers accost Wallace and seconds later rent chainmail and cleft skulls tell a bloody deed. This happens often.

One can hardly veer Wallace from a sense of Billy the Kid psychopath. Wallace at least seems to keep his bloodthirst properly focused on Southrons whereas Billy did not seem to discriminate who he killed. The bio describes Wallace as frequently going to Ayr basically for the sport of killing English men. The movie keeps him measured in the terms of Freedom.

The movie tries to present that sense of Freedom as an intellectual motivation but at best it is emotional. What is freedom in the context of a nation? And what is freedom in terms of a pre-nation like Scotland was? The concept of nation by definition means limitation. It means accepting whatever The Nation accepts as right. The Braveheart espousal blends idyllic peace with the right to chop off English heads. Which is not to say I don’t get the savagery of the times. Sam Adams bolstered a mob scene into an act of political defiance, and it took his cousin to bring the event back into a human reality. Wallace probably was “a hero”, certainly a necessity for Scotland qua Scotland, but the shimmering sanctity needs another look.

I have noted before that the battle scenes in Braveheart, brutal tho they be, look fun. After the battle you pull the arrow from your eye, pick up your arm, and go drink some ale. American football  with weapons. One battle scene bothers me. Braveheart prepares the battlefield so that when the English cavalry charges, it can be set afire. That seems too sophisticated for berserkers. And it seems like too much trouble for a trick that could easily fail. I  do not know, tho, whether history admits this trick.

Patrick McGoohan as the English king stands out. There’s a genre of Hollywood versions of villainous English lords and kings. Basil Rathbone, straight up, in Robin Hood, or the poncy, hissing King Whosis in The Vikings. McGoohan blends the rarest touch of that with a hefty dose of Exxon CEO. His son’s gay lover annoyingly attempts to add his 2 cents worth to some political planning, and McGoohan casually leads him aside to confer, only the king throws him out the window instead.

Gibson’s final scene, when Braveheart is tortured unto death stretches out excruciatingly. It is graphic enough to make one flinch, and it just drags on hopelessly. It’s not like the scene in Nicholas and Alexandra in which the czar and family await their fate. The scene goes on so tensely that you get to thinking that maybe they won’t be murdered. No, more like Marlon Brando’s death scene in Mutiny on the Bounty. That’s a 1st class ham (emeritus) with no boundaries. Gibson shouts “Freedom!” when he should be crying “Ouch!!!”.

The biography spent the first 60 pages confusing me. It tries to clarify Wallace’s lineage, plus royal line of ascent, and that all swirls in blank spots and suppositions. And then Wallace rises from crazy ass thug to charismatic national leader. At least in that detail, he resembles Hitler. I mean, the transition is hard to grasp. Context context context.

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