Aug 30, 2012

Little Hand Says It's Time to Rock and Roll: How Point Break Can Help Us Navigate Today's Political Discourse

 Though it's true that political discourse in our country has achieved new levels of vitriolic mudslinging, name calling, flimflamming, and finger pointing, the fact remains that come November, Americans will have to make a choice as to who will lead the Free World.  But who will do the most for our country? Who will truly step up to the plate and get the U.S. of A. back on track? I for one have given up on looking for answers in the hollow words of politicians--words that have been purchased by billionaires gunning for a tax break.  In order to truly understand what is best for our future, one must look to the past--specifically to the year 1991.  It was in this year that Kathryn Bigelow's cinematic masterpiece Point Break was released.  Though Bigelow herself may not have known just how lost we would become as a country, I maintain that screenwriters Rick King and W. Peter Iliff were possessed of a preternatural understanding of American politics.  Through their deep comprehension of the political sciences, they were able to accurately predict two startling realities that we would face today.  First, the Republican and Democratic parties as we know them are nothing more than facades to conceal the interests of the obscenely wealthy.  Second, in order to distract the general public from this reality, both parties would work to strain bipartisan relationships among their constituencies to the breaking point--a point break, if you will.

Knowing that their discovery was too important to leave to the bureaucratic red tape of Washington D.C., they turned to Hollywood to get their message to the public.  Choosing to couch their scathing indictment of the American political climate in the 21st century within an action film that would be mass marketed to America's poor and working class, Point Break was released.  Not since Picasso's Guernica has a piece of art so elegantly condemned the greed and corruption that runs rampant among those with the most power.

The opening of this rabbit hole is revealed during the opening credits of the film.  Two scenes are juxtaposed together--one depicting the film's protagonist John "Johnny" Utah (Keanu Reeves) on the brink of completing his FBI training, the other depicting the film's antagonist known only as Bodhi (Patrick Swayze) on the brink of robbing yet another bank.  Through the interaction between these two characters, King and Iliff illustrate the relationship between the common man and the government.  In Point Break, today's government is represented by Bodhi and his three accomplices who operate under the nom de crime "The Ex-Presidents."   Though the exploration of this theme lacks the subtlety that King and Iliff demonstrated in 1990's Prayer of the Rollerboys, its relevance is in no way diminished.

Why Be A Servant to the Law When You Can Be Its Master?
An in-depth analysis of the presidents that King and Iliff decided to include is very telling: Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, Jimmy Carter, and Ronald Reagan (supposedly, the original script included a fifth bank robber to be disguised as Gerald Ford, but due to budget restraints elsewhere, he was not included in the film).  These presidents represent the period of time after the assassination of John F. Kennedy, which marked a gradual decline into the political situation that we now see before us.  When their true characters are revealed, the audience learns that the Ex-Presidents are actually thrill-seeking adrenaline junkies who rob banks in order to finance their addiction.  They are perfect archetypal representations of the wealthy who will never be truly satisfied, no matter how much money and power they amass.  The decision to name their leader Bodhi (short for Bodhisattva, one who has obtained enlightenment according to Buddhist theology) alludes to the extremely rich who claim that their vast wealth is merely a result of their own enlightenment.

I Was Taking Shrapnel in Khe Sanh When You Were Crapping In Your Hands and Rubbing It On Your Face
Enter Special Agent John Utah.  Obviously, the choice to name the protagonist after a state in the Union bears some significance.  Some theorists argue that the use of a traditionally conservative state like Utah hints at a conservative revivalist movement such as the Tea Party.  However, I tend to side with the school of thought that believes that King and Iliff wanted to use one of the fifty states as the name for their protagonist, and Johnny Utah was the most convincing for an action hero.

Utah's youth and enthusiasm have earned him a unique perspective on the bank robbery scene in Los Angeles.  He is assigned to an aging Vietnam veteran named Angelo Pappas (Gary Busey), and together they develop a plan to stop the Ex-Presidents--despite being ridiculed by everyone else in their department.  Utah and Pappas represent the symbiotic relationship that the younger generation needs to have with the older generation in order to effectively end the corruption of those who feel they are above the law.  Pappas, who has grown disillusioned with the state of his department, needs Utah to reignite his desire to confront and change the problems before him.  In exchange, Utah gains the wisdom and experience that Pappas, a remnant of the Kennedy era, will provide.

You're Saying the FBI Is Going to Pay Me to Learn to Surf?
In order to find and eliminate the Ex-Presidents, Special Agent Utah must infiltrate their tightly-knit social group and bring them down from within.  His journey into the world of surfing and extreme sports is a modern visualization of Frank Capra's 1939 classic Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.  In his efforts to expose the Ex-Presidents, Utah becomes so entrenched in their world that he can't escape unscathed.  When Bodhi discovers Utah's actual plans, he forces him to accompany his gang on a bank robbery, thus effectively turning Utah into that which he is trying to destroy.  Only by sacrificing everything is Utah able to finally catch Bodhi, which brings us to the final scene.  Utah has Bodhi cornered on a beach in Australia.  Bodhi just wants to ride the ultimate wave to his inevitable death, whereas Utah wants to bring Bodhi in to face justice.  Utah's decision to let Bodhi catch his final wave indicates that though Utah has endured many scars on his quest to bring about a change, he has not sacrificed his soul.

Vaya Con Dios
In presenting this message for analysis, King and Iliff have reached out to our generation from the past.  They witnessed the beginning of the end, and created Point Break in an effort to guide us through our current political crisis.  It is important that we not forget that politicians are merely adrenaline junkies operating under the guise of enlightened leaders, and if just one state can pull itself together by encouraging the younger generation to cooperate with the older generation, there might be a chance to make some kind of difference.  It's not going to come cheaply or easily.  We may lose face along the way.  But if you want the ultimate, you have to be willing to pay the ultimate price. 


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