Peaceful Warrior

One film genre that always makes viewers feel good is when someone overcomes a handicap. Sunrise at Campobello (1960) showed how Franklin Delano Roosevelt overcame the crippling disease of polio to walk a few steps onto the podium of a Democratic convention to relaunch his political career. Ice Castles (1978) traced the fictional life of a figure skater who had an accident, became blind, but nevertheless became a figure skater again. Peaceful Warrior, the latest in the genre, is about Dan Millman (played by Colin Farrell looklike Scott Mechlowicz), a college gymnast whose leg is shattered in a motorcycle accident, whereupon his coach (played by Tim DeKay) and physician (played by Ray Wise) give up on him. However, ten months later Dan is able to compete again, and his team at UC Berkeley (which, along with UCLA, is one of several film locations) wins the national championship. The film is about how such a miraculous turnaround occurred, so a fantastic story is developed involving a service station owner (played by Nick Nolte), who coaches Dan both mentally and physically; Dan gives him the name Socrates. Indeed, the coaching begins before the accident, but continues with more intensity after Dan leaves the hospital on crutches. Much of the film shows gymnastic feats, but more is about the mental training. In one scene, Dan and Socrates are pursued by three thugs, who demand their money; Socrates not only complies but follows a script from Jesus by offering Dan’s watch and their clothes, leaving them in underwear. Socrates’s philosophy appears to be Camus’s existentialism, as he urges Dan to “take out the trash” from his mind, that is, all the hopes and fears, and instead to enjoy the moments of his life by doing what will bring him immediate exhilaration. Although Dan is a UC Berkeley student, he is unaware of existentialist philosophy, and indeed filmviewers are not didactically given a label for Socrates’s philosophy by director Victor Salva. Those more curious about the story are encouraged to read the autobiographical novel Way of the Peaceful Warrior by Dan Millman.  MH

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