When I was a kid I loved watching old movies. They were a great way to share with my parents and see life from their perspective. Movies give us a glimpse of the issues of the day. Sadly they never seem to change- racism, bigotry, politics, faith, greed, poverty. . .But the way they dealt with those issues is what made them unique. They made all the characters human, fallible and worth watching, regardless of their beliefs. You loved the hero but in the end understood a little more about the villain’s point of view. They made you question yours more fully, until the end result was incontrovertible. What they stand for is wrong.
So many made an impact. That’s the test of a true classic- can they speak to all ages and still hit the mark? When it comes to the basic needs all humans deal with, when done well, the answer is yes.
We can all name those that changed us. Made us want to be lawyers, doctors, judges, teachers, scientists, activists, leaders. Or those that can get us out of our doldrums and make us want to conquer our fears and move forward. Sometimes all we have to do is hear the music to feel hope or restore passion.
I was lucky, my daughter loved anything related to the theater and gladly shared the ones that affected me most. I cherished the moments we watched them together and was awed by how she absorbed and saw them through different eyes. Her perspective was incredible, challenging me to see them in entirely new ways.
Movies like Henry Fonda in 12 Angry Men, filmed without cuts to enhance its realism and authenticity. Twelve white men deliberate over the guilt or innocence of a black youth while exposing how their own beliefs, lives and interactions impact that consequential decision.
Or Gregory Peck’s famous role in To Kill a Mockingbird, where a black man was found guilty of raping a white woman because she was unwilling to admit nothing happened when he rebuffed her advances. In the end he tells his daughter the famous quote,
“You can’t know a person until you walk a mile in their shoes.”
One particular movie I loved was the 1960 release of “Inherit the Wind” with Spencer Tracy, based on the true story of the 1925 “Scopes” monkey trial. Science teacher John T. Scopes was fired for teaching Darwin’s book on evolution- the descent of man- in a small religious town. It became a nationwide issue, could science be taught in schools that ultimately encouraged children to open their minds beyond the precepts of religion?
One student returned the book and was quoted as saying on the stand-
“I was afraid of thinking because thinking can lead to bad thoughts.”
The title Inherit the Wind comes from Proverbs 11:29, which states,
“He that troubleth his own house shall inherit the wind: and the fool shall be servant to the wise in heart.”
Those who bring disorder, chaos and mayhem to their communities will ultimately inherit nothing. It’s in reference to the famous attorney Colonel Brady, brought in to defend against evolution and expresses the complete degeneration of his reputation during the court proceedings. In the beginning of the play, he was seen as a borderline prophet, even stating the Lord speaks to him and guides his actions. People blindly followed everything he had to say.
When he came into town for the trial, all of the townspeople chanted, “Gimme that old-time religion … If it’s good enough for Brady …then it’s good enough for me!” But as the trial progresses, the defense attorney Colonel Drummond was able to pierce Brady’s pristine and holy armor that fought to inhibit human thought. Brady then became so obsessed with proving himself right that he no longer fights for the cause but rather to prove his own importance and power. Throughout the case he’s exposed for what he is- a man just trying to stay in the limelight no matter the cost. In the end no one is even interested in what he has to say, for the crowd that once loved him is no longer listening.
Alongside the most memorable characters was a unique role for Gene Kelly of Dancing in the Rain fame. He played a disillusioned, caustic newspaper man who doesn’t believe in anything or anyone. He believed a journalists job was to, “afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted.”
I thought this was one of the most magnificent phrases I’d ever heard because it’s so true. When we get comfortable we need to be shaken up and look at the status quo for what it really is – good for only a few. Change is scary, but ultimately it’s the only way to stop stagnating and move forward. We may not like being pushed, we may not always like the people or circumstances that get us there. Movies afford us a look at what’s possible. What can be accomplished when we all work together and the horrifying results when we don’t.
Without the impetus to change we’d still be segregated, women and those of color without the vote and shackled to values and beliefs that came with laws to enforce them. We’d still be wishing we could see what the moon looks like up close and personal. We wouldn’t be surviving cancer at rates previously unheard of and able to see, hear and connect with our loved ones over an incredible digital array that opened up a vast and breathtaking new world. Thankfully a few brave souls spoke out and made us see a better path. And they sparked more to follow until change happened. Where would we be today without new thoughts that questioned our perceptions of reality? That made us think beyond the current constraints? It’s what a tapestry of color, beliefs, backgrounds and ideas does to broaden our minds and souls.
It isn’t easy. Forging a new path never is. But as the movie’s title makes clear,
When there’s strife within, the only thing anyone will inherit, is the wind.