One of the most beautiful testimonies to the power of literature is Peter Weir’s film Dead Poets Society (1989), starred in by much-missed actor, Robin Williams. The film is centered on a teacher that changes a group of student’s lives, through his words. In one of the most memorable scenes, he tells them, “We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race. And the human race is filled with passion. And medicine, law, business, engineering, these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love, these are what we stay alive for.” Words have sparked change, inspired action, and helped human beings understand that they are not alone – even in their darkest hour. How have words changed lives in the film? Read below to discover a few examples.
1. Words and the Power of Acceptance
In one powerful scene in the recent film Call Me By Your Name (2019, Luca Guadagnino), a broken-hearted teen, who has just lost the love of his life, is consoled by his father. The father utters words that are so unexpected and beautiful, they form part of what critics have deemed the defining scene of this Oscar-nominated film. He says, “In my place, most parents would hope the whole thing goes away, or pray that their sons land on their feet soon enough. But I am not such a parent. In your place, if there is a pain, nurse it, and if there is a flame, don’t snuff it out, don’t be brutal with it.” Love, he says, is given only once and powerful emotions – including sorrow – should not be snuffed out, but rather, embraced. The father’s words are life-changing for the son, who resolves to hold on to rather than repress love. This scene is seen by many as an example of unconditional parenting at its finest.
2. Words as Imagined Perfection
Words sometimes fill a void, live life on behalf of its writer, represent a dream that will never come true. Such is the case in David Lowery’s Ain’t Them Bodies Saints (2013) – the story of Bob, a young man who takes the fall for his girlfriend when a robbery goes wrong and receives a life sentence. Bob writes his girlfriend achingly beautiful words which in effect are merely rhetorical since he will never be able to live the life he wishes to by her side. The words are given deeper effect by having the actor who plays Bob – Casey Affleck – read emotions such as these. “I’ll write to you every day and someday you’ll see a letter from me, and you will look up, and it will be me who’s handing it to you. And then we can forget about words, and I’ll touch your face, and I’ll kiss you.” His words may be a fantasy, but they enable his girlfriend to understand the extent to which she was loved.
3. Words that Merit the Greatest Sacrifice
These days, people feel considerably more independent when it comes to sharing their message than in the past. In the age of ubiquitous connectivity, everyone’s a mailman and as noted by OnlineStamp.net, people can efficiently print their own stamps at home, bypassing postal workers completely. Only Angels Have Wings (1939) shows us how different things were in the previous millennium. Cary Grant plays a brave airmail pilot who flies over the Andes mountains, risking his life so that the soldiers and their families can enjoy the soothing words of their loved ones. When war strikes, words can be the panacea, the inspiration, and the promise of something better to come.
4. Words that Woo
Words are capable of making someone fall in love with their writer, as the legendary tale of Cyrano de Bergerac and inspired characters have shown many times in the film. One film that builds on this narrative is Il Postino: The Postman (1995), directed by Michael Radford and Massimo Troisi. Il Postino is itself a remake of the 1983 film Ardiente Paciencia by Antonio Skarmeta. It is set in the year 1950. Famed Chilean poet, Pablo Neruda, is exiled to a tiny Italian island. There, he meets a young fisherman and part-time postman, Mario, who despite being poorly educated, becomes heavily influenced by Neruda’s poetry and philosophy on life. Neruda helps Mario woo the woman of his dreams, reminding him of the immense seductive power that beautiful words can have.
The beauty of words finds its apotheosis in many films that are treasured by aficionados the world over. From those that comfort or inspire to those that express an aching or yearning that will never be soothed, words are capable of eliciting powerful emotions that audiences can sometimes repress in their day-to-day lives. For many, these words are written down or kept in their mind, to be recalled when they feel that only they can really express what one is feeling.
Positive Words Research – Words With The Power To Change Lives on Film