The Legend of
by Lovell Mahan-Moutaw
Every once in awhile,
with no forewarning, I will go to a cinema, get my diet coke and popcorn
and seat myself in the perfect seat (right behind the handicap area
where the railing is - no one's in front of you and you can put your
feet up), and after the now inordinately long string of commercials,
and the always-loved trailers, I will see the kind of movie that is
the definition of why I go to the movies.
This Friday I was treated to this unusual occurrence. The movie I saw
was The Legend of Bagger Vance.
I loved this movie. In fact, it knocked me out so much, it inspired
me to spend Friday evening in the dark, smoking and petting my cats
and making up pretty stories in my head (of course, my pretty stories
had more to do with Russell Crowe than Matt Damon or Will Smith or golf
or the 1930s South...but that is just a preference).
The Legend of Bagger Vance, in case you didn't know, is the
story of a famous, we can easily say legendary, young golf star from
Savannah. The stories of his prowess on the links were unbelievable
but true. This young golf hero, Rannulph Junuh (those silly Southerners
with their bizarre names) did not shirk his duty to his country, and
when the call to arms was sounded, he enlisted and was shipped overseas
to fight in World War I. He came out alive and with a Medal of Honor.
His regiment was all killed, however, every last one of them, and the
horrors he saw there made him give up his girl, give up on life and
lose his swing. Or, you could say, all of this was one and the same.
girl, Adele, was a beauty and the daughter of a wealthy man. Adele mourned
the loss of her beloved Junuh for approximately ten seconds before,
as any good Southern woman does, she decided to bury the hurt and get
on with her life.
The Great Depression hit, Adele's Daddy went so in debt (partially
because of this big golf resort he built) that he shot himself. Adele
was left with a mess of debt and no money to pay it with. She decided to
make a go of the resort by having a tournament there. She fended off her
creditors by telling them she was going to ask the biggest golfers of
the day to compete against each other at her Daddy's resort. She
approached Walter Hagen and Bobby Jones and, with a little ingenuity and
a whopping dose of Southern charm, she managed to get them both to
compete in the tourney.
The townsfolk of Savannah decided that they needed a local hero to
compete as well, so they approached Junuh. Junuh was spending his days
attempting to drink the memories away. He had no interest in doing much
more than that, and anyway, he'd lost his swing. More to the point,
he'd lost his interest in life, preferring to dwell on the past rather
than look to the future.
And then, in walks Bagger Vance.
From this point in, there is a lot of golf, a healthy dose of philosophy,
a smidgeon of romance, a couple of silent struggles, some humor, a lot
of gorgeous clothes (worn by Adele) and a whole hell of a lot
of beautiful cinematography.
I won't go in to too much detail about Bagger's philosophy: You come
in to this world with certain gifts and regardless of how you use them
(or don't use them), you leave this world with the same gifts. Sometimes
you feel that you lose the ability to use these gifts, or they slip
away from you as life beats you down, but they are still there, waiting
for you to pick up your club and focus and kick the shit out of the
ball - or, when the time comes, softly tap it into the hole.
you are one hell of a caddy." Junuh tells him after he gets cocky
and drives the ball straight in to the woods. Junuh finds the ball first
and nearly picks it up (we never know if his intention is to cheat or
quit - horrible, even so much as tragic, either way). Doubt and fear
and flashbacks assail him, and breathing heavy and sweating, Junuh struggles
with a battle we have all faced. What do I do now? It is just too hard,
easier to give up. Now that I've got myself here, how the hell do I
get out of the rough? A good shot is impossible. Easier to quit. Easier
to cheat. How do I get out of the woods? How do I get back on the fairway?
What do I do now?
Bagger, using his soft words and soft eyes and sweet smile - guides
old Junuh out of the darkness and into the light.
Pardon the cliche, it just fits.
Of course, oftentimes, Bagger would softly say the same words that
came out of Adele's mouth when she was trying to snap Junuh out of it.
And Junuh would widen his eyes in surprise that this wisdom, accepted
from Bagger, would be something he'd heard before. But then again, no
one really listened to women in those days.
As I mentioned before, this movie was shot beautifully. Other lovely
surprises include the use of Jack Lemmon. He's the first person we see
and he narrates the film. Lemmon was the perfect choice for this small
but important role. Another lovely surprise was Charlize Theron, astonishingly
gorgeous and believably plucky regardless of the fact that she is heartworn.
She was beautiful. Finally, Will Smith, understated yet powerful...his
Bagger Vance was just what Bagger Vance needed to be. Damon didn't do
so badly either, and how can you fault that shiney white smile and a
man that can wear pants that well?. His tush...his tush during a swing.
I'm not saying that this is the perfect movie. Don't ask me about
their accents, they sounded okay to me. There was the moment when Damon
was smoking a decidedly Year 2000-looking cigarette, but in the grand
scheme of the beauty of this movie, that didn't mean much.
Well, that's all I can think of now. The story, the photography, the
misty beauty of the South, the high spirits, the sweet romance, the
good looking actors, the history, the period, the great costumes, the
subtle lesson, the great narration by Lemmon, and, well, I hate to say
it, the golf. It all captured me and swept me away. I didn't want the
movie to end, but I will say that when it did, and how it did, was so
moving and lovely that my breath was taken away.
I'd follow Bagger Vance to eternity. Without question.