After blogging about the importance of couples making time to date, my husband and I realized it was time we arrange for childcare and plan a couple nights out on the town. Coincidentally, we happened to see "The King's Speech" on date number one and "The Figher" on date number two. I was immediately struck by their similarities.
On the surface, "The King's Speech" and "The Fighter" could not be two more different films. To start with the most obvious contrast: One film is set within the protected, gilded walls of the British monarchy while the other focuses on the dangerous and decrepit corners of a boxing ring.
And yet, psychologically speaking, they are practically the same film.
Both tell a powerful "true" story of a gifted, soulful, earnest younger brother who is paralyzed by the longstanding sibling role assigned to him by his family. Both depict a lead character who has lived his entire childhood and young adult life in the shadow of his seemingly larger-than-life big brother.
In the eyes of the viewer, however, big brothers King Edward VIII and Dicky are both lazy, unambitious and trapped in their own assigned sibling roles. They are flawed by an offensive sense of entitlement and exceptional immaturity.
Meanwhile, both of the baby brothers have no professional success to call their own in spite of their innate talents and their desire to grow beyond their sibling roles. Both of these younger brothers become heroes. And their paths to greatness are remarkably similar. To realize their potential, they must both make painful realizations about their childhood and must use their insights to carve out a new way of relating to their families. Both heroes are successful in this transformation in part because they manage to find lasting, enduring and inspirational love.
The regal King George VI stutters terribly and is therefore unable to speak in public, even as the dawn of the radio age and the emergence of an international crisis demand an increasingly public presence from Britain's royal family. His older brother, King Edward VIII, speaks freely (and carelessly), parties constantly and tosses his public duties aside despite the fact that his country is on the brink of war. With the help of a talented speech therapist -- whose approach is closer to that of a psychotherapist -- and his magnificent wife, King George VI fights poignantly to step out of his brother's shadow, face his demons and find his voice.
Tracing the same basic story arc against a completely different backdrop, the quintessentially un-regal Micky is forced to confront his domineering manager/mother, who insists that he cannot train as a fighter without his washed-up brother Dicky as his coach. His mother is almost a caricature of the controlling nobody who can't let go. She worships Dicky as the former pride of their hometown. She lives in denial of Dicky's consuming crack addiction. She and her loser daughters obsess over Dicky's one crowning accomplishment -- a fluke fight during which he may, or may not, have knocked down Sugar Ray Leonard. Micky's family exploits and mismanages him until he meets and falls in love with Charlene. Charlene forces Micky to see his family for who they are (and who they aren't), and the film follows his inspiring struggle to break away from his family (and then come back to them on his own terms) as he finally realizes his own unstoppable talent.
Both films deserve their critical acclaim, and both have been successful with audiences as well. Perhaps the collective popularity of these movies relates more to their similarities than their differences. In such tough economic, politically divided times, perhaps we are looking for heroes like King George VI and Micky who are more real, more flawed and more psychologically complex. As we struggle to come to terms with the great divides in our politics and growing threats of violence around the world, perhaps we are drawn to stories in which success only comes when one is willing to first endure multiple humiliating failures.
"The King's Speech" and "The Fighter" show us that if we are psychologically stuck, getting unstuck is no small feat. Compared to the typical Hollywood hero, their real life success stories may be more relevant today -- more timely, more inspiring, and much more interesting.
Elisabeth Joy LaMotte is author of "Overcoming Your Parents' Divorce: 5 Steps to a Happy Relationship." Visit www.elisabethlamotte.com to learn more.
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