“A hero kills people, people that wish him harm. A hero is part human and part supernatural. A hero is born out of a childhood trauma, or out of a disaster, that must be avenged… We all have a hero in our heart.”
It took way too long for me to get with this, but now, finally, on with Part Two!
6. Julia Child – Julie & Julia
Far too often, the way gender is handled in movies sucks. Thus, the next two characters deal directly with my frustration surrounding the fact that women and men in film are mostly flat personalities who fit into various cultural generalizations. The characterizations concerning women are far uglier than those concerning men, but they exist on both sides all the same.
When a woman is the main character in a film, especially a film targeted toward the mainstream audience, her entire identity is derived from a man who is the object of her affection. Much of the time, the moral of a given story actually seems to be that when a woman gives up her ambition and desire to create something of her world in favor of finding the love of Prince Charming all her dreams come true and she lives happily ever after. It’s nauseating!
It is a trend that has certainly been changing slowly in recent years, and no character displayed this to me more clearly than the cinematic depiction of Julia Child. Since the woman who inspired the character, as well as the woman doing the acting, are both so remarkable, it is no surprise that it should result in such a delightful heroine to watch on screen.
Julia Child, both in life and in film, was a strong, driven woman of incredible intelligence and skill. Her passion lit up the lives of all who knew her, and she loved those around her well and was much loved in return. She pursued her love of eating and french cooking to the point that she changed the way America views cooking. She also did all of this without sacrificing an ounce of charm. We too often see women depicted as masculine in film as a prerequisite for being depicted as capable or strong, and yet Julia Child was still feminine in the most beautiful meaning of the word femininity.
Satisfying resistance of gender rules aside, Julia Child’s life inspires me to pursue my passion and creativity, to love those around me intensely, and to attempt to create a more beautiful world. If that’s not a hero, I’m not sure what is.
7. Peter Klaven – I Love You, Man
The flip side of the gender coin most often means that men need to be crass, rude, stupid, tough, strong, confident, and like hanging out with the guys but not hanging out with their wife. Otherwise, they might still be men, but they have to be gay men. Like Kevin Kline’s In & Out, we see a character who maintains that he is straight even though he loves literature and sweaters and dancing, only to find out in the end that he was, in fact, gay all along.
But in real life gay men can be tough and strong, and straight men can be awkward, dorky guys who would just as rather enjoy a quiet night watching HBO with their wife instead of going out drinking with the guys (although they have fun doing that too). In I Love You, Man there are two brothers, one gay, the other straight. In every other movie their characteristics would be reversed. The gruff, fairly macho, dude’s dude is gay. The awkward guy who loves sweaters, colors, and putting out a spread for a party was straight.
As a straight guy who loves sweaters, multicolored socks that match those sweaters, who loves putting colors together and who is certainly awkward and anxious, it was gratifying to see a man celebrated for being who he was. His new, more masculine best friend didn’t help him learn how to be an asshole, he taught him how to be confident being himself. It’s like an oasis in a desert of douche bags celebrated on film.
In life, Paul Rudd is my hero, and in 2009, Peter Klaven is the specific manifestation of that.
8. Wikus Van De Merwe – District 9
Throughout most of District 9, Wikus Van De Merwe is a coward. Not in the over-the-top movie way we see most times. Instead, Wikus was a coward in the way that most of us are cowards. He, for the most part, is a good but misled man, but when he starts to learn that reality is different than he thought it was, he struggles to hold on to his illusions. Had it not been for the fact that he was progressively turning into an alien throughout the film, he probably would have succeeded, at least temporarily, in unlearning the things he didn’t want to know.
In the end, he didn’t even find courage because he reached deep down inside and found what he was made of, but only after being continually confronted with the relentless courage and undeserved loyalty of Christopher, one of the aliens. Finally, when Christopher’s life is threatened yet again, Wikus finally stands up and fights to defend him.
There is something heroic, or perhaps everything heroic, about coming to grips with our own weaknesses and cowardice, and then allowing the example of someone stronger and more noble than us to take root in our hearts and make us better people. For most of us, it is the only chance we’ve got.
8. Carl Frederickson and Russell – Up
Carl Frederickson and Russell are awesome. In the more obvious sense, they are fantastic in that they enjoy a delightful, touching adventure that brings them together as family. In the less obvious, and even more beautiful sense, they are great as representations of two forgotten and discarded groups in society. One, a child brokenhearted by the divorce of his parents, left alone by a overly busy single mom and a father who left him behind; the other, an old man brokenhearted by the death of his beloved wife, and discarded by everyone.
As far as Russell is concerned, I lived his childhood in a lot of ways, so I’ll leave what I wrote about Max in Part 1 as what I have to say about that. However, for Carl, he is an important character. In our country, old people get the shit end of the stick 99 times out of 100. Banished to nursing homes and assisted living facilities, we prefer to keep them out of sight and out of mind outside of short visits from time to time. Seen as a drain on society because they are no longer as productive, in the American (and terrifyingly enough, the Nazi) sense of the word, as they once were.
Yet, and this may surprise some of you, old people are human beings! They have hopes and dreams, regrets and sorrows, and often they have lived lives of adventure and have stories to tell. They are not perfect and wise as they are characterized in most movies. They are people, and they should be loved and celebrated as all of us should.
The world has changed so much in the last 60, 70, 80 years. It’s unrecognizable. The elderly among us have seen this change with their own eyes, and yet we treat their stories as if they are boring and annoying. The elderly are awesome, especially crotchety old people like Carl Frederickson. Up should remind us that the aged are not all grandparents, they are not all meek, wise, 2-dimensional knitters and shuffle board players waiting to die. They can be full of life and excited for the adventure of tomorrow, they can be action heroes, they can be angry and afraid, and they need community the same way every human being does… because… you know… they are human beings. God Bless Carl Frederickson.
10. Flint Lockwood – Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs
I have no noble reason for including Flint Lockwood on this list. He is an admirable character, but in a fairly common way as far as film goes. I just think he is hilarious and awesome. I saw this movie after 2009 ended, but since it came out in 2009 it still counts. I don’t usually expect much out of non-Pixar computer-animated movies, but Cloudy… was random and wonderful. Basically, when you have Mr. T and Neil Patrick Harris in the same movie, everyone wins, and this was no exception.
The movie was absurd beauty, and at the center of it all was Flint Lockwood and his pal Steve. Thus, as the list-maker, I make Flint Lockwood hero #10! Here is a picture of the mustache obsessed Steve with Flint’s dad Tim Lockwood, somewhat unrelated, but still great.