I went to an all-boy private secondary school, and as anyone who attended such an establishment for any even insignificant period of time can testify, two things are pretty much held up as the pinnacle of male adolescence – sport, and masculine bonding (through sport). Thus, when teacher’s were trying to kill time after exams were finished or an ethics assignment was on the horizon, it made sense that they’d repeatedly reach for one movie several times a semester – Remember the Titans.
This is a movie about the first inter-racial football team in some region/“conference” in (mid-west?) ‘50s America. The football team is a microcosm of the town, which is a microcosm of broader America, and through their success as people and sportsman, teach others that black people are the same as white people but slightly more athletic and sassier. Like every fifteen-year-old male at the time, I loved this movie. It was the kind of movie that could make you cry (on the inside), and simultaneously making it acceptable to cry (on the inside) because a) it’s a movie about brotherhood, and b) everyone else in the class was similarly crying (on the inside).
It was about high school boys overcoming adversity and basically saving the planet just by playing sport. It’s the dream that every male at that school secretly had – that their physical prowess would put an end to the world’s problems and then the team would all be BFFs. I literally saw this movie over fifteen times during high school, which is more than three times a year. Furthermore, I discovered that I actually own two copies of it on DVD. This was a movie that I would forever identify with that period of my life, a shiny compact disc that would carry the glorified nostalgia of my high school days.
I watched this movie again recently and realised it was pretty shit.
I don’t know whether I’m more disappointed in myself for ever liking this crappy movie so much in the first place, or whether I’m more upset that another coat of glory has been stripped from my memories. Either way, twenty-two-year-old Matt was able to notice a few things about Remember the Titans that his younger counterpart conveniently overlooked.
The middle third of this movie (ie. where the general narrative thrust occurs) is essential a repeating cycle of the following scene:
- Token racist incident to remind the audience that the movie is about race and create conflict for the characters.
- The black coach (Denzel Washington) is a hard ass.
- The team nearly fight, but that turns into a bonding moment.
- The black coach says something inspirational, then is a hard ass again.
- Montage of the team becoming brothers and/or winning.
What we learn is that through sport – specifically, through winning sport – people can overcome deep-seeded social issues like racism. Don’t understate the importance of winning here, because essentially the acceptance of black people rests on their superior sporting ability and the success it brings the mostly-white school/town. Also, we learn that singing/chanting/exercising/banging into each other/etc are acceptable plot devices to be repeated throughout the film to show the strengthening of relationships. Who needs conversation when we can just show the team celebrating after practice – that’s what real friendships are made of.
Granted, this is a) a Disney film, b) PG-rated, c) based on a true story, and d) people die at the end, which eventually shakes up the aforementioned pattern of scenes. That in mind, my problem with this film isn’t that it’s outcome is formulaic and a deliberate tear-jerker, but that that the journey to that destination is told in short, cliché, superficial scenes. Also, I feel uncomfortable watching a younger, racist version of a girl I would later find very attractive in the show Heroes. It doesn’t feel right.
Furthermore – and I hate when extra-filmic considerations enter in and effect my perception of the film itself (see: Woody Allen), but Denzel Washington has gone up several rungs on the pompous ladder since this film’s release. He seems like the kind of guy who still likes to unnecessarily make race an issue and then call everyone latent racists. I especially like how his character in the film, while fighting for racial equality, tells a girl she should play with dolls instead of following football. Nothing screams for audience empathy more than trying to break down one barrier whilst re-enforcing another – but then this may have contributed to its popularity in all-boy high schools.
I sincerely wish I hadn’t seen this film again and I could still remember the positive emotions it elicited, but its flaws are too overwhelming to ignore. This isn’t meant to be an attack on the film – like I said, it’s a Disney movie – but an admission, or cleansing, of my own former poor taste and naivety; an indictment on the culture at all-boy private schools that allowed me to invest so much emotion in this film, to hold it up as a cultural totem of my school days. Damn you, good taste and maturity for ruining my empty nostalgia. Oh well, that same same maturity and taste will hopefully prevent this from happening again. That said, I’ll be cautiously avoiding other movies from that time in my life in an attempt to maintain some of the magic gained by vicariously living through inspiring Hollywood movies.