The last time I watched Braveheart was probably right before I entered college, give or take. I loved the movie. Yes, it was very violent, but I thought the main theme was really well done, and I watched the movie multiple times. That said, it’s a three hour commitment, and it’s not exactly a movie that leaves you with a spring in your step once you’ve watched it, so it’s not that surprising that I haven’t watched it since. Denisa had never seen it, though, so I thought it warranted a rewatch. The experience was much different than I expected–enough that I felt it warranted a blog post.
It’s still a good movie. The themes I remembered are all still there, and it’s still moving. A few things were very, very changed for me, however.
First, the violence is still bloody, but compared to what’s happening in epic medieval-style war movies today, it’s much tamer. Compare it to the scenes in All Quiet on the Western Front, for example, and you’d think one was PG-13 and the other was a hard R, if that makes sense. The biggest difference was the time the film would give to the actual violent scenes. It would give you a glimpse, and the movies these days just show the whole thing and dwell on it. This is not a criticism of Braveheart. If anything, it’s a criticism of modern movies. You just don’t need that much violence, plain and simple.
For example, in my head, the torture scene at the end of Braveheart was extremely graphic. I remembered them actually showing him getting disemboweled. In reality, they show the weapon they use, and they show it going up to his stomach, and then they cut to his face and show his reaction to what’s happening. There’s no doubt what’s going on, and it’s still brutal, but you never see the innards, so to speak. You don’t need to.
Another change was in me. The last time I watched the movie, I had absolutely no clue the prince was gay. It completely sailed over my head, despite it being heavy-handed to the point of being insulting and stereotypical as I watched it now. This isn’t a change in the movie. It’s a change in me. I was surprised just how sheltered I was back then.
Watching the film, its influence on later movies was clear. I found much of the cinematography and design echoed by the Lord of the Rings movies, for example. Right down to the armor and the fight scenes and how battles played out. You can also see it in Game of Thrones. True, some of that is just because the movies are presenting the same sort of warfare, but there’s different ways of presenting those scenes, and Braveheart felt like it paved the way for later movies, if that makes sense.
The biggest change, however, was in the way the themes no longer felt as heart-warming as they used to. The idea of a rebel willing to do anything to secure freedom for himself and his people. How the quest for freedom overrides pretty much anything else, and how it justifies all manner of atrocities. Frankly, much of that rhetoric has been usurped by the far right these days. So much of what was being said by Wallace in the film felt like it could be said by any of the people who stormed the capitol. Wallace felt that he was wholly in the right, and so he’s justified in doing whatever he needs to do in order to make sure his goals are achieved. I’m not saying he’s not justified within the bounds of the film, but it’s important to realize how easy it is to use that justification as a weapon. The Crusaders were convinced God was on their side as they invaded a country and killed people left and right. The same mindset happens today all the time.
It’s tricky, because there really have been regimes in history where the right thing to do was to fight against them. But that same mindset can be used by anyone to justify fighting back against anything. Just convince your followers that something is wholly evil, and then they’ll go on to do whatever they need to do to try and stop that evil from happening. I don’t have the answer for how to deal with it, but I do know that thinking about it definitely impacted my Braveheart experience. Go figure.
In the end, it’s still a great movie. But I was very much surprised at how much my personal experience of that movie had changed, in large part due to the experiences I’ve had since I last watched it.
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