Wednesday, October 7, 2020

Movies and Life Leadership, Part 2

Last week, I shared my THREE (3) favorite movies. One reason they are my faves is because of the character lessons and life leadership strategies they contain and the personal inspiration I derive from watching (and rewatching) them. I then wrote about my favorite movie—Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves—and explained specifically why I cherish that film. 

Today's post continues this cinematic theme. My second favorite movie is: The Count of Monte Cristo, starring Jim Caviezel, Guy Pierce, Richard Harris, and Dagmara Domińczyk. It was directed by Kevin Reynolds and released in 2002. 

Reynold's version of The Count of Monte Cristo, has been criticized for its failure to live up to Alexandre Dumas's original novel of the same title and story. That's okay with me. There is a place for creative license in art, and I think Reynolds and his team did a splendid job of exercising that right. Jim Caviezel offers a compelling portrait of lead character Edmond Dantés (The Count of Monte Cristo), as does Guy Pierce as Edmond's best friend-turned sworn enemy—Fernand Mondego. Despite these outstanding portrayals, it is an aged Richard Harris—who famously played King Arthur in the 1967 film version of the Broadway hit, Camelot—who arguably steals the show in his stirring performance as the Abbé Faria. It was one of the last roles the Irish screen legend would play before his death in 2002, and arguably one of his best as well. Midway through the film, Harris plays a mentoring father-figure to Dantés, and serves as a key catalyst in helping Edmond obtain a fortune in addition to regaining his freedom, wife, son, and honor by movie's end.  

Reynold's production of The Count of Monte Cristo is deeply engaging emotionally. It allows one to suffer alongside Dantés as he is unjustly imprisoned, tortured, and left for dead in the Chateau D'if—the prison where, as the warden transparently confesses, "they send the one's they're ashamed of" (due to inmates' innocence of any real crime). Armand Dorleac (the warden) is skillfully played by Michael Wincott, who was also tapped by Reynolds to play the wicked Guy of Gisborne in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves. Few actors play "the villain" more consistently, authentically, or iconically than the gifted Wincott.  

Napoleon Bonaparte
After seven years of hell in the Chateau D'if, Edmond meets the Abbé Faria, an aged Priest and fellow prisoner. Faria is a former soldier in Napoleon Bonaparte's Grand Armée. During Faria's service to Napoleon, it became known that he had  knowledge concerning the whereabouts of the lost treasure of Sparta. It was demanded he give up the treasure's location or go to prison. The Abbé insisted he didn't know its location, and was thrown into the Chateau D'if to "refresh his memory." When Dantés meets Faria, the Abbé has already been in prison for 11 years, four of which he has spent digging a tunnel to freedom. When he finds himself in Edmond's cell, he realizes—to his comical dismay—that he has been digging in the wrong direction!

Fortunately, two can dig twice as fast as one, and the two quickly become comrades in an effort to secure each other's freedom. In return for Edmond's help, the Abbé offers something "Priceless," to which Dantés sarcastically replies: "My freedom?" Faria explains: "Freedom can be taken away... as you well know."

"I offer knowledge—everything I have learned. I will teach you: economics, mathematics, philosophy, science..." At this point, Dantés excitedly picks up a book and asks: "To read and write"?  To which Faria answers with heartfelt, pathetic compassion: "Of course."

Click HERE to watch a video of this MOVIE SCENE

Later, Dantés ups the educational ante, demanding the Abbé also teach him "The Sword," and tells him he can dig alone if he refuses. Though stricken with old age and unmotivated by the prospect, the Abbé reluctantly agrees. During his fencing training, Faria teaches Edmond one of the most important lessons that all combatants must eventually comprehend... 
"The stronger swordsman does not necessarily win.

               "It is speed!

"Speed of hand!  Speed of mind!"

Click HERE to watch a clip of this MOVIE SCENE

My favorite scene in the movie comes at the end of the Abbé Faria's life. As he and Dantés are digging a tunnel to freedom, a pile of earth and rock breaks loose and lands on top of Faria, puncturing his lungs and ending his life. Using his last gasps of breath, the Abbé confesses that he actually does know where the lost treasure of Sparts is located. Surprised, Dantés exclaims: "I thought you didn't know where the treasure was!" To which the Abbé responds: "I'm a Priest, not a Saint."

He then tells Edmond where the treasure map is located, and the following dialogue ensues:

Abbé:  Use your head; follow the clues.

Dantés:  I can't! The tunnel is blocked; I can't escape!

Abbé:  Keep digging. When you escape, use it for good; only for good.

Dantés:  No!  I will surely use it for my revenge.

Abbé:  Here now is your final lesson. Do not commit the crime for which you now pay the sentence. God said: "Vengeance is mine."

Dantés:  I don't believe in God!

Abbé:  It doesn't matter; He believes in you.

Click HERE to watch a video clip of this SCENE.   

This poignant exchange of dialogue between the Abbé (Harris) and Dantés (Caviezel) touches my heart personally because of my own belief in God, and my deep conviction that He believes in—and has always been there for—me, even when I may have not felt particularly close to Him. 

Regardless of your own beliefs (or lack thereof) about God, this exchange is meaningful because it serves ostensibly as a catalyst for inspiring Dantés with a clever plan to escape from the Chateau D'if. The plan works, and in the end, Dantés regains the faith he had lost during his many years of solitude and suffering in the dark, dank, holds of the prison.

The scene that unfolds—a scene that echoes a similar scene in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves—powerfully illustrates the human desire, need, and quest for FREEDOM.  

Click HERE to watch a video clip of Edmond Dantes gaining his FREEDOM
after escaping the Chateau D'if

Click HERE to view a similar clip of Robin Hood's return to England from the Crusades: 

One of my favorite quotes from the movie comes from Jacapo, The Count of Monte Cristo's servant who swears to stand by his side and protect him after Dantés saves his own life earlier in the movie. As Dantés struggles through his anger and thirst for revenge, Jacopo confronts Edmond and says: 

"I am still your man, Zatara (Jacopo's nickname for Edmond). I swore an oath.

I will protect you; even if it means I must protect you from yourself."

Click HERE to watch a video clip of this SCENE

Despite being his hierarchical subordinate, Jacopo demonstrates a profound sense of leadership, responsibility, and love towards Dantés—and ostensibly helps to save Edmond's life and preserve his freedom. Jacopo's courageous willingness to confront his master when he knows he is not in his right mind illustrates that a person does not need a formal position or title to influence another (including a Supervisor); he or she must merely exercise sufficient moral authority to get someone's attention and spur him or her to action.

The movie's final scene confirms the deep and profound influence that the Abbé Faria had on Edmond. It features Dantés as he revisits the Chateau D'if with his wife and son. He has since bought the prison—to end the unjust imprisonment of innocent persons like himself. As he overlooks the sea waters below the cliffs where the prison stands, he thrusts his sword into the earth and exclaims: 

"You were right, Priest. You were right. This I promise you... (glancing heavenward) and God. All that was used for vengeance... will now be used for good. So rest in peace, my friend."

Click HERE to watch a clip of this MOVIE SCENE 

I admit the ending of the movie seems a little unrealistic, and that is one of the places where the critics have their heyday. Edmond basically gets to have his cake and eat it too; he lands the riches of Monte Cristo, exacts revenge on his enemies, and gets his wife and son back. However, he does it without committing any crimes or unnecessary mayhem.

It is a perfect Hollywood ending, and regardless how realistic it may or may not be, I think there is something inherently admirable about America's cultural and cinematic insistence on happy endings. It is proof that we are ultimately an optimistic society that believes in working, striving, struggling—and if necessary—fighting and dying for positive and productive results in the unfolding of our personal and collective stories.

I hope this article intrigues YOU enough to go and watch (or rewatch) Director Kevin Reynold's take on Alexander Dumas's timeless classic: The Count of Monte Cristo.

Tune in next Wednesday to learn more about my THIRD favorite MOVIE—Risen—and the character education and life leadership lessons it teaches.  

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