I have a Raiders of the Lost Ark poster in my office, directly across from my desk -- there's Indy, holding his whip over one shoulder, his dreamy eyes looking out from under the brim of his fedora, daring adventure to have its best crack at him, damning danger with his steadfast resolve. There is no doubt: Indiana Jones is a bad ass. And he's a hero. But that's not why I love him.
I love him because he's afraid of snakes.
Dr. Jones teaches me that being afraid doesn't disqualify me from being the hero of my own life. Some people see fear as a weakness – but what great hero doesn’t have some weakness to overcome? Superman has Kryptonite to contend with, Mikey from the Goonies has asthma; Harry Potter was raised as a muggle and has impossibly high expectations to face…not to mention that unsightly scar. In movies, as in life, we are not inspired by the person who has never had to struggle; we are moved by those who have prevailed against all odds. By those who, like Katniss, do not wilt when the odds are not ever in their favor. Because, as all of our favorite movie characters know, we only get to experience the triumph of overcoming if there is an obstacle in our way.
I quite often think I would like to live my life along the path of least resistance, but then I think about my life as a movie, and how utterly boring a movie with no obstacles would be. Imagine if Andy Dufresne had been let out of jail after only one day, or if the Joker was an only slightly annoying birthday party clown at Bruce Wayne’s party, or if Ferris had been allowed to take the day off. Snooze-fest! And if I wouldn’t want to shell out fifteen bucks to watch someone mosey down easy street, why would I want to shell out 80 odd years living on it? Screenwriting 101 says a movie must have “stakes” because conflict is the only thing that will propel the story forward. And I believe the same is true for life – we only move forward when we are challenged, and we can only truly succeed when failure is a possible outcome.
And sometimes, as Indiana Jones shows us, we may find that the very thing we fear may be the key to our success. After all, if it had not been for all of those pesky snakes, he and Marion would never have discovered they could break through the wall of the tomb and escape. Those snakes showed them the way out…and it is very possible that if we look at our weaknesses, and ask ourselves what we can learn from them, we can turn them into strengths, breaking through the walls of the proverbial tombs in which we find ourselves trapped.
I have found myself caught up in the dark caves of fear and doubt many times in my life – whether it be my constant struggle with a fear of flying, or the more prevalent what-will-everyone-think-phobia. But as a screenwriter I know that at a certain point in every story the hero must go into a dark place to confront fear face to face in order to emerge victorious. Frodo had to climb Mount Doom, Dorothy went into the Wicked Witch’s castle, Wesley and Buttercup had to make their way through the Fire Swamp filled with Rodents of Unusual Size, and the Goonies had to descend into the tunnel under the fireplace before they could discover One Eyed Willie’s rich stuff.
That is what movies teach us – that there will be dark and scary woods to travel through in every life – but if we do not turn back, we will discover that the treasure is waiting for us on the other side.
The greatest power that fear has is to make us believe it can somehow keep us from becoming the heroes we were all meant to be. But when we remember it's okay for heroes to be afraid, not just okay, but a requirement really -- it takes all the air out of terror’s tires. Fear becomes a rusty old car on blocks -- it may have an engine, but it's not going to go anywhere. As Gary Busey might put it, fear is just an acronym for False Evidence Appearing Real. And trust me, I know; it can appear very real at times. And sometimes, like Harry Potter, we have to fight from letting it take us over body and soul (just a reminder, chocolate can be a great remedy when fighting the Dementors). But mostly, if we just keep moving forward, whether it be by leaps over tall buildings, by whip, or by Nimbus, before we know it, the things that scared us the most will just be old pieces of junk off in the distance, markers of how far we've come.
So, tell me: who is your favorite movie hero and what is his or her weakness? How has it inspired you accept your own weaknesses and overcome your own fears?