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Do Your Duty and Follow Your Heart

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  • WendellWag@aol.com
    In a message a week or so ago, someone quoted somebody else as saying that the message of all American movies was either Do Your Duty or Follow Your Heart.
    Message 1 of 1 , Nov 30 4:33 AM
      In a message a week or so ago, someone quoted somebody else as saying that
      the message of all American movies was either "Do Your Duty" or "Follow Your
      Heart." I decided to figure out what proportion of great films have either
      of those messages. For a list of great films, I used the one I have on the
      D. C. Film Society website:


      This isn't a list of my personal favorites, but a list of 200 movies I've
      created by examining many lists of great or favorite films. This doesn't
      quite fit the quote, since it's not just American ones but films from
      anywhere, but it's as close as I can find.

      Anyway, I looked at each film and I think that the following ones might be
      described (at least loosely) as having "Do Your Duty" as a theme:

      _Casablanca_ (1942, U.S., dir. Michael Curtiz)
      _The Seven Samurai_ (1954, Japan, dir. Akira Kurosawa)
      _Schindler's List_ (1993, U.S., dir. Steven Spielberg)
      _To Kill a Mockingbird_ (1962, U.S., dir. Robert Mulligan)
      _Henry V_ (1944, U.K., dir. Laurence Olivier)
      _Airplane!_ (1980, U.S., dir. Jerry Zucker, Jim Abrams, David Zucker)
      _Forrest Gump_ (1994, U.S., dir. Robert Zemeckis)
      _It's a Wonderful Life_ (1946, U.S., dir. Frank Capra)
      _High Noon_ (1952, U.S., dir. Fred Zinnemann)
      _The Third Man_ (1949, U.K., dir. Carol Reed)
      _Unforgiven_ (1992, U.S., dir. Clint Eastwood)
      _The Terminator_ (1984, U.S., dir. James Cameron)
      _Mr. Smith Goes to Washington_ (1939, U.S., dir. Frank Capra)
      _Gandhi_ (1982, U.K./India, dir. Richard Attenborough)
      _The General_ (1927, U.S., dir. Buster Keaton)
      _Jaws_ (1975, U.S., dir. Steven Spielberg)
      _Lawrence of Arabia_ (1962, U.K., dir. David Lean)
      _Das Boot_ (1981, West Germany, dir. Wolfgang Petersen)
      _Alien_ (1979, U.S., dir. Ridley Scott)
      _Aliens_ (1986, U.S., dir. James Cameron)
      _The Apartment_ (1960, U.S., dir. Billy Wilder)
      _The Road Warrior_ (1981, Australia, dir. George Miller)
      _The Exorcist_ (1973, U.S., dir. William Friedkin)
      _Dirty Harry_ (1972, U.S., dir. Don Siegel)
      _All the President's Men_ (1976, U.S., dir. Alan J. Pakula)
      _On the Waterfront_ (1954, U.S., dir. Elia Kazan)
      _The Maltese Falcon_ (1941, U.S., dir. John Huston)
      _Triumph of the Will_ (1935, Germany, dir. Leni Riefenstahl)

      The following can be described as loosely having the theme "Follow Your

      _Saturday Night Fever_ (1977, U.S., dir. John Badham)
      _American Graffiti_ (1973, U.S., dir. George Lucas)
      _Close Encounters of the Third Kind_ (1977/80, U.S., dir. Steven Spielberg)
      _Singin' in the Rain_ (1952, U.S., dir. Gene Kelly, Stanley Donen)
      _Some Like It Hot_ (1959, U.S., dir. Billy Wilder)
      _The Graduate_ (1967, U.S., dir. Mike Nichols)
      _Swing Time_ (1936, U.S., dir. George Stevens)
      _Top Hat_ (1935, U.S., dir. Mark Sandrich)
      _Animal House_ (1978, U.S., dir. John Landis)
      _West Side Story_ (1961, U.S., dir. Robert Wise, Jerome Robbins)
      _The Philadelphia Story_ (1940, U.S., dir. George Cukor)
      _The Piano_ (1993, Australia/France, dir. Jane Campion)
      _Bringing Up Baby_ (1938, U.S., dir. Howard Hawks)
      _The Sound of Music_ (1965, U.S., dir. Robert Wise)
      _The Shawshank Redemption_ (1994, U.S., dir. Frank Darabont)
      _M*A*S*H_ (1970, U.S., dir. Robert Altman)
      _It Happened One Night_ (1934, U.S., dir. Frank Capra)
      _The African Queen_ (1951, U.S., dir. John Huston)
      _Doctor Zhivago_ (1965, U.S., dir. David Lean)
      _An American in Paris_ (1951, U.S., dir. Vincente Minnelli)
      _42nd Street_ (1933, U.S., dir. Lloyd Bacon)
      _Ninotchka_ (1939, U.S., dir. Ernst Lubitsch)
      _Gone with the Wind_ (1939, U.S., dir. Victor Fleming)
      _Brazil_ (1985, U.K., dir. Terry Gilliam)

      In the following movies, it seems to me that the hero or heroine is both
      following his/her heart and doing his/her duty:

      _Star Wars_ (1977, U.S., dir. George Lucas)
      _The Empire Strikes Back_ (1980, U.S., dir. Irvin Kershner)
      _Return of the Jedi_ (1983, U.S., dir. Richard Marquand)
      _Rocky_ (1976, U.S., dir. John G. Avildsen)
      _The Passion of Joan of Arc_ (1928, France, dir. Carl Theodor Dreyer)
      _Field of Dreams_ (1989, U.S., dir. Phil Alden Robinson)
      _The Right Stuff_ (1983, U.S., dir. Philip Kaufmann)
      _Beauty and the Beast_ (1991, U.S., dir. Gary Trousdale)
      _The Wizard of Oz_ (1939, U.S., dir. Victor Fleming)

      Note that I'm trying to keep strictly to the viewpoint of the film itself.
      In some cases it's only within the perverse moral universe of the movie that
      what is being done could be described as following your heart or doing your

      Then there's the following films, in which the viewpoint of the film is that
      it's a bad thing that the hero/heroine followed his/heart or did his duty.
      These are films about obsession and misplaced heroism:

      _The Godfather_ (1972, U.S., dir. Francis Ford Coppola)
      _The Godfather Part II_ (1974, U.S., dir. Francis Ford Coppola)
      _Taxi Driver_ (1976, U.S., dir. Martin Scorsese)
      _The Searchers_ (1956, U.S., dir. John Ford)
      _Apocalypse Now_ (1979, U.S., dir. Francis Ford Coppola)
      _Citizen Kane_ (1941, U.S., dir. Orson Welles)
      _Frankenstein_ (1931, U.S., dir. James Whale)
      _Bride of Frankenstein_ (1935, U.S., James Whale)
      _Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb_ (1964,
      U.K., dir. Stanley Kubrick)
      _The Silence of the Lambs_ (1991, U.S., dir. Jonathan Demme)

      Then there's a set of films in which the point is that it doesn't matter
      whether you follow your heart or do your duty. Life is fixed, and there's
      nothing you can do to change it:

      _Chinatown_ (1974, U.S., dir. Roman Polanski)
      _Out of the Past_ (1947, U.S., dir. Jacques Tourneur)
      _Easy Rider_ (1969, U.S., dir. Dennis Hopper)
      _The Usual Suspects_ (1995, U.S., dir. Bryan Singer)
      _All Quiet on the Western Front_ (1930, U.S., dir. Lewis Milestone)
      _Sunset Boulevard_ (1950, U.S., dir. Billy Wilder)

      And this still leaves over half of the films on my 200-film list. So while
      "Follow your heart" and "Do your duty" are common themes (and there's some
      films which seem to be replies to these themes), it's not nearly true that
      these themes cover all movies or even most movies.

      The more I think about it, the more I come to the conclusion that reducing
      movies to a simple theme is a pretty superficial way to look at them. It's
      like what a professor in a poetry course (that I listed to in a course on
      audiotape) said about poetry. The meaning of nearly all poems is one of a
      set of about a dozen themes, all of which are pretty obvious. That's not
      what poetry (or film) is about.

      Wendell Wagner
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