The A-Z of Geek Cinema: M is for Miracle
Why do sports movies fascinate us? By “us”, I mean Americans. There is a constant stream of sports-related films in US theaters, all with the same basic arc (with some distinct variations): team is brought together (or individual is brought to team), usually with no conceivable chance of winning, yet through work and perseverance they end up winning the big game/season/championship/ice skating thingy. Yes, there’s some changed circumstances here and there, but by and large, the blueprint remains the same. The Cutting Edge, Remember The Titans, The Rookie, Major League, Little Giants, Rookie of the Year… all of them, the same at the basic level. And some of them are based in reality, though the level of “massaging” done to their reality can be called into question, obviously. But there’s one which need NO creative editing or changing of reality to be an inherently dramatic and fulfilling story, and STILL fit the ascribed blueprint above: the story of the 1980’s US Men’s Hockey team, Miracle.
No one gave the team any chance of defeating the Russian hockey machine that had dominated the world hockey scene for the past number of years, and America had hardly been seen as the bastion of ice hockey excellence ever, so the very idea that the US could even hope to compete with the USSR in the Olympics should have been a pipe dream. But Herb Brooks, the coach hired for the 1980 Olympic team, thought otherwise. Played by Kurt Russell in the film, in an acting job both subtle and fantastic in its mundanity, Brooks puts together a team of players whom his higher ups don’t approve of, trains them constantly with aerobics and punishing drills, and generally goes about his unconventional gameplan to take on the overwhelming Soviet machine. And still, no one gives them a chance. When they meet part way through the movie, the Russians destroy the US team. They’re being beaten by Norwegian and Swedish teams, by basically everyone. But Brooks has a plan, he believes in his team and his vision for them, and he sticks to it. And, well, if you know anything about the situation, you know the ultimate result:
The question is: WHY do we fall for this? What in the specific rhythms of this story so fascinates the American psyche? Is it the “underdog” aspect? The common idea is that Americans love a “come from behind” story, but that doesn’t explain the frontrunner phenomena. (How many people do you know who like the Yankees, the Lakers, the Patriots, etc, but aren’t from the respective geographic area?) Perhaps its the contradiction inherent in the country’s soul: we at the same time are one of the most powerful and important countries in the world, while simultaneously having this chip on our shoulder about having to constantly TELL everyone we’re the best in the world. We, as a country, are not content to just be great, we have to be THE BEST at everything, and have to let EVERYONE know. It’s like we have to constantly prove that the grand experiment the Founding Fathers started isn’t a disappointment. Despite our failings, our victories, our wars, our mistakes and our triumphs, we still carry on and preservere. So maybe there’s something in that story arc, in the fall and rise.
In the specifics of the film, the US hockey win came on the heels of a low point in our country’s history. The JFK assassination, Vietnam, Nixon, the Iran hostage crisis, recession, gas shortages… we were in need of a pick-me-up. And the US hockey team, that improbable group of cast-offs, unwanted, and head cases, brought together by someone considered half a madman himself, gave it to us. And you don’t have to believe in miracles to see that.
Rather than a traditional conclusion, here’s the monologue from the big game, the Miracle on Ice, that Kurt Russell knocks out of the park. I dare you to watch/listen to this, and not be inspired: