As movies go there are a lot of good ones and bad ones out there. Probably one of the most inspirational and underrated sports films to come out in the last 30 years is the movie Visionquest. It has become a cult classic for those into wrestling films. Actor Matthew Modine, of Full Metal Jacket fame, played the lead character named Louden Swain.
The movie is just another formulaic coming of age movie but let me tell you it’s a solid coming of age movie. Visionquest is a story about a high school wrestler who has, ” just turned eighteen and decided that he needed to do something truly meaningful in his life. He decides to drop two weight classes in order to challenge the toughest opponent, Brian Shute (Frank Jasper), a menacing 3-time state champion from nearby rival Hoover High School, who has never been defeated in his high school career.” In choosing to do this Louden puts himself at odds with his own team mates and his decision may cost them a championship.
But not so fast…There’s more to it. The movie is far more than just some gangly kid trying to out wrestle his opponent. In the movie Louden’s teacher recites “Spring and Fall To a Young Child” by the poet Gerald Manly. Manly’s melancholy poem speaks of a young child, who represents every person, on her realization that life is finite and death is inevitable. Constancy of childhood is fleeting.
Louden is surrounded by the unambitious everyman. People in his town don’t go on to do great things. His role models are simple, people like his mechanic father, and his alcoholic line cook friend. They live, work and die. These people love, support and believe in Louden and want him to pursue his dreams. They live vicariously through Louden. Louden knows he’ll move on from high-school and he states that he wants to accomplish something great before he leaves it but he is clearly unaware of what he should do. He knows that he must get out of town.
Right before his wrestling match Louden stops by to see his friend Elmo. Elmo is a working class stiff who shouldn’t miss a day of pay. Louden observes Elmo putting on a suit and tie and asks him where he thinks he’s going. Elmo states he’s going to watch a wrestling match to which Louden gets upset and states that it’s not worth losing a night’s pay for six minutes.
Elmo’s inspirational speech about six minutes is one of the great highlights in a movie that seems predictable. The speech frames the outlook of the entire movie. Six minutes can change those around you. Six minutes. 1/10th of an hour. Six minutes.
What are you going to do with that time?
Rock star of the moment John Waite sings the cheeseball song Change that makes up part of the pop soundtrack. If we can look past the sappy lyrics there are some gems in the lyrics that all of us can relate to. We always, “wish for money, we always wish for fame” but does anyone ever change in order to obtain what they want? Does anyone aspire to do more with the time they have?
19th-century anthropologists first coined “Vision Quest” to describe the rite-of-passage ceremonies of certain Native American cultures. Vision Quest, or Hanbleceya in Lakota, translates to “Crying for a Dream.”
The “quester” is crying out for a Vision or a Sacred Dream. When is the last time you cried for a dream? Those going on a Vision Quest usually don’t know what they want to accomplish in life and the quest can reveal their life’s purpose. The seeker or “quester” journeys into an isolated area, usually atop a butte or mountain, and generally without food and water for a period of days. If the quester chooses to embark on the difficult journey he must be sincere in heart or he will not find what he is seeking. None of us want to live a stale life and sometimes all of us get stuck for more than a minute or two.
Six minutes is more than enough time to take the opportunity to accept future responsibilities and follow through by doing them. Those of us who lose our way can get back on track in less than six minutes or not. We live, we struggle, we die and then we can fade into obscurity or we can attempt to inspire those around us.
Louden predictably wins at the end of the movie. Throughout the movie Louden is simply unaware that he has the opportunity to lift up those around him. By the mere fact that he took on the challenge to wrestle the more accomplished character Chute, even if Louden lost, should be inspiring enough. Six minutes of focusing a day can give others hope, inspiration and make them feel valued but we must act!
We needn’t have a Visionquest but we surely may have many regrets in life if we don’t attempt to do inspirational things. In the words of Aristotle, to avoid criticism, we should, “Do nothing, say nothing, and be nothing.” Or go against the grain and take on a challenge like Louden. Your effort may inspire some of those “sad sack” everymen who need inspiration.
“Every man’s life ends the same way. It is only the details of how he lived and how he died that distinguish one man from another.” Ernest Hemingway
Louden: You never took a night off to see me wrestle before. They’ll dock you for that.
Elmo: Hey, kid – money ain’t everything.
Louden: It’s not that big a deal, Elmo. I mean, it’s six lousy minutes on the mat, if that.
Elmo: You ever hear of Pele?
Louden: Yeah, he’s a, a soccer player.
Elmo: A very famous soccer player. [pause] I was in the room here one day… watchin’ the Mexican channel on TV. I don’t know nothin’ about Pele. I’m watchin’ what this guy can do with a ball and his feet. Next thing I know, he jumps in the air and flips into a somersault and kicks the ball in – upside down and backwards… the goddamn goalie never knew what the fuck hit him. Pele gets excited and he rips off his jersey and starts running around the stadium waving it around his head. Everybody’s screaming in Spanish. I’m here, sitting alone in my room, and I start crying. [pause] That’s right, I start crying. Because another human being, a species that I happen to belong to, could kick a ball, and lift himself, and the rest of us sad-assed human beings, up to a better place to be, if only for a minute… let me tell ya, kid – it was pretty goddamned glorious. It ain’t the six minutes… it’s what happens in that six minutes.
“Spring and Fall” (1880)
To a young child
Margaret, are you grieving
Over Goldengrove unleaving?
Leaves, like the things of man, you
With your fresh thoughts care for, can you?
Ah! as the heart grows older
It will come to such sights colder
By and by, nor spare a sigh
Though worlds of wanwood leafmeal lie;
And yet you will weep know why.
Now no matter, child, the name:
Sorrow’s springs are the same.
Nor mouth had, no nor mind, expressed
What heart heard of, ghost guessed:
It is the blight man was born for,
It is Margaret you mourn for.
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