You may have noticed I quit numbering these installments – See "From Marx Brothers to Superman". I plan to remove the numbers off of the previous ones as they are about as useful as wings are for flying on a chicken – added decoration but of little practical value.
In the almost ubiquitously famous The Patriot, (forgive the refresher), the widowed Benjamin Martin raises his seven children on a farm just before the outbreak of hostilities between the British crown and her colonies. The mother is long deceased by the opening credits. Despite this, the family thrives. The children are happy, content, well educated, respectful and confident. The farm is successful and the people that work there respected and well treated.
When the war devastatingly intrudes into the family and their home, the children rise to meet the crushingly unreasonable demands that are thrust upon them.
As the home burns behind them, one brother hauled off to face summary execution, and another brother lies shot dead at their feet, Benjamin tells his 13 year old daughter, Margaret, to take her two younger siblings into the woods. That if he and the two oldest remaining boys are not back by dark she is to "head for Aunt Charlotte’s". Almost 20 miles away from any help, on foot, entrusted with two small children, with dark encroaching and terrible people about, Margaret, while desperately frightened looks trustingly into her father’s eyes and he confidently knows she will carry out what MUST be done. He takes his two sons, Samuel and Nathan, little more than children themselves, into a fire fight to save the oldest son from hanging.
Together the father and sons take on and defeat 20 British soldiers. Now obviously the Dad, veteran warrior, kills most, but the boys – about 13 and 11 – obey their father’s orders without question. They follow and obey him, even as they are horrified, even traumatized, by what they must do.
These are children who have an indomitable bond with their father. They have faith in him because he has ALWAYS been a strong leader, a good Dad, and a protector for them. And they survive against tremendous odds because of it.
Charlotte (Joely Richardson) – while brave and resourceful – when faced later in the movie with a similar confrontation – wisely —- grabs the children and runs. Obviously this is a movie but nary a movie goer questioned the credibility of Martin's feat – and notably the film was based roughly ON a combination of real life historical figures: Francis Marion, Elijah Clarke, Daniel Morgan, Andrew Pickens, and Thomas Sumter.
AND it is ALSO noteworthy that the main character of this awesome and inspirational story of bravery, patriotism, loyalty, devotion, familial bonds, and even self-recrimination to redemption is —– a man. More particularly a father.
One of my all time favorite lines in the movie is when Benjamin's oldest son, Gabriel, played by the late and wonderful Heath Ledger insists, against his father's command, on returning to his regiment despite the aforesaid devastating death of his brother, burning of their home and near execution. Gabriel challenges Benjamin: "I am not a child!" to which Benjamin roars in frustration: "You're MY child!" I admit to having used this on my own children more than once to rather good effect.
That one sentence says it all: authority, conviction and — commitment. You can retire from your firm, you might retire from being a doctor or a lawyer, we will all eventually be retired from life, and you MIGHT even – more dramatically – retire from the Marines. But you can never – EVER – retire from parenthood. You might be a good parent, a bad parent, an absent parent or even a deceased parent, but once a parent, ALWAYS a parent (apologies TO the Marines). And Benjamin knows this, understands it to his core being. And when Gabriel leaves anyway, Benjamin leaves his younger remaining children in the care and relative safety of Charlotte to go after his one wandering sheep – Gabriel. And this decision propels us through the rest of the movie.
The whole movie is fabulous. We watch, cheer during and cry over it every July 4th. But, to me, that one line sums up the motivation and character of Benjamin Martin: a brave soldier, warrior champion, leader among men, successful business man, loyal friend, patriotic American founder, legend. But his defining feature is that fact that he is —- a father.
Photo credits: e.wikipedia.org, writeandsleep.com, fanpop.com, paradrasi.gr, The-Patriot-mika-boorem-246952501, superiorpics.com, reddit.com, pinterest.com