I personally don’t like movies about superheroes that have extra-special powers because they came from a different planet, have special clothing or mutated genes. I like my heroes human, with their own set of human strengths and flaws.
Not too long ago I saw a movie entitled, Concussion*, which tells the story of Dr. Bennet Omalu, the forensic scientist who, after coming to America from Nigeria, helped identify a degenerative brain disease in American football players, starting with “Iron Mike” Webster, the All-Pro center for the Pittsburgh Steelers from 1974 to 1990, whose death at age 50 came after several years of mental disorder and malfunction. Dr. Omalu performed the autopsy on Mr. Webster, and discovered what he describes as killer proteins throughout his brain, a condition that became known as chronic traumatic encephalopathy or CTE. He (along with other doctors) published the findings in a medical journal, and then fought with the NFL to get the league to recognize the potential large scale, long-term problem it faces: humans are not built to play football. Others have picked up where Dr. Omalu left off in helping players and parents understand the potential danger from repeated contact required in football at every level the game is played. It is the story of courage to do something great when the world (or at least America’s favorite sport) is against you.
Here is one of my favorite scenes from the movie:
I came out of the movie thinking, why don’t I have the courage, like Dr. Omalu, to do something great? In my professional world, I am a lawyer working for the largest publicly-owned oil company in the world. I consider myself an expert lawyer when it comes to doing deals, but all I have ever done in my career is make a lot of money for the company. No one will look at my professional contributions and say, there goes a courageous man who did something great and noble for his fellow human beings.
But perhaps I am being too hard on myself (as we all have a tendency to do).
One of my all-time favorite movies is Back to the Future**. As you will recall, Marty McFly is the teenaged son of George McFly, who, at the beginning of the film is portrayed as a nerdy loser, pretty much afraid of everyone and everything. George is antagonized in particular by Biff Tannen, who, when in high school with George, is the typical bully, who ultimately becomes George McFly’s supervisor, and who continues to bully George every chance he gets. Here is a link to a YouTube clip from the movie:
Marty McFly goes back in time to when his mother and father are in high school. Lorraine Baines (later to become Marty’s mother) starts to fall in love with Marty, instead of his father, George, when Marty is accidentally hit by a car. Marty knows, if he doesn’t get Lorraine and George together, he will never be born. In a pivotal scene, Biff starts to force himself on Lorraine, and George somehow gets the courage to face Biff – something he has never been able to do before. He punches Biff, resulting in Lorraine instantly falling in love with George. Watch it here:
But the key is what develops afterword. Marty is finally able to get back to the future (which is really the present), but because of what George was able to do in the past due to Marty’s visit, this George McFly is totally different from the George McFly we saw at the beginning of the movie. He is hip, he is successful, and now Biff works for him. The morale of the story: In the face of a crisis, George McFly was able to stand up to his rival, overcome his fear and do the right thing – and that made all the difference.
Most of us will not have the chance to potentially change the world as Dr. Bennet Omalu and others may have done, but each of us can be like George McFly, willing to do something personally great when faced with our biggest challenges – which might just be having the courage to stand up to the local bully. Doing the “right” thing during a time of crisis, rather than blaming others or sitting around feeling sorry for ourselves, may not seem like a big deal at the time, but the ripple effect of such action may, over time, just change the world – if only our own.
Directed by: Peter Landesman
Starring: Will Smith, Alec Baldwin
Written by: Peter Landesman and Jeanne Marie Laskas
Distributed by: Village Roadshow Pictures and Columbia Pictures
**Back to the Future
Directed by: Robert Zemeckis
Written by: Robert Zemeckis and Bob Gale
Starring: Michael J. Fox, Christopher Lloyd, Lea Thompson and Crispin Glover
Distributed by: Universal