3 Stars – WHOLESOME
When society is so structured that some members have status by birth and others, no matter their accomplishments, can never achieve such status, the door is opened for dehumanizing prejudice. Thinking that they are superior by birth and wealth and not by character and spirit, persons often described as upper-class are vulnerable to becoming spiritually bereft and socially destructive. This truth is the basis on which Bill Paxton tells the true story of the interwoven lives of two golfing legends in “The Greatest Game Ever Played.”
Masterfully told with effects that allow us to gain access to the experiences that haunt their minds, the two golfers are Englishman Harry Vardon (James Paxton as a child and Stephen Dillane as an adult) and Francis Ouimet (Matthew Knight as a child and Shia LaBeouf as an adult). Harry’s first experiences of both the prejudice of high society and the existence of golf occurs when, as a child, his family loses their home to four ominous gentlemen who not only make his farm into a golf course, but whose angry denouncement haunts his soul throughout his life.
Francis’ first experience with golf comes from Harry Vardon. Although Francis was a caddy for the wealthy club members of Boston’s golf course across the street from his home, it was at a special appearance that he was able to not only meet the international champion Harry Vardon, but he also was given a momentary golfing lesson when he stepped up from the audience to volunteer at Vardon’s invitation.
The story moves several years into the future when the English decide to send Vardon over to the U.S. Open in Boston that year to win a victory for the empire. The snobbery of the English gentlemen who were using Vardon for this purpose is all the more offensive when it is clear that they will not let Vardon join their gentleman’s club back in England because of his father’s lowly birth, yet they want to use him to gain the title for their glory.
In a similar way, Francis is a young man who also lives on the “other side of the street” from Boston’s upper society. Although there is no legal bifurcation of society in the U.S. as in England, the social snobbery of the wealthy is still clear toward the poor. However, the message is clear. Here in America, one can rise above one’s birth and become a part of the larger world, not because of birth but because of accomplishment and by quality of character.
Standing up to Francis’ father who only wants him to accept his lowly place in society, Francis’ mother Mary (Marnie McPhail) explains that Francis has a “God-given gift” and he should be allowed to use it. This belief that all people are endowed by their Creator with inalienable rights is one of the most powerful motivators of life. It not only opens the door for all to opportunities for all to pursue their dreams, but it also brings respect for all persons regardless of wealth or class or birth.
- Have you ever experienced class-prejudice? When and in what context?
- The power of sports to allow people to rise to wealth and fame does not always assure that the person also rises in character and spirit. What do you think could be done to help us achieve success in all areas?
- The love which Arthur Ouimet (Elias Koteas) has for his son Francis is expressed by his desire to keep him from having a broken heart when he is rejected by high society. The love which Mary has for her son is expressed by helping him reach his dreams. Which communicated love to Francis? How has love been experienced from your parents?
- The achievements of Francis cause him to be called the “father of amateur golf” in America. How will your achievements be remembered and what will they lead others to call you?