Making the Grades
How could Dan Millman (Scott Mechlowicz) possibly want more? His dad has cash, school is a breeze (he gets straight As), and he only sleeps alone when he wants to. Describing himself as the Lord of the Rings -- referring to his amazing abilities on the gymnastic rings -- the only thing shaking the university student's confidence is a nightmare about shattering his leg during an athletic event.
This shocking subconscious scenario leaves him wide-awake beside the latest girl he's bedded. Heading out for a walk, he wanders into a service station where he meets an elderly man (Nick Nolte). Not only does the gas jockey show a curious interest in Dan's life, but he also has some uncanny talents -- like lightening reflexes and a mysterious amount of agility. Surmising the old codger is nothing more than another strange happening during a restless night, Dan tries to forget the encounter.
But the dream has left an indelible impression on his mind, which in turn is impacting his cocky outer attitude and affecting his performance. When alcohol no longer seems able to drown his denied internal struggles, Dan finds himself thinking again and again about the wrinkled gent.
Thus begins a series of early morning meetings with Socrates (the nickname Dan gives to his aging anonymous friend), where advice is pumped out on everything from life to gymnastics. Still, Dan isn't sure he really wants to hear the old guy's recommendations to stop having sex, quit boozing, and put a lid on his ego -- until the fateful day he drives his motorcycle into the side of another car. After being told by the doctors he will never return to his beloved sport again, Dan is finally ready to listen.
For those familiar with the real Dan Millman (a former trampoline gymnast at U.C. Berkley who is now writing and presenting motivational seminars), this movie is a highly anticipated event. For everyone else, this philosophical cinematic experience may range from inspiring to boring, and its wisdom from enlightening to questionable.
Amongst the many moments of contemplation in the film, Socrates counsels Dan to look for the answers within, rather than always searching for them without. He also tells the young man, who feels he can never be happy if he doesn't make the national Olympic team, to consider the joy of the journey, rather than just focusing on the destination.
If you take it for what it is (a mostly fictional story loosely based on some events in the real Dan Millman's life), and not try to attribute the instruction to any particular religious persuasion, this film can help teen and adult audiences recognize why it is important to find happiness in the "now" as opposed to always waiting for some future time or event.
This is the battle of the peaceful warrior, to improve and better understand one's self. It's pretty deep stuff, yet the film is compelling enough to keep viewers interested in knowing what will become of the protagonist. It's also a fine example of using a script's full potential to not only tell us Dan has changed, but also show us. Through creative cinematography and excellent pacing, we come to feel we know the main character because we have journeyed with him.
Parents should be aware of the objectionable content in this film, especially prior to Dan's turning point. Interludes with women, crass language, and offensive sexual jokes are included. There is also a scene that may unintentionally promote smoking and drinking. Yet for the most part, these ingredients are portrayed as negative behaviors that can prevent us from reaching our full potential. The positive messages may make this warrior one parents can feel peaceful about sharing with their teens.
Discussion Ideas After The Movie
Teaching ideas and topics to discuss about Peaceful Warrior.
Parents may want to discuss some of Socrates’ statements in this movie:
When the older man suggests Dan is being too influenced by other people and their expectations of him, he counsels, “Stop gathering information from outside yourself and begin gathering it from the inside. People are afraid of what’s inside—that’s the only place they’ll find what they need.” Do you believe this is true? What are the dangers of looking “outside” for answers? What might be the benefits? Are there any risks associated with relying solely on your internal wisdom? How does this advice fit with your religious beliefs?
The young man is told the journey of life is just as important as the destination. How do you feels about this piece of wisdom? How can we balance our goals with the ability to be content with who and where we are?
In one scene, Socrates takes Dan to the bar and pours both of them a drink. Socrates then lights a cigar and explains to Dan that things like smoking and alcohol are only bad when they are addictions, and we have the power to not let them become controlling elements in our lives. Do you agree? How possible do you believe it is for anyone to have complete control over such addictions?