Let’s agree; there is something repugnant and distasteful about failure.
We do not want its energy-sapping vibe to dampen our spirits. We are afraid to let it sabotage our carefully constructed self-image. We cannot allow it to expose us to criticism and ridicule.
It is true that failure brings disappointment and a bruising of the ego.
It is a shadow that cannot be our friend. Or so we think.
But it is the fear of failure that paralyses more than the facts. It is the delusion that failure only happens to us (and to no one else) that weakens our resolve to fight. It is our resistance to the redeeming value of failure that holds us back from real personal growth.
A number of films have celebrated the idea of success and the successful and worked that into their recipe for box-office gold. These inspirational tales on screen tell us how it can be done. But there are other films that focus instead on the spectacular failures. And for those willing to see, there are equally valuable life lessons to be gleaned from these fiascoes and flops on film.
A new online film fan community – www.TopTenMM.com – ranks top 10 films across every possible category – horror to heists, comedy to courtroom drama, and everything in between. In keeping with that approach, here is a look at ten films based on true stories that did not flinch from unpacking the personal catastrophes and the crashes. Films that did not end well, but that left us with invaluable lessons in resilience, perspective, fortitude, prudence and all those insights that only failure can teach us. Corporate scandals and miscarriages of justice are excluded from this particular list because unfortunately, there are so many of these examples of moral failure that they could do with their very own lists!
10. Titanic (1997)
James Cameron’s 11-Oscar-winning epic on the sinking of the RMS Titanic (starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet) ended predictably with a sunken ship; one that was deemed unsinkable! But it also ended with personal redemption for its main character, Rose (Kate Winslet) who finds love and finds herself in the midst of tragedy.
9. 300 (2007)
Directed by Zack Snyder and based on the comic series retelling of the famed Battle of Thermopylae, 300 pits King Leonidas (Gerard Butler) and 300 Spartans against the ruthless Persian King Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro) and his army of over 300,000 soldiers. Leonidas and his brave warriors are slaughtered after a spirited fight, but their story eventually galvanizes the Greeks to take on the Persians again.
8. Spartacus (1960)
Directed by Stanley Kubrick, this film starred Kirk Douglas as Spartacus, the leader of a failed slave revolt against the Roman Empire. He ends up crucified, but his dream of justice and freedom made him a universal symbol of rebellion against oppression.
7. Glory (1989)
Matthew Broderick as Colonel Robert Gould Shaw heads the 54th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment (only the second African-American regiment in the Union Army during the American Civil War). The regiment leads the charge in the Second Battle of Fort Wagner, but suffers massive casualties with Shaw and his men dying side by side. Despite the defeat, the valour shown in that battle resulted in the United States opening the doors even more to black men for combat – a development that Lincoln saw as crucial in eventually securing victory.
6. The Mercy (2017)
Colin Firth delivers a superbly layered performance as amateur sailor Donald Crowhurst who tried but failed to complete the Sunday Times Golden Globe Race in 1968, and along the way, chose to falsify his progress. This solo voyage, where everything that could go wrong did, resonates with viewers with its realistic and unfussy portrayal of bad choices and tragic consequences.
5. The Mission (1986)
Robert De Niro and Jeremy Irons play Jesuit priests with different definitions of success. Set in a Jesuit mission in 18th-century South America, the film – based loosely on events around the Spanish–Portuguese Treaty of Madrid – ends with all of the missionaries’ work undone by the massacre of the priests and the converts by Portuguese and Spanish forces. But the final scene shows children who survived the attack venturing further into the jungle; symbolic of the light which the darkness could not wholly overcome.
4. Braveheart (1995)
Mel Gibson’s rousing adventure epic tells the story of the failed Sottish rebellion led by William Wallace against King Edward of England. Despite a raft of historical inaccuracies, the film does not leave viewers empty-handed after the cruel execution of its hero. Instead, a new and unlikely hero emerges in the form of Robert the Bruce – one who had played both sides, but who would eventually lead his country to independence.
3. United 93 (2006)
Paul Greengrass presents the harrowing events aboard United Airlines Flight 93 (hijacked by terrorists as part of the September 11 attacks of 2001). The heroic charge by passengers to the cockpit failed to stop the terrorists from crashing the plane and killing all on board, but it did prevent a bigger catastrophe had it hit its intended target.
2. The Departed (2006)
Martin Scorsese’s remake of the Hong Kong film Infernal Affairs (2002) boasts a heavyweight cast of stars Leonardo DiCaprio, Matt Damon, Jack Nicholson, Mark Wahlberg, Martin Sheen, Ray Winstone and Vera Farmiga. But this tense cops-and-gangsters tale of informants on both sides highlights just how much can be lost when you stop being true to yourself. Ultimately, key players find their covers blown, their personal lives in shambles and their days numbered.
1. Downfall (2004)
Bruno Ganz is Adolf Hitler in Oliver Hirschbiegel’s powerful retelling of the final days of the Nazi empire. Perhaps nothing else on celluloid captures with such telling impact the sickening implosion that follows when unbridled power, barbarism and delusion go hand in hand. As a testament to one colossal and unforgettable failure of humanity, this film remains untouched.
In the final analysis, what these films do is provide us a different perspective. In their willingness to tell the tale of losers, these films show us that sign posts on the road to self-destruction are often ignored. They also remind us that failure itself is never permanent; although hope is not easy. And finally, they warn us that avoiding an open and fearless reflection on failure will only stunt and hinder us on this wild and wonderful journey called life.
Mournful Foreboding of What is to Come, Francisco Goya, Etching circa 1810, Wikimedia Commons Public Domain
Guest Author Bio
Based in Sydney, Australia, Ivan is an industry consultant by profession and a die-hard movie maniac who writes for www.TopTenMM.com
Blog / Website: www.TopTenMM.com