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The General, Movie Review Example

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Movie Review

Buster Keaton calls to mind the words of Gloria Swanson as Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard: “We had faces then.”  The quote is both powerful and ironic as well; Keaton’s sheer physicality actually serves as a counterpoint to that face, which was and is famously described as “stone.”  Emotion was never Keaton’s skill, in an era when over-the-top expression was the norm.  Instead, he offers flickering glimpses of wonder and doubt, at best.  With Keaton, and no matter the insane scenario, it was nothing more than only more life to be survived.  This is his genius, and is what renders him far more the common man that any Chaplin tramp.  Keaton is loved because he accepts what is placed before him and barely gets by, which exposes the madness of what we all do every day.  Comedy erupts around him, rather than through him, because what he endures without question emphasizes to us all the idiocy of living in a society.

As a hero in The General, this element of Keaton is wonderfully translated into more human and touching terms.  Because of his unimpressive persona and his actual concerns, the heroic itself is redefined.  We all want to save the day and win the girl, but Keaton actually reveals that this is an ordinariness at the heart of so much that is called heroism.  He begs the question: are we heroic because we defy death only in order to gain concrete ends?  The answer is no, which is emphasized by the burlesque insanity of his actions.   Then, on a deeper level, Keaton’s Johnny Gray has more to offer.  He is virtually suicidal in his antics with the train, which emphasizes the component of sacrifice in heroism.  It does not, however, mock it.  Instead, it reveals another way of seeing heroism, in that it may rely on a willingness to give up the self because the self is essentially unimportant.   Ultimately, Buster Keaton does not play a hero as Johnny Gray, the traditional and superficial motives behind his actions notwithstanding.  He is a hero because he tosses aside the classification itself.  He reinvents it, making the audience perceive that real heroism may not depend on any material concerns, but on a nature that will risk anything because a single man’s life is unimportant if he is not prepared to discard it.

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