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Watch this movie with your kids

July 3, 2018

Last weekend we were camping at the beach and I was lying in bed flipping through channels (yes we do "glamping" exclusively) and I came across a movie I hadn't seen since I had kids.  My wife was flipping through her phone and I asked her if she'd ever seen Rudy (1993).  She hadn't.  We jumped in about the moment the titular character was leaving home to go to Holy Cross junior college on his quest to make it to Notre Dame.  


Within minutes my wife had put her phone down and was sucked into the story.  It's that good.  


Eventually our two kids (boy and girl) awoke and jumped into bed with us and watched as well.  They laughed at us at first, how entranced we were by the story which has no superheroes or CGI dinosaurs.  


While attending Holy Cross community college, Rudy continually submits his application to Notre Dame, his lifelong dream.  Semester after semester he is rejected.  Still Rudy persists.  He becomes frustrated, feels like quitting.  At one point he shreds his most recent rejection letter and tears the posters off a wall.  I think we've all had those moments.


But still, Rudy persists.


Then, after years of persistence, while sitting on a park bench, Rudy opens the letter and reads aloud that he has been accepted.  His eyes fill with tears and he can barely get the words out:


"Thank God."  


That's when I start getting the feels.  He's thanking God, sure.  But he's also saying, "I don't know how much longer I could endure this."  There's a desperation in his voice.  Not enough is said about Sean Astin's subtle, but pitch-perfect, performance.  


Overcoming Obstacles


If you haven't seen the film, or are unfamiliar with the true story, you might think getting accepted into Notre Dame was the end.  Oh boy, would you be wrong.  


Rudy's dream isn't just to attend Notre Dame, he wants to play football for one of the country's most competitive and prestigious football programs.


His friend Fortune (played by Charles Dutton) describes the ridiculousness of his dream.  Fortune is not wrong, Rudy's dream is physically impossible.


Rudy persists.  He tries out to be a walk on.  Through sheer will and stubbornness he makes the team--sort of.  In truth, Rudy is just part of the practice squad and is essentially a human tackling dummy.  He won't wear the uniform.  He won't be on the sidelines when the Fighting Irish take the field.  And worse of all (for Rudy), he won't get to run through the tunnel on game day.  


But still, Rudy persists.  


For two years, Rudy is battered and beaten up until his team mates beg him to quit for his own safety.  There's literally nothing in this for him.  Rudy is not genetically gifted to be a collegiate athlete.  They accuse him of showboating.  Making them all look bad with his never-give-up attitude.  


And then something happens.  Rudy asks the head coach if he can dress for one game next year.  The coach pauses and says, "I'm surprised to say this, but it's been a pleasure having you on the team.  You'll get your shot."  


Yay!  Everyone wins, right?




The coach leaves Notre Dame and now Rudy is an unknown shrimp on the practice squad with a new coach desperate to get the Fighting Irish to championship caliber.  He has no history with Rudy, no moral obligation to his predecessor's promise. 


It's over.


It's hopeless.  Rudy quits the team.  


Then the game changes.  


His friends who once criticized him for being foolish now suddenly give him harsh rebuke for quitting.  Asking him why he would come so far just to quit now at the end?  Fortune, his custodian friend, tells him his journey hasn't been a failure.  He got a degree from one of the most prestigious colleges in the country.  The seeds planted by Rudy's perseverance come to bloom.


And then...tissues.


Rudy's teammates come together to offer their spot on the 60-man roster so Rudy can dress for one game.  With the entire team behind him, the callous coach cannot refuse.




His character has created a way for him to do the impossible.


So by now you've probably figured out that Rudy dresses, runs out the tunnel, and even takes the field for some garbage time football (talk about one man's trash being another man's treasure).  But by the end, Rudy is carried off the field to the thunderous applause of everyone in the stadium, and most importantly, his father on the sidelines. 




Stop being so cynical


After I watched this, I had to read the reviews.  How could anyone not like this movie?  Some didn't. Rudy is Certified Fresh (barely) with Top Critics at 64% while the audience thunders approval at 90%.



I had to know who were the five grouches who didn't like this film?  What reason could they possibly have?  I had to know.  So I found this one, by an LA Times critic named Kenneth Turan.



Troubling questions?! What the hell is he talking about?  What could be troubling about this story which, while I'm sure plays fast and loose with the facts, is a metaphor for persistence and durability.  At the end of his review, we found that troubling questions.


"Although we're supposed to be nothing but charmed by how much it means to Rudy to play football for Notre Dame, his obsessed determination begins to look less inspirational and more like a kind of mental aberration the longer the movie goes on. And when it turns out that a dose of masochism is involved in the kind of physical punishment he ends up taking in pursuit of his grail, one wonders if Rudy in particular, and driven fans in general, aren't suffering from a peculiar psychosis"



I underlined the three key phrases I think are in this review.  Let's dissect them and unpack their intended meanings.


mental aberration

Meaning: Rudy may have a mental disorder because he so doggedly pursues and impossible dream, no matter how impossible or how many obstacles he faces.


dose of masochism

Meaning: Rudy may derive some pleasure from the repeated physical abuse he endures as a human tackling dummy.



Meaning: Rudy may have a severe mental disorder in which thought and emotions are so impaired that he's out of lost contact with reality.


Recounting Rudy's disappointments


My response to these accusations above, is that I made a list in my head of how many times Rudy hit a wall in the course of achieving his dream.  Let's review.

  1. Rudy lacks the grades and athletic ability to go to Notre Dame and play football

  2. Rudy's grades aren't good enough, he's dyslexic

  3. Rudy joins the team's spirit club to help paint helmets for Notre Dame until he's booted out for not being a student

  4. Rudy is homeless

  5. Rudy gets rejected (many times) by Notre Dame

  6. Rudy tries out for the football team and it's obvious he doesn't have the skills

  7. Rudy's coach promises he'll get to dress out with the team but then retires taking his promise with him

How does Rudy's so-called psychosis, mental aberration, and masochism serve him with these obstacles?

  1. Rudy lacks the grades and athletic ability to go to Notre Dame and play football. 
    He seeks help from a priest who recommends he go to junior college and transfer after two years. Verdict: rational.

  2. Rudy's grades aren't good enough, he's dyslexic
    He befriends a smart student and helps him meet girls in exchange for tutoring. Verdict: resourceful.

  3. Rudy joins the team's spirit club to help paint helmets for Notre Dame until he's booted out for not being a student
    He's not a student and shouldn't have pretended to be one. Although it does nothing to further his goal. Verdict: dishonest.

  4. Rudy is homeless
    Rudy gets a job as a custodian so he can sleep in the utility closet. No one is hurt.  Verdict: resourceful.

  5. Rudy gets rejected (many times) by Notre Dame
    Through single-minded focus he keeps trying until he gets in.  Verdict: persistent.

  6. Rudy tries out for the football team and it's obvious he doesn't have the skills
    He works hard and takes a lesser role on the practice team that gets him one step closer to his goal. Verdict: rational.

  7. Rudy's coach promises he'll get to dress out with the team but then retires taking his promise with him
    Disappointed, Rudy knows that his dream will not come true now.  Yet he continues with the team for the few remaining games.  Verdict: committed.  


Single-mindedness Sometimes Looks Like Psychosis 


I don't see anything in Rudy's actions that make him seem mentally aberrant.  What is on display here is that when you are single-minded on your goal, and willing to endure, sometimes unexpected things happen because...




In the end, it is the endurance and  social currency he earned from his peers through his hard work and endurance that prevailed.  


For my kids


If you're reading this, here's what I want you both to take away from Rudy.


  1. Consider your goals to see if you are willing to endure the cost before embarking

  2. Be selective, you can't do everything

  3. Nothing worth doing is easy

  4. Be realistic about your God-given limitations

  5. Seek counsel from others, but don't quit because somebody tells you you're crazy

  6. Accrue social currency through hard work, altruism, attitude

  7. Expect tons of roadblocks, obstacles, and sacrifice

  8. Endure hardships (You should not be surprised when they arrive. See #7)

  9. When you achieve, recognize (try hard to see them all) the people who helped get you there

  10. Exchange momentary happiness for the satisfaction of achivement




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