I love this time of year (Oscar Season) because it allows me to talk about so many great films. Films that challenge and inspire. Films about courage and triumph. Films about loss and heartache. Films of passion.
Discussing great films to me is like having a great dance partner. They just make everything look so easy and effortless.
I've already made it clear that my favourite film of last year was The Social Network. But there were a handful of terrific pictures last year. I've been pouring on the praise for The Social Network for months. I think it's time to share the love. I'm going to share some love this time with King George VI.
I think a big reason The King's Speech is resonating with Academy voters more than The Social Network is the emotion factor. The King's Speech is probably being received more as a humanistic drama while The Social Network (and perhaps Inception) is perceived as a soulless intellectual thriller.
Fair enough. I can see that. I have my own reasons for preferring The Social Network over The King's Speech; none of which make me soulless. Intellectual though? Sure, I'll take that!
But seriously, emotion always wins out over technicality with the Academy.
One thing I truly admire about The King's Speech is its theme about the power of the spoken word, despite the difficulty to express it. I can relate to this. Though I don't have a stammer like King George (Bertie), I've always had trouble expressing my feelings, thoughts, or emotions verbally. It's no coincidence that I've found a calling in writing. Those who can't speak, write.
Fortunately for me, the written word gives me an outlet to express myself. But for Bertie, this is not an option. His profession requires him to speak and is forced to overcome his obstacle.
What does the King of Britain have in common with a shy guy from Winnipeg? The obstacle of speech lies not in something physical but rather mental. We both just think too much, creating anxiety that shatters our confidence and paralyzes us from realizing our potential.
The best example of this in The King's Speech is the scene where Lionel (Geoffry Rush) puts headphones on Bertie (Colin Firth) and gets him to read a passage from Hamlet. He cannot hear what he's saying but he does not stutter for precisely that reason. By not being able to hear, his self awareness is eliminated, reducing his performance anxiety, allowing him to relax and just read properly uninterrupted. Bertie doesn't realize it then, but the viewer knows by that scene that his stammer amplifies when the pressure is on.
This is not a revolutionary idea. Many people suffer from performance anxiety of some sort that manifest itself in many different ways.
I couldn't help but think of another Oscar winning film about a young man yearning for a way to express himself but freezes up every time he's in a public forum. But instead of a King from Britain in 1939, it was an angry white rapper from Detroit in 1995. Yes, I'm about to compare King George VI to Eminem in 8 Mile (2002).
Both films are about people trying to find their voice and the opportunities that open up when they find them. For King George, it's providing guidance, safety and hope as he leads his people into a war with Germany. For Rabbit (Eminem), it provides him with respect from his peers and a way out of poverty.
8 Mile even one-ups The King's Speech by not only showing the power of speech, but also the power of argument, as Eminem beats The Free World in a Rap Battle and gains respect by using words instead of violence.
Bertie has a similar epiphany witnessing Adolf Hitler rally people on television. He then realizes he has no choice but to force himself to take a stand. To paraphrase Eminem, Bertie has only got one shot and cannot miss his chance to blow; this opportunity comes once in a lifetime, yo. He's got to lose himself!
By the end of both films we learn that the strongest tool someone can have is a voice. And the most powerful weapons are words. But the biggest triumph lies in the ability to express them.