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The Legend of Bagger Vance is a 2000 film directed by Robert Redford and starring Will Smith, Matt Damon and Charlize Theron. It was based on the same-titled 1995 book by Steven Pressfield and takes place in the US state of Georgiamarker in 1931.

This was Jack Lemmon's final film before his death in 2001.

On release, the film, was attacked by several African American commentators for using the "magic negro" as a plot device. The film has its flaws, some of which might contribute to it being characterized as racially insensitive.

Plot

Promising golfer Rannulph Junuh (Matt Damon) is Savannah, Georgiamarker's favorite son, and Adele Invergordon (Charlize Theron) is his beautiful girlfriend from a rich family. But after fighting in World War I traumatizes Junuh, he returns to Georgia and lives a shadowy life as a drunk outcast outside of Savannah. Years later (circa 1930, as Bobby Jones retired from golf at age 28—during the Great Depression), Adele is trying to recover her family's lost fortune by holding a four round, two day exhibition match between Bobby Jones (Joel Gretsch) and Walter Hagen (Bruce McGill), the best golfers of the era, with a grand prize of $10,000. She's holding it at the golf resort that her father finished building as the depression struck. However, she needs a local participant to generate local interest, so she asks her estranged love Junuh to play.

After a contentious meeting with Adele earlier that evening, Junuh is approached by a mysterious traveler carrying a suitcase who appears out of the darkness whilst Junuh is trying to hit golf balls into the dark void of night. The man identifies himself as Bagger Vance (Will Smith), and says he will be Junuh's caddy. He then helps Junuh to come to grips with his personal demons and helps him to play golf again. When the match starts, Jones and Hagen each play well in their distinctive ways, but Junuh plays poorly and is far behind after the first round. But with Bagger caddying for him and giving Junuh wise advice, Junuh rediscovers his game in the second round and makes up some ground. In the third round he plays well enough to close the gap between Jones and Hagen and himself. During this time, Junuh and Adele become reacquainted and find their romance rekindling.

Late in the final round, Junuh disregards Bagger's advice at a crucial point and after that plays poorly, until he hits into a forest. In the forest, he has a flashback to his World War I trauma, but Bagger's words help him to put the trauma behind him and focus on golf. Then, after pulling back to a tie with Jones & Hagen, Junuh has a chance to win on the final hole, but calls a penalty on himself when his ball moves after Junuh tries to remove a loose impediment. (Bobby Jones actually did this during the 1925 U.S. Open and would later go on to lose by one stroke.). Seeing from this that Junuh has grown and matured, Bagger decides Junuh doesn't need him anymore, and leaves him as mysteriously as he met him, while the 18th hole is unfinished. Though losing a chance to win because of the penalty, Junuh sinks an improbable putt to tie Jones and Hagen, the match ends in a gentlemanly tie, the three golfers shake hands with all of Savannah cheering, and Junuh and Adele get back together.

During the match, Bagger Vance has a young assistant, Hardy Greaves (J. Michael Moncrief), who caddies for Junuh when Bagger leaves. The beginning and end of the film features Hardy Greaves as an old man (Jack Lemmon) playing golf in the present day, and the movie ends with an old Hardy meeting a never-aging Bagger Vance on the golf course for the first time since Junuh's match. Vance motions. Greaves follows.

Cast

Actor Role
Will Smith Bagger Vance
Matt Damon Rannulph Junuh
Charlize Theron Adele Invergordon
Bruce McGill Walter Hagen
Joel Gretsch Bobby Jones
J. Michael Moncrief Hardy Greaves
Lane Smith Grantland Rice
Jack Lemmon (uncredited) Old Hardy Greaves


Differences between the book and the movie

The movie differs significantly from the book in places.
Book Film
Context The story is told from the viewpoint of Hardy, a medical doctor in his old age, trying to understand why his best student Michael (also an accomplished golfer) wants to give up medicine. He meets with Michael to discuss his decision, and relates to him the story of how he met Bagger Vance when he was younger, and what he learned from him. The story is told in flashback from the viewpoint of Hardy, who suffers from a heart attack whilst playing golf one morning.
Ending Old Hardy takes Michael to meet with Ranulph's granddaughter, Irene, and her children, and they return to the golf course (which was destroyed in a storm on the night of the game) in the middle of the night to see the scene of the story Hardy has been telling Michael and the children. On the way they meet Bagger and the final ends of the tale are all tied up. Old Hardy picks himself up off the golf course, and sees the never-aging Bagger Vance waving to him in the distance, beckoning to join him. They walk off into the sunset.
Bagger Vance This character is a god of the earth whom Ranulph met after he was wounded in WWI, and has traveled with and acted as a spiritual guide ever since. He is depicted as being very powerful and exuding great presence. Bagger Vance (the sanskrit term 'Bhagavan') means The Supreme Being or Krishna as spoken about in the Bhagavad Gita. Randolph Junnah or R. Juna (Arjuna) is the prince who seeks the counsel of Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita

A 'guardian angel' figure who appears at the most-needed moment in Junuh's life, then disappears after his work is achieved. He is gentle.
The Field This is described as being 'true reality', vividly flowing with moving color, with everything in the universe intimately linked - the way the birds wheel in the sky, the way every blade of grass contributes to the One. Young Hardy experiences the Field only when in physical contact with Bagger. Much less intense, this is depicted as being a part of nature.
The Authentic Swing A part of the Field, the Authentic Swing seeks out the swinger just as hard as they are seeking it. In the final seconds before the golfer swings, the Authentic Swing seeks out the golfer from the million possible shots they could take, and if the golfer and the Swing find each other at the moment the club contacts with the ball, the Authentic Swing becomes reality. It can only be achieved if the golfer loses all sense of self in the Field at that moment. The Swing is a perfect shot the golfer can achieve if they are at peace and in the moment.
Junuh's life after the match The book has an underlying theme of seizing the moment ("acting now"), which leads Ranulph to become an activist during the Second World War. Ranulph returns to Germany to visit the families of the people he killed during the First World War, and has a child with one of the soldier's sisters. He teaches her to golf and she becomes accomplished in her own right. (Her daughter Irene joins Hardy and Michael at the old golf course where they are all joined by Bagger Vance.) Junuh is seen in a photograph, happy and back with Adele.


Reaction & controversies

The film gained some positive reviews, but the film was a box office bomb, taking only $38,000,000 in ticket sales, a large loss on a budget of $60,000,000. The movie currently scores 42% overall approval and 39% from the top critics on the review aggregate site Rotten Tomatoes.

The film was attacked by various African American commentators who decried the story for its use of the "magic negro". A concept based on a white man whose moral and emotional growth is made possible by the appearance of an almost angelic mystical black man. Filmmaker Spike Lee said after seeing Bagger Vance, that the idea was now the "Super-Duper Magical Negro." He said that it was just a reincarnation of "the same old" stereotype or caricature of African Americans as the "noble savage" or the "happy slave" Time called it one of the most "embarrassing" films of recent years for its treatment of African Americans and the use of the Magical African-American Friend (MAAF).

Analogy to Indian Bhagavad Gita

The film has many parallels to the Indian spiritual text Bhagavad Gita in which the ancient Indian prince and warrior Arjuna is instructed on how to conduct his life by the Lord Krishna. In fact, the name "Junuh" in the film derives directly from "Arjuna" in the Gita, as "Bagger Vance" is a variation on the Indian word for God (which Lord Krishna was considered), "Bhagavan".

The idea of discovering one's Soul and True Self as Bagger suggests Junuh do is an essential teachings of the Gita, and the Field is directly related to the ultimate Reality that one connects to when one discovers one's True Self. I.e. through inner silence (as Junuh is instructed) one finds one's True Self, which enables one to be One with the Field, which allows ultimate success and right action (the "One Authentic Swing") in life.

It was author Steven Pressfield’s intention to make the correlation between his book and the Gita as indicated from this summary of the book at Amazon.com: “In 1995, Steven Pressfield decided to introduce the Bhagavad-Gita to a contemporary audience, so he restructured the Gita in terms of a golf novel, The Legend of Bagger Vance.” Explicit parallels between Pressfield's novel and the Bhagavad Gita are brought out in a book called Gita on the Green: The Mystical Tradition Behind Bagger Vance (Continuum, 2000), written by Hinduism scholar Steven Rosen with a foreword by Pressfield.

A recent, in-depth psychological analysis of the film, including the above psycho-spiritual correlations can be found here. [114025]

Soundtrack

The now out-of-print soundtrack to The Legend of Bagger Vance was released on 7 November 2000. It was mostly written by Rachel Portman; except for tracks one ("My Best Wishes"), thirteen ("Bluin’ the Blues") and fourteen ("Mood Indigo"), which were written by Fats Waller, Muggsy Spanier and Duke Ellington, respectively. The tracklist is as follows:
  1. My Best Wishes (2:27)
  2. The Legend of Bagger Vance (2:11)
  3. Savannah Needs a Hero (4:53)
  4. Bagger Offers to Caddy for Junuh (4:07)
  5. Bagger & Hardy Measure the Course at Night (2:32)
  6. The Day of the Match Dawns (3:07)
  7. Birdie (1:46)
  8. Junuh Sees the Field (5:11)
  9. Hole in One (2:30)
  10. Junuh Comes Out of the Woods (3:55)
  11. Bagger Leaves (3:12)
  12. Old Hardy Joins Bagger by the Sea (5:50)
  13. Bluin’ the Blues (2:27)
  14. Mood Indigo (3:07)
  • Total soundtrack time: 47:15


References

  1. Technically, the film must be set in 1931 or after as James Cagney's "The Public Enemy (1931)" is playing at the theater in the scene shown just after Junuh hits the hole-in-one during his 3rd round come-back.
  2. Lambert, Craig (March/April 2002), " Bobby Jones", Harvard Magazine, Retrieved on June 30, 2007


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