Fitzgerald, M. (2000). A review of “The Mighty” by Miramax Films, starring Sharon Stone, Gillian Anderson, and Kieran Culkin. S. Hamilton, MA: Center for Youth Studies.
‘This speaks to the Littleton massacre,’ said one inner-city adolescent.
‘A great movie to spark discussion about teenage taunting and bullying.’
Miramax’s 2000 film, “The Mighty”, follows the storyline of “Freak the Mighty”-a book that takes readers through the transformation of two 7th grade boys. The film strikes at the taunting and bullying so commonplace among adolescents today.
The movie opens with a street gang causing trouble. The gang is led by Blade, who had recently served three months in juvenile hall. His current victim, Max Kane, failed 7th grade twice. Blade taunts Max and says loudly to publicly humiliate him, “You’re a freak of nature, dude.”
Max images himself as a nobody. He seems to be alone with his pain. Viewers may wonder if he suffers from depression and a sense of meaninglessness.
Behind the scenes, Max’s deepest pain is revealed. He lives with his grandparents, because during childhood his father murdered his mother. Four-year-old Max had been at the murder scene. Sadly, because of his history, Max has been nicknamed “killer Kane” by the school taunters. He has become isolated from relationships.
A life-changing event occurs when 13-year-old Kevin and his single-parent mother move in next door. Standing at a distance, Max quickly identifies with Kevin as being “a freak of nature.”
Kevin, crippled with a disfigured body, has suffered from a rare disease since birth. His first words to his mother tell us something critical about his character: “You have my word and my word is my bond.” Kevin is a boy who, in his woundedness, has reflected deeply about values and life. He is brilliant and humorous. Nonetheless, as the new arrival at school, he is quickly labeled, “the crippled boy,” and he also suffers from Blade’s bullying.
One day, Kevin is assigned to be Max’s reading tutor. In the months ahead, he will teach Max to read King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. Through the film, we discover that Kevin has a more profound tutoring role. He is more of a mentor. He will take the “Freak” label and redeem it. He will teach Max not only to read a story but also to enter into the very depths of the story through the power of imagination.
A friendship begins when one night Max (a large boy) agrees to help Kevin attend the fireworks celebration. Kevin is too short to see the fireworks. Max senses the call to pick up Kevin and to lift him over the crowds. A transforming moment occurs when Max picks Kevin up for the first time. Max, the film’s narrator, shares his great joy as Freak (Kevin) is on his shoulders enjoying the fireworks. Max has found a purpose in life. He feels needed. He will serve as Kevin’s legs. That evening, with Kevin providing the brains and Max providing the muscle, the two boys confront Blade’s gang in a dangerous game of cat and mouse.
Max returns home and his grandparents suspect the worst. They sense that Max has committed a crime when the policeman comes to the door. In a great turnaround, Max is dubbed a hero. He has gained a new image at home. Max has won his grandfather’s respect and is suddenly treated like an adult who is offered a cup of coffee.
This story comes to life as Max and Kevin model the knights’ code of honor. Like members of King Arthur’s court, they express bravery in the cause of justice. Kevin says, “A knight proves his worthiness by his deeds.” The two boys have entered into the King Arthur story and become virtual knights. Their double-freakness, one freak riding high on the shoulders of another, has gained acceptance and respect in the community.
Midway through the film we discover that Kevin’s disease is fatal. Unknown to Max, Kevin’s organs are outgrowing his skeletal frame. He has less than a year to live.
Despite the prognosis, Kevin pushes on for adventure. One night, he leads Max to recover a woman’s stolen purse-only to be confronted in a dark alley by Blade’s gang. Blade demands that they hand over the purse. Max, not yet totally convinced in the sacrifices of knighthood, wants to hand over the purse. Kevin, despite his weakness, still plays a mentor role and says, “No! A knight stands for what is good and right.” In another transforming moment, Max’s warrior spirit rises up. The gift of his physical strength, repressed in his unconscious desire not to be like his violent father, is unleashed. Max drives the gang away.
Soon, violent memories of his father flash through Max’s mind. Max is afraid of his newly discovered physical power. Would he become like his Dad? Would he be destined to murder, like his father? Kevin helps Max in this scanning process, counsels him, and encourages Max to take command of his own walk in life (vocation).
In a museum filled with knights’ armor, we find ourselves in a church-like setting. Kevin points out the honorable knights (whose images stand like statues in an old, liturgical church). There in full armor stand three knights: Lancelot the Brave, Tristan the Strong, and Gallahad the pure-hearted. It is a holy moment for the boys, a profound moment of ritual to seal their transformation. Sitting atop Max’s shoulders, Kevin takes a sword, and the two are knighted “Freak the Mighty.” From this point on, Kevin will never ask Max about his father. Here emerges a deeper reality: that Max-like Kevin-was now being vested in shining armor that would protect his own ego development. Max was now free to name and claim his personal faith journey. He was ready to battle dark memories from the past. He was ready to reject the idea that he was “killer Kane” as shouted by the taunters. Viewers may also make another striking parallel to the story of Camelot: Max has drawn the sword out of the cold stone set deep within his psyche-a stone laden with heavy memories of disappointment and pain.
The power of transformation is infectious. In school, the two boys gain popularity. Kevin’s mother defends the boys and asks that they be permitted to play intramural basketball as “one.” They reveal teamwork at its best. Kids excitedly cry out, “Freak the Mighty!” as the two boys go down the basketball court and slam dunk the ball. The dunk serves as a symbol of their social acceptance. Being freaks now makes them special. What was once a curse is now a gift. The whole community is being swept up in the transformation.
Max’s family suddenly goes on alert. Max’s father has been released from prison on parole and a restraining order has been issued to keep him at a distance. This opens the closet of grief and pain from Max’s past. Max finds an old photo at home and weeps, looking at the image of his father. Grandma tells him not to worry. “You have your mother’s heart,” she says. “You are my noble knight.”
Max’s anxieties multiply as Kevin suffers a choking episode during lunch at school. In the hospital, Kevin shows humor even in a time of pain. Like Isaiah’s suffering servant, he does not shout or cry out. As a Christ figure, one can see Kevin preparing for his own Good Friday experience. Max, somewhat like an apostle, fails to understand that Freak must suffer, die, and then rise again. Kevin hints that scientists are preparing him for a “whole new body”-some kind of transplant. “Sounds too dangerous,” says Max. Responds Kevin, “Life is dangerous.” Kevin wants to taste life even if, at times, it is bitter.
Weeks pass. Kevin is back at home when, in the darkness of night, Max is kidnapped by his father. Kevin goes on a rescue mission. Yet, before his arrival, Max confronts his father. No longer consumed with fear, Max now has the courage to reject his father’s plea of innocence. Max looks into his father’s eyes and confesses that he witnessed the strangulation of his mother. The truth is out. Max finally has the power to say what had needed to be said. Max was not killer Kane. He was not his father. Nor did he have to be controlled by the sins of his father. Kevin enters the room and joins the fight, using his intelligence and wit. Victory is achieved on many levels as the police arrive to arrest Max’s father.
By the movie’s end, Max has become a new person. His father has returned to jail, but Max is no longer in a psychological prison.
At a closing Christmas celebration, Kevin gives Max a last gift-an empty book. Kevin, the Christ figure, dies that night. His mom says, “His heart just got too big for his body.” Like an apostle, Max is left to stand on his own two feet. He grieves a great loss. But what of the promise? Kevin had promised that he would soon get a new body. Max would have to reinterpret these words to mean a body in eternity.
Passing through a time of grief likens Max to an apostle hiding in the upper room. Also, like the apostles, it is a woman who comes to him in his time of grief and brings him the news to get on with life. Max arrives beyond his time of mourning as a changed boy. He is more confident and productive at school. Kevin’s mentoring has not been in vain.
To close the film, Max takes the empty book given to him by Kevin and begins to write the story of Freak the Mighty. He finds the power to tell the story about the storyteller. He finishes the story in Springtime when resurrection is in the air. King Arthur, Freak, lives on! Max has gone through a personal transformation.
Questions for Reflection and Discussion
- Are there boys and girls who are labeled as freaks in your school? Do you think they have stories of pain and suffering-like Max-that you don’t yet know or that you fail to understand?
- Kevin and Max seemed to find power in “double-freakness.” Their total acceptance in school was evident with the students’ loud cheers as the two boys made their way down-court to slam dunk the basketball in gym class. Do you believe freaks in your school can ever find total acceptance? Why or why not?
- Who, in your estimation, is “Freak the Mighty” in the movie? What makes you believe this is so? (Note: It could also be implied that “Freak the Mighty” is both boys together-finding strength in their unity; a strength where “might makes right.”)
- Many youth don’t dream dreams or vision the future. The community must help youth not only to dream dreams, but also to grasp their vocation. Kevin and his mother (who continually affirms her son’s vocation) serve to remind the community of this goal to invite youth to vocational dreams that, in their pursuit, will make them more complete or “whole.” Kevin’s mother convinces the school that her son should live the dream of playing basketball. She continually opens the way for Kevin to pursue his dreams in order to find “wholeness.” She is willing to imagine new possibilities that make her crippled son more mobile and energetic than most physically healthy children. Likewise, Kevin takes Max under his wing in a nurturing role so that Max can fly with purpose and vocation. Incredible power shines through what some may see as human weakness.
- Max has gained the courage to look more closely at his own family story. He has gained the courage to see the good, the bad, and the ugly; and then found his character to be “good” and worthy of knighthood. Shame, doubt, and mistrust-negative powers from early ego crises-have been revisited and conquered. The truth has been revealed.
- Kevin, though just a young boy, reveals a wisdom beyond his years. What appears as an empty book is itself filled with transforming power. Max consumes it-becoming both story and storyteller.
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