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October Sky, Witness, and Good Morning Vietnam all had strong themes of individualism versus conformity. Each protagonist in the respective films chose to be an individual rather than to conform to a standard. In each film the protagonist has an inner conflict in which he has to decide whether he wants to be an individual or a conformist. Each protagonist then chooses to be an individual and benefits while usually the conformists fail.
Individualism succeeds in all three of these and films and leaves the conformists in the dust. In Witness, for example, the conformists would be the corrupt police officers and captain who in the beginning of the film murder a man and then end up trying to kill the protagonist, John Book played by Harrison Ford. Ultimately because the protagonist, John Book, did not conform to the corrupt standards of these cops, the cops end up either dead or imprisoned. In October Sky the conformists are the characters who do not believe in or help or even deter the protagonist, Homer, in his goal to build a rocket that can win the National Science Fair. Characters like Homer’s father, brother, and classmates could be considered the conformists of the story. In the beginning they make fun of Homer’s dream but in the end, when Homer is succeeding the conformists basically end up switching sides. In the end they still fail in this movie because they were wrong in believing that their way, getting a sports scholarship or working in the mines, was the only way that a person could succeed. The Coalwood mine even shuts down after the individual becomes successful. In Good Morning Vietnam the conformists are Lieutenant Hauk and Sergeant Major Dickerson. They are against the protagonist, Adrian Cronauer, and his comedic style over the military airwaves of Vietnam. Lt. Hauk because he doesn’t get the humor and Sgt. Dickerson because he is very straight and narrow and wants everyone to conform to his way. In the end the conformists fail with Lt. Hauk having the realization that he is the one who is in fact unfunny and with Sgt. Dickerson being transferred to a worse post. In each of these films the conformists are characterized as the antagonists who then are beat by the protagonist; the individual.
The protagonists of each film becomes an individual or refuses to conform to the antagonists’ ways and is better off as an individual by the end of the film. In Witness the protagonist becomes embroiled in a corruption scandal within his police force. Instead of becoming corrupt like his peers Book decides to take action alone against the corruption and therefore becomes an individual fighting conformity. He then defeats the antagonists and becomes a better person because of his individualism. In October Sky the protagonist, Jake Gyllenhaal’s Homer Hickam has a dream of building a rocket that will take him away from Coalwood, the mining town he seems to be destined to live in for his entire life. In Coalwood it seems as though the only options are to get a scholarship through sports or work in the coal mines. Homer Hickam had aspirations of becoming a rocket scientist and get out of Coalwood by getting a scholarship in science. At one point in the film Homer has given up on his dream and he does conform. In this scene he descends into the coal mines and he gazes up and sees Sputnik, at that moment Homer is at a crossroads where he has to decide between being an individual or a conformist. Homer was met with opposition and disbelief with his dream but he accomplishes what many thought impossible. If Homer Hickam had been a conformist he would’ve ended up in the coal mine’s until the mine shut down. Homer instead goes against the norm and defies the odds, winning a science scholarship that gets him out of Coalwood and then on to fulfilling his dream as an engineer for NASA. In Good Morning Vietnam Robin William’s Adrian Cronauer is a gung-ho radio host funnyman who goes against the boring tide of the military’s radio format. Cronauer is instantly popular and celebrated but he is also met with opposition, mainly from Sgt. Major Dickerson, a man who is very straight and arrow; the polar opposite of Adrian. After some conflict there is a scene in the film where Cronauer is surrounded by soldiers and he talks to and entertains all of them. Through this interaction we can see that Adrian has made a difference in these soldier’s lives and that they actually look forward to listening to him. The Sgt. Major at one point suspends Cronauer and he is replaced with a dry radio host and hate mail comes pouring in at his absence. If Adrian had conformed to the Sgt. Major’s standards then Adrian would not have made a difference to the soldiers and the fan mail for Adrian would’ve been replaced with hate mail. Instead Cronauer defies conforming to the Sgt. Major’s orders and doesn’t betray his sense of freedom and individualism.
In my own life being in individual has been more fulfilling than to conform to what is the norm or what is expected. The biggest example would be in pursuing my own dreams of becoming a filmmaker or writer of films. Just like with Homer Hickam in October Sky, I was met with some opposition from my friends and family when I decided that my dream was to be a filmmaker. Admittedly my mother was one of the biggest people against the idea although she’s come around to the idea now. She always wanted me to become an engineer, doctor or a lawyer. I think that going into a creative industry is frowned upon in the culture that my parents were brought up in so that is why I am being an individual in the sense that conforming would be me following my parents wishes to be a doctor or engineer. Another example of me being an individual in my life would just be not following fads or trends. I’ve never bought into the recent trends even if all of my friends have or even if they are telling me to. These trends might include listening to a certain music, dressing a certain way, or doing something that may be ‘cool’ in the moment. I would say that I am very much an individual and not at all a conformist. I do not let the opinions or judgments of others sway my own opinions or judgments.
Each of the films Witness, October Sky, and Good Morning Vietnam had themes of individualism and conformity and in each of these films the individuals come out on top. I strongly believe that this is a life lesson that can also be drawn from personal experience. Choosing to be an individual is always more rewarding than being a conformist. All of the protagonists of these films have proven that choosing not to conform leads to a happy ending.
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