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At the beginning of the film The Legend of Bagger Vance, a golfer in competition against the main character states, “The meaning of it all is that there is no meaning.” This statement describes the main character’s viewpoint for much of the movie, while also concisely summarizing the ancient Hindu scripture The Bhagavad Gita. Both works study human relationships and the value of life, though both arrive at different conclusions.
The Gita was written anywhere from 500 to 200 BC (EAWC Essay). The story revolves around a warrior, Arjunah, and his charioteer, Krishna, as they observe a battle taking place on the field of Kurukshetra in India. The Legend of Bagger Vance takes place during the Great Depression in Savannah, Georgia, a formerly wealthy community struggling with the economic crisis. Both stories revolve around two men faced with a duty and their reluctance to fulfill it.
Arjunuh is a talented warrior struggling against his duty to fight and kill. Rannulph Junuh is a gifted golfer who, at the beginning of the movie, is unwilling to take up the sport again after the traumas of war. Both of them must embark on a journey of self-realization to accomplish a great task. For Junah, it is finding his ‘authentic swing’. For Arjunah, it is transcending the world and selfish desires in order to fight. Junuh is suffering from PTSD after war, and is unable to find peace. Arjunuh is faced with the task of slaughtering family members on the opposing side of the battle, and confesses to Krishna that he cannot carry out the task.
Krishna is a god in avatar form, offering advice and wisdom to Arjunah. Vance performs a similar role as a guru who coaches Junuh through the sport of golf. Both of these characters are shrouded in mystery (Krishna’s godhood is revealed at the end of the Gita). Bagger Vance, provides an easy-going foil to Junah’s hot-tempered remarks and impulsive behavior. Arjunuh stands as a man seeking truth, unwilling to kill his family on the opposing side of a battle, though Krishna is urging him to slaughter the enemy, as is his duty. While Bagger Vance is attempting to guide Junuh to a place of peace in order to find his authentic swing, Krishna is encouraging Arjunuh to go to war.
The Gita portrays many concepts of Hinduism such as dharma (duty) and samsara (reincarnation). Bagger Vance carries a few of these religious concepts over into its own story. Vance tells Junuh that he must look inside of himself in order to find his authentic swing. “It’s somewhere in the harmony of all that is, all that was and all that will be,” Bagger Vance tells him. Near the end of the movie, Junuh is attempting to hit the ball out of a forest, and relives memories from the war. Vance appears with advice for Junuh regarding his swing. “What I’m talkin’ about is a game. Game that can’t be won. Only played.” His ‘game’ is similar to the Hindu view of life, which repeats itself through reincarnation; there are no winners, except for the few who build up enough good karma to find release.
In The Bhagavad Gita, Krishna urges Arjunuh to liberate himself from the world’s desires. He wants Arjunuh to act for the pleasure of the Supreme, not selfish motives. Krishna reassures the soldier that his actions are not wrong. “He who dwells in the body can never be slain. Therefore, you need not grieve for any living being” (Bhagavad Gita). The Hindu idea of samsara presents itself here, with Krishna claiming that men’s immortal souls can never be destroyed, so the destruction of their bodies is justified. He informs Arjunuh that the beginning of the Gita, “Never was there a time when I did not exist, nor you, nor all these kings; nor in the future shall any of us cease to be” (Bhagavad Gita). The Bhagavad Gita places little value on human life, as it portrays it as without beginning or end in the endless cycle of samsara. Bagger Vance does just the opposite. The movie places great emphasis on humankind, especially the relationships formed between individuals such as Adele, Junah, Hardy, and Vance. When Junuh loses the men under his command in war, he retreats from the world of golf, leaves his girlfriend, and turns to alcohol. It takes him forming relationships with Hardy and Vance and mending his relationship with Adele for him to begin to recover.
While The Legend of Bagger Vance incorporates Hindu themes into its storyline, its’ overarching message is one of self-realization and overcoming obstacles to achieve your passions. When Junuh must hit the ball out of a grove of trees, he has to overcome the fear and guilt inhibiting his swing, much like passing ‘out of the dense forest of delusion’ mentioned in the Gita. Junuh is eventually able to regain his swing, his girl, and his title, all through looking inwards. The Gita, however, preaches a message of submission to the ‘Supreme’ one, leaving the world behind in order to be released from samsara. “By thus engaging in devotional service to the Lord, great sages or devotees free themselves from the results of work in the material world. In this way they become free from the cycle of birth and death and attain the state beyond all miseries” (Bhagavad Gita). Despite these similarities, their core messages could not be more different; while one suggests the solution to salvation can be found inside oneself, another claims surrender to a higher being and rejection of selfish desires is key to release. Both works seek to find the meaning and value of life- both arrive at different ends.
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