Have you seen The Legend of Bagger Vance? The film was released in 2000 and was not a box office success. I must admit that I had not seen it until recently. I saw it on a list of films that life coaches should watch, so I found it on Amazon and watched it with my wife a couple of weeks ago.
A sports fantasy, The Legend of Bagger Vancewas directed by Robert Redford and starred Will Smith, Matt Damon, and Charlize Theron. Although it was generally panned by critics, the theme of redemption through finding encouragement, focus, and purpose fits well with the coaching paradigm.
The film is told through the eyes of Hardy Greaves. Played by Jack Lemon as an old man, Greaves’ heart attack on a golf course provides the bookends of the story. As he lies on the grass, he thinks back to his experiences with Bagger Vance (Smith) and Rannulph Junuh (Damon) when he was a youngster (J. Michael Moncrief).
A beloved son of Savannah, Georgia, and a competitive golfer, Junuh leaves all this and his girlfriend, Adele Invergordon (Theron), behind to serve in World War One. His company is wiped out with Junuh as the sole survivor. Although he wins the Medal of Honor for his personal bravery, Junuh fails to return home after the war. He finally turns up years later as an alcoholic and gambler without a purpose in life, considering himself a failure.
To move quickly through the plot, Adele’s father has died leaving the resort and golf course he developed to go under due to the Depression. In an effort to save her family fortune, she sets up a celebrity golf exhibition featuring two of the best players of the day, Bobby Jones and Walter Hagen. With young Greaves’ encouragement, Adele reaches out to Junuh to play and build local support. This is when Bagger Vance shows up and offers to be Junuh’s caddie.
Vance models great coaching techniques. He wants his client/golfer to succeed, but Junuh’s success is not up to Vance. He is encouraging but challenges his client/golfer when necessary. Vance stands back and allows Junuh to make mistakes and learn from them. When Junuh hits a ball into the woods and the stress of the moment brings on a battlefield flashback, the focus that Vance has taught him brings him back into the game to make a seemingly impossible shot.
Of course, the movie is a fantasy like Field of Dreams(1989). The point is not to be accurate or realistic, but to share an idea. Although Rannulph and Adele must be in their late thirties in the film, they look like college students. Vance mysteriously appears and then disappears when his work is done. He also shows up unexpectedly at the end of the film as Greaves is dying.
According to Wikipedia, the plot is loosely based on the Hindu sacred text, the Bhagavad Gita, where the Warrior/Hero Arjuna(R. Junuh) refuses to fight. The god Krishna appears as Bhagavan (Bagger Vance) to help him to follow his path as the warrior and hero that he was meant to be. Building on this account, the film’s story is meant to be mythical with a deeper meaning than one might perceive on the surface.
On an emotional level, the film is uplifting. On an intellectual level, it requires one to leave a sense of reality behind. The viewer knows how it will end, but Junuh’s struggle for redemption and the interplay with Vance is fun to watch.
Will this make someone’s list of all-time greats? Probably not, but the film reminds us that redemption is available when we find encouragement and purpose in our lives.