The Great Santini
Posted by J on October 29, 2008
Take George C. Scott’s General Patton and plop him down in a domestic family drama, and you have the The Great Santini. As the title indicates, the focus of the movie is on the main character, Bull Meechum, a warrior and fighter pilot who happens to have a Southern belle for a wife and four interesting children. The year is 1962, and Meechum is back home for the first time in a long time. He and the family head to small-town South Carolina. Then the family drama starts, and Patton is unleashed.
The movie is primarily about how military life affects families, particularly in the methods of fathers who are also trained soldiers. For Meechum, there is little distinction between the air force base he works at and his home. Meechum’s militarism and his just-one-of-the-boys attitude carries over into his civilian and family life, which means that he is often irascible or irresponsible, though his family at times seems to flourish because or in spite of Meechum’s bizarre leadership style. With Meechum, we are a small step from Al Bundy and Homer Simpson, but The Great Santini is really only out to praise the nuclear family and the paternal role that heads it.
The key relationship among a number of important ones is between Meechum and his son, Ben. Contrary to what you might guess, Ben is not introverted around or because of his father. He flourishes fairly well, even acting like the old man in his own, particular way. The Great Santini is a coming-of-age story for Ben, who turns 18 during the course of the movie and learns a lot of important male maturity stuff. Ben even engages in a subplot in which he plays Huck Finn to a black teenager’s Jim, but the way that subplot ends supports the point that this movie is about the complexities of Ben’s old man.
That subplot is indicative of the movie’s unwillingness to engage in stereotypes, and to go down the trodden roads that so many plots have gone before. The Great Santini doesn’t always turn in the direction you think it will turn. This is what separates it from its TV-movie brethren, even though the music and cinematography of Santini would make you believe that it first aired on CBS.
We haven’t laughed so frequently at a movie recently, mostly because of Santini’s antics and his children’s reactions to them. But as C. says, the movie is hilarious, but it is not a funny movie. You won’t do much better with recent family-friendly fare though, so this is one worthy of your consideration.
Note: This movie does have some potentially objectionable moments. A father lets his son get drunk, and there’s some cursing. The ‘PG’ rating is accurate, but probably no one younger than a teenager will profit from it.