Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Vision Quest (1985)

Retro Active Critique #10

Louden Swain. 

Here is an under-appreciated, fantastic 80's movie character. Watch as he diligently runs in what looks like a space suit in order to lose weight to compete against a wrestler in another weight division. Why Louden (Matthew Modine) is not as iconic or touted as so many other 80's characters baffles me. In "Vision Quest", these folks from Spokane, Washington are kind-hearted, good people. Ones I would want to know. 
'Vision Quest' needs to be remastered. I have a DVD copy and the quality is shamefully poor for such a gem. For some reason, people recall this film mostly because a brief appearance by Madonna as a club singer who performs in one scene. The film is worthy of much more.

Louden Swain is a high school wrestler who decides to drop two weight classes in order to challenge the undefeated state champion, Shute. Shute competes at Louden's rival high school in the 168 lb. division. Louden is much taller, and this is clearly a health risk for him, but he takes on this personal mission with much resilience. He is a deep kid with a light sense of humor, and he, along with everyone else, questions his own sanity for taking on Shute. But his naysayers secretly admire his gusto and conviction to do this seemingly unnecessary thing. One of his teammates, Kuch, quickly latches onto Louden and tells him, "You're on a vision quest, man. You're trying to find your place in the circle." And Kuch would know, as he is a self-proclaimed, mohawked half-Native American. He has been his own vision quest to find a place in a circle, one outside of his actual life at home with a single and abusive father.

Louden's own father is also a single dad, but he's a very good man who holds his head high despite having been deserted by his wife for another man as soon as 'times got tough.' He's undeniably kind and generous, as is Louden's frustrated coach who worries for Louden's health but allows him to carry on with his regimental dieting in order to compete in the lower weight division. Louden's English teacher is also his friend. But when "the girl" shows up, an older, wayward aspiring artist from New Jersey named Carla (Linda Fiorentino), side-tracked on her way to San Francisco, Louden nearly gives up his vision quest as he beings to wonder what he was really after, since Carla now fills that void in his longing for her. But Carla asks him to do just one thing for her and follow through with his plan to wrestle Shute. She knows he shouldn't give up something he was so instinctively, and spiritually, committed to simply because his hormones got in the way.

There are some great songs on the soundtrack, by the way, like "Lunatic Fringe" (below.)

Everyone is rooting for him, and they all wonder why. But Louden's coworker and friend, Elmo (the cook at the local hotel where Louden works nights, delivering room service ) explains it by referencing Pele to a hesitant Louden in this poignant scene, before Louden finally goes to wrestle Shute. 

Elmo tells him:  'I was in the room here one day, watchin' the Mexican channel on TV. I don't know nothin' about Pele. I'm watchin' what this guy can do with a ball and his feet. Next thing I know, he jumps in the air and flips into a somersault and kicks the ball in, upside down and backwards. The goddamn goalie never knew what the fuck hit him. Pele gets excited and he rips off his jersey and starts running around the stadium waving it around his head. Everybody's screaming in Spanish. I'm here, sitting alone in my room, and I start crying... That's right, I start crying. Because another human being, a species that I happen to belong to, could kick a ball, and lift himself, and the rest of us sad-assed human beings, up to a better place to be, if only for a minute. Let me tell ya, kid. It was pretty goddamned glorious. It ain't the six minutes. It's what happens in that six minutes.' 

(Watch the scene, below.)

I'll take this one out with Madonna's appearance in this great film.

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