Some of the wisest, truest words ever spoken have come not from motivational speakers, but from characters in motivational movies. In fact, if you’re looking for the courage to take risks or make positive changes in life, you needn’t look further than Netflix or your DVD collection. Cinematic history is filled with exhilarating scenes like the training montage in Rocky and the desk-standing salute to Mr. Keating in Dead Poets Society. But the most inspirational and educational words are often simple, powerful, and spoken by dynamic movie characters. Everyone can learn a little something from these famous nuggets of cinematic wisdom.
“Carpe diem. Seize the day, boys. Make your lives extraordinary.”
Professor John Keating’s first lesson to his students in Dead Poets Society wasn’t about poetry, but about the legacy of the students who came before them—students who were now “fertilizing daffodils,” as he put it. Their legacy was to live life to its fullest, even if that meant opting out of the status quo and choosing a more meaningful path. We only have one life to live; why not do the best we can with the time we’ve got? Keating never wanted his students to give up their dreams, and because of his sage presence in their lives, they never wanted to let him down.
“Do … or do not. There is no try.”
Yoda had a peculiar way of structuring sentences, but that didn’t make his words any less affecting. While instructing young Luke Skywalker on the ways of a Jedi Master in The Empire Strikes Back, Yoda tries to prevent his protégé from becoming too frustrated and quitting. A crucial part of Luke’s training involved his letting go of his perceived limitations and unlocking his telekinetic skills via the Force. Luke responded to Yoda’s instructions by saying he would “try” to move things with his mind alone; to this, Yoda gave his disdainful reply. To Yoda, the word try justified potential failure. In other words, just do it. There is no success without confidence.
“A wiser fella than myself once said, ‘Sometimes you eat the bar, and sometimes the bar, well, he eats you.’”
This is a play on an old cliché that uses “bear” instead of “bar,” which is a far more logical metaphor. But when the Stranger, The Big Lebowski’s baritone narrator, recites this to the Dude, the two men are sitting at a bar in a bowling alley, and the Dude is drowning his sorrows in Kahlúa and vodka (hence the bar reference). Either way, the meaning behind the quote—some days, you win big; others, you lose just as big—remains true. It’s similar to a slightly cruder quote: “Sometimes you’re the dog, and sometimes you’re the tree.” If you’re in a bad spot, have faith that things will eventually turn around. Such is the cyclical nature of life.
“Happiness is only real when shared.”
Christopher McCandless, the young man whose tragic story inspired the book Into the Wild and its movie adaptation, wrote these words in his diary shortly before dying of starvation alone in the harsh Alaskan wilderness. He embarked on the dangerous journey that led to his demise in order to find happiness and peace as an individual within nature’s beauty, eschewing convention—as well as the advice and love of his family and friends—in the process. At the end, he realized all too late that happiness can only be found among the very people he pushed away. True inner contentment comes from being selfless and finding a way to spread the joy you possess to those around you. Happiness can result from developing oneself individually, as McCandless tried to do in the wild, as long as it’s not done at the expense of your connection to your fellow humans.
“A little nonsense now and then is cherished by the wisest men.”
Willy Wonka, a lead character in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, was a man who never lost touch with the simple pleasures of childhood—excitement over new discoveries, fascination with the unknown, the belief in the possibility of achieving anything, and of course, all the chocolate and candy you could ever eat. In fact, that’s what brings him such success in life. He was able to turn that youthful exuberance into a profitable enterprise. It’s said that one only has so many years to be a kid, but who says you have to give up all the fun parts of childhood when you get older? Wonka shows viewers that holding on to those things can keep you young at heart and merry in mind.
“There’s no place like home.”
The only way Dorothy and her dog, Toto, could find their way out of Oz and back to Kansas was by Dorothy clicking her heels together three times and repeating, “There’s no place like home.” That’s because, at the beginning of The Wizard of Oz, she ran away from it. During her harrowing time in Oz, she realized that running away from any problem isn’t the answer and that she belonged with her family. Home is different for everyone, but ultimately, it’s a place of familiarity and comfort. This may be the place where your family is, or it may be a place far away from family. Wherever home is for you, there’s truly no place like it. In tough times, there can be great comfort in knowing that home is out there somewhere, waiting for your return (or discovery).
For all of these timeless, universally wise quotes, there are countless others that drive home the importance of living a remarkable life (“Get busy living, or get busy dying”—The Shawshank Redemption); being grateful for the people around you (“Be excellent to each other”—Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure); and the realization that the best sources of happiness are sometimes silly and usually free (“Rosebud …”—Citizen Kane). If at first you don’t see the wisdom in these cinematic gems, there’s always hope that they will inspire you upon your next viewing of them. After all, to quote another inspirational movie character, tomorrow is another day.