Recently, I chanced upon a new film, “The Peanut Butter Falcon.” It’s a small gem of a tale reminiscent of such recent offerings as “Mud” and “The Hunt for the Wilderpeople.”
“The Peanut Butter Falcon” is also a sincere homage to one of the most enduring books in all of American literature: Mark Twain’s timeless classic, “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.” And while Huck Finn continues to be inexplicably banned or marginalized in some circles, Twain’s masterpiece remains indelible to the American spirit.
Even the late Toni Morrison stated the following in the introduction to my beloved copy of Huck Finn:
I was powerfully attracted to the combination of delight and fearful agitation lying entwined like crossed fingers in the pages. … It is classic literature, which is to say it heaves, manifests and lasts.
Similar to Huck Finn, who remains unabashedly a wild and heroic boy throughout the novel, the protagonist in “The Peanut Butter Falcon,” Tyler — played markedly well by Shia LeBeouf — gradually forms into an unapologetic man. He starts out broken and a bit of a loose cannon, but painstakingly emerges as a hero of sorts with decidedly traditional overtures of masculinity.
Tyler is hard-nosed, brave, and uncompromising when necessary. He’s brash and intrepid without compromising a sense of compassion toward others. He even echoes some semblance of faith in God without resorting to garish tropes. Rather than casting these traditionally masculine facets of character as hopelessly toxic, the film presents them in a refreshing and heroic light, especially by today’s standards.
Sacrifice as a fundamental masculine ideal also plays an integral role. More importantly, sacrifice in the film has meaning and purpose. It’s even given some spiritual significance for the characters as evidenced by the backwater baptism performed by a blind preacher in the murky waters of North Carolina. The religious symbolism in the scene resonates, at the very least, on a peripheral level. Regardless, kinship and brotherly love alongside a need for atonement drive Tyler toward this profound ideal. One is reminded of William James’ sagacious words on the subject in “The Varieties of Religious Experience”:
In the religious life, on the contrary, surrender and sacrifice are positively espoused: even unnecessary givings-up are added in order that the happiness may increase. Religion thus makes easy and felicitous what in any case is necessary.
“The Peanut Butter Falcon” seems like an outlier among most of what Hollywood throws at us. The hero remains archetypical and masculine with no disjointed nod toward trendy, idiotic norms. In recent films like Marvel’s “Avengers” series, the heroes often devolve into progressive stereotypes and spew all sorts of politically correct drivel and dreck. Never mind how fatiguing such preachiness is, one is immediately taken out of the story. That final clunky sequence in the third act of “Avengers: Endgame” with Captain Marvel has to be one of the most insufferable attempts at progressive nonsense in film to date.
On the other hand, “The Peanut Butter Falcon” is deceptively simple and resonates with traditional charm — something we are clearly hard-pressed to find these days. And in doing so, the film ventures into timeless waters.