Recently I was watching the director's commentary that Antoine Fuqua did for his recent film, "Shooter". Get me thinking. (Get the movie - It's absolutely riveting, with fine acting and a pace that's fast, but not so fast that you can't enjoy the nuances of acting and production...it deserves to become a classic.)
"Shooter", starring Mark Wahlberg, is the story of a retired marine scout/sniper framed for the assassination of the Archbishop of Ethiopia - who was supposedly killed when he 'missed' the President of the US.
In the beginning of the film, Wahlberg's character, Bob lee Swagger, loses a spotter on an operation, reires, and goes to live in the mountains, "growing and shooting his own food". Lured out of retirement to help prevent an assassination by planning it (hypothetically), he's framed for the event, and spends most of the rest of the film running for his life, and planning revenge.
Antoine Fuqua raised some interesting points about Swagger as a character - that fundamentally, he's a child. When he's hurt by the loss of his spotter (and best friend), he quits, and vanishes into the hills to live as close to an independent life as he can manage. As the film progresses, he shows aspects of the same childlike self-centeredness, but has to learn to integrate his behavior, and ultimately his hopes, with those of the people with whom he shares the world.
In the film's climax, Swagger has to accept a role in a messy, hard to understand world that is nonetheless the only one we've got.
The kind of independence that Swagger enjoys at the beginning of the film is the sort that's been mythologized for decades...the strong, independent man, out in nature, beholden to no one, and emotionally there for his dog and horse. But one of the points that Mr. Fuqua made is that, first, this is a sham - that kind of true independence was almost never possible, and that at best people who tried to practice it had to cherry-pick aspects of civilization that they needed to avoid a life that would quickly become nasty, brutish, and short.
Second, the dream itself is a childish form of escape - it's running, and hiding.
Ouch. (Those who know me, are probably laughing now. Those who don't - well, there's reason to chuckle.)
The thing is, he's right. While there's nothing wrong with solitude, it's not what we're about. We are social beings - a lot closer to lions than we are to tigers or bears, oh my! (Sorry, couldn't resist.) I could cite sociological studies (if I was smart enough to understand them) but instead I'll cite what I see. people with a lot of friends are easy to be around. Recluses are almost always weird, and slightly scary. The recipe's proven by eating, and isolation is a fallen custard, a dropped souffle, a burnt salad.
In the end, it takes more courage to live among one's fellows, and to face one's obligations to them - and their obligations to oneself in return. Hiding is easy. Violence is easy. Talking and living with people, that's hard. (Ask anyone who's married.)
The myth is a pretty one, and I suspect it'll survive. It'll inspire generations of young men (and, I hope, women) to test themselves against nature or circumstance, alone, to learn their limits.
And then, I sincerely hope they'll return to the circle of family, friends, and village to tell stories of their time 'alone', to spark the dreams of the wide-eyed six-year-olds sitting by the fire. Be it a real one, or the electronic glow of Facebook.