Release date: 1956cover.jpg

Director: George Stevens

Synopsis

Giant is a slice of life drama that primarily focuses on a man who struggles to keep the traditions of cowboy Texas alive while the world modern changes around him. Giant the story of a poor dirt farmer who becomes an oil magnet. Giant is the story of sacrifice, redemption, and bigotry. Giant is the story of Texas and how the west became civilized.

Review

Giant, (Starring: James Dean, Dennis Hopper, Roc Hudson, and Elizabeth Taylor) tells the fictional story of Jonathan “Bic” Benedict II over the course of three generations. The story begins with Bic’s marriage to his wife Leslie, chronicling the death of his sister, the birth of his children, and the progression of Riatta from a cattle ranch into an oil field. In addition to the story of Bic Benedict, Giant follows the story of Jet Rink and his rise to wealth, power, and status. However, despite his success, Jet seems incapable of letting go of his past , and his jealousy of Bic leads to his ultimate downfall. Giant is also a story of great tragedy, rebellion, and prejudice. The many secondary stories of Giant include the separation and reconciliation of Bic and Leslie, the deaths of Pedro and Angel, and other unanticipated changes to the lives and dreams of the main characters through dramatic interplay. The movie illustrates that life is full of change, success is subjective, and no matter what your origins you create your own future.

Academic Analysis

Giant was a melodramatic western set in pre WWII Texas and used multiple genre’s to weave its tale of disappointment, redemption, success, and progress. Throughout the course of its three hours long running time the story begins as a quirky romantic comedy and ends with a message about racial intolerance and bigotry. Through acts self indulgence and sacrifice the characters become human representations of the forever changing face of the “American Dream.” Giant dared to explore issues of gender, race, and other social faux pas such as the inequality between the working class and the wealthy. Perhaps the film was created as a contrast of what middle class America refused to acknowledge. In its own way Giant brought to light very real political issues that were present in modern and contemporary America. Giant emulated the rise and fall of Citizen Kane , in as much as, Giant explored the relationship between the individual and society, and the alienation, contempt, and disgust for authority found in the Graduate.

Melodrama’s are defined by serial suffering in much the same way westerns depend on thematic oppositions such as nostalgia versus progress or civilization versus idealism. (Lewis 123 & 247) Bic Benedict, played by Roc Hudson, is a rancher who upholds and defends the traditions and pioneer spirit of his Texan heritage. A character who no doubt patterned himself after traditional Texas heroes such as Richard King or Davey Crocket. A man who inherited his success from his father and whose only real goal in life is to have a son, so that he may pass on his wealth and knowledge on to the next generation. As a gentleman rancher, Bic travels to across the country to purchase cattle, horses, and other livestock. While in Washington DC he meets Leslie, a strong female character played by Elizabeth Taylor, an idealistic, narcissist, with whom Bic quickly falls in love ,gets married, and has children with. Nostalgia vs. progress is the primary driving theme of Giant. Bic has nostalgic ideas of pride and family that were ingrained into him as part of his heritage. However, the world has changed. A son no longer has to follow in his father’s footsteps, or be his father’s legacy, in order to be successful. Leslie and Bic‘s marital separation was a result from their different philosophies Leslie believes they should encourage their children‘s talents and individuality while Bic believes his children‘s destiny was predetermined. Bic eventually gives up his dream of grooming his son to inherit his legacy and allows Jonathan Benedict the third to make his own decisions. Leslie also suffers, in the film she is essentially a fish out of water. After being transplanted to Bic’s desert paradise she is ignored by Bic, and treated as an unwanted guest by Bic’s sister Luz. Leslie’s character is noticeably compared to an animal rather than as a human being . More specifically, Leslie is often compared with her horse using a double entendre. Laslie is unable to participate in a political discussions because she is a woman and thus her opinion is considered inferior. After Bic’s sister dies Leslie’s horse is put to sleep. One of the tertiary characters Angel, who dies fighting in World War II, was rescued by Leslie as an infant. John Benadict the third marries a Mexican American woman who is stigmatized because of her race. Jet always wants what he can’t have. Jet is an alcoholic who is so obsessed with Bic’s wife Leslie that he seeks out a romantic relationship with their youngest daughter. Giant has all the drama of a soap opera wherein the conflict is centered around the idea that progress reflects change, the past is always a moment behind you, and if you don’t move forward you’ll get left behind.

Idealism versus civilization is the secondary motivator of the film Giant and is also explored throughout the story. Idealism is concept of substance before creation whereas civilization is marked by an advanced state of intellectual, cultural, and material development in human society. These two seemingly unrelated concepts cannot be compared without delving into the abstract. The Texas portrayed in Giant was not yet a developed civilization. The cultural idealism that the world would be a better place if there were no diversity, no question of moral authority, or a world where equality means some are more equal than others is at direct odds with the idea of an advanced state of intellectual development. The prejudice against race and gender explored in the western genre can hardly be described as an intellectual development, so much as a cultural one. To quote Deborah Carmichael, “the western maverick, as in earlier films, lived in a liminal space between savagery and civilization. (Carmichael 7) imagery that illustrates prejudicial attitudes toward the working class, Latinos, and the female gender are repeated throughout Giant. At the end of Giant Bic shows that he is willing to fight to create a better world for his grandson in a Texas that is unwilling to accept diversity and racial integration. In that sense Bic has evolved from the traditional model of what was then culturally acceptable. Other examples include an exploration Leslie’s fish with no water scenario. Leslie has her own ideas of gender equality, having been raised in Washington DC, the heart of American politics. Leslie was transplanted from a place where everyone has a voice to a location were only upper class white men were considered equals. Leslie appears willing to sacrifice her ideas of equality for the sake of maintaining peace her husbands civilization. However, in instances where his cultural beliefs are potentially harmful to their children Leslie reveals she is more than willing to break off her relationship Bic to maintain some of her own beliefs.

According to Freud, there is a compulsion to experience passively experienced traumatic anxieties in an effort to gain mastery over them. This applies to all genre of film and people line up to see movies in order to reencounter their unconscious anxieties while retaining a sense that they have some active control over the situation the second time around.(Charney and G.Gabbard and K.Gabbard and Reppen 174 & 175 ) Giant came out in 1956, as always the modern world was changing, and Giant reflected the anxieties of its intended audience. Nowhere is this more evident than in the story of Jet Rink. Jet was a poor farm hand hired by Bic’s sister, whose character was both petty and jealous. Some people say absolute power corrupts absolutely, others argue that lack of power also corrupts. On some level, people are anxious to see if it’s true, movies give the audience that opportunity to see what if it were true. Jet resented the fact that Bic had everything handed to him on a silver platter. In the film Jet verbalized this when he complained that he’d be just as rich and powerful if his folks had been more foxy. When Bic’s sister died she left Jet a seemingly worthless plot of land that was worth 5 cents an acre. Jet refused to sell or trade the land even at twice it’s worth because he finally had something of his own, and was wise enough know he would not have another chance to get that much land again for the price it was given to the Benedict’s. Despite this success he was still resentful of Bic. Jet began prospecting for oil when he noticed it bubbling up from the ground and shortly there after struck black gold. He then makes an ass of himself by telling Benedict, his former employer he can take his job and shove it where the sun don’t shine. The part of this that prey’s on the audience’s anxieties was that Jet goes to Benedict’s home, interrupts a gathering while covered from head to toe in black pitch, and picks a fight with Bic. Jet literally invaded Bic’s home uninvited. The desire to tell your boss to “stick it” is something people may want to do but never really act upon, so in that sense the audience is passively experiencing the thrill of being naughty. On the other hand, what Jet is doing could also be considered a home invasion, in that sense the audience is violated and thus passively experiencing a form of victimization.

Identity is the product of ascription and self-definition. As of 2006 the tree major theoretical viewpoints on the social integration of ethnic minorities are assimilation, separation, and globalization. (Sanchez and Massey 82) In Giant, the Latino’s are treated as separate and different from whites, and while considered American, they are portrayed as a race of poor savages who live in third world villages, not unlike the shacks seen in District 9. The one Latino character that actually seems somewhat successful in assimilating into American culture is Angel, a boy who would have died had Leslie Benedict not intervened. Angel is a tertiary character of Giant that had very little screen time and the movie just barely glanced over his life and untimely death. Since Angel was able to join the American army, it is safe to assume he is a second or third generation American. The wife of John Benedict is also of Hispanic origin and is considered an undesirable, in as much as their son is considered a “papoose.” As the victims of segregation and bigotry, characters such as Angel and John’s wife don’t appear to associate this experience with being members of an inferior race. In fact, the ones who choose to experience the characters as inferior in some way are those that are prejudiced against them. For its time, Giant questioned the morality behind the victimization of immigrants and people of color. However, the movie failed to illustrate the characters could have chosen to not be victims. While the characters were clearly treated as less than equal it was only by virtue of a revelation through exclusion that they experienced victimization. This is also ironic in the context of society of Texas at that time since most Latino’s were considered white. One also has to wonder why a movie about intolerance felt it necessary to paint Hispanics in their darkest shade of brown.

Jet Rink, played by James Dean in his final performance, was a poor working class dirt farmer who rose to affluence and power. Jet rink’s storyline has much in common with Citizen Kane, in both movies despite all the money, power, prestige, and influence the illusion of a great man is shattered. It is believed that the novel the Movie was based on was inspired by Texas oilman Glen McCarthy, a man who became known for earning his first million before he was twenty six years old.(Jeff Stafford, tcm.com) The story of Jet Rink is a cautionary tail that shows having more power doesn’t make you a better person. Citizen Kane was a lot less effective in conveying the same message and was likewise inspired by an actual person. Like Charles Foster Kane, Jet Rink is his own antagonist. Despite his great wealth, Jet‘s personal life is full of failures. The closest person Jet can call a friend is Bic a man with whom he has a bitter rivalry. Another way in which Jet is similar Kane is his wealth was discovered on apparently worthless property left to him by Bic’s Sister in much the same way Kane’s mother inherited the property from a tenant. Perhaps the moral of the Giant is don’t give up, or keep moving forward. Once the wealth and power was attained neither Jet or Kane cared to improve themselves as individuals. Perhaps the moral of the story is that mankind is his own antagonist, the individual is not harmed by others but rather harms himself.

Aristotle believed theater gave an audience catharsis to release emotions, medieval priests used theater to explain Christianity, and primitive societies danced in rituals to cast out demons.(Cornett 228) The issues presented in Giant that are still present in contemporary America. For a movie made over half a century ago that is quite an achievement. Giant was made as a social commentary film whose subject matter did not limit itself by focusing on one aspect of modern society. The film instead focused on a changing world where loosing the traditions, and not the subjective values, of the past was like giving up ones religion. In this way, Giant was very much like The Graduate, It met the needs of a younger generation to break tradition, and reminded the previous generation of a time when they questioned the morality of right and wrong that had long been established. Again, like the graduate, as tough as they were the women of giant were treated as second class citizens. And, The women knew how they were being treated was wrong. Where the two movies differ is their method of rebellion against tradition taken. Leslie Benedict violated tradition when she made the choice to leave her husband to move back east to live with her family. Mrs. Robinson took a passive aggressive approach, submissively playing her role as a victim of circumstance rather than admitting that the relationship with her husband was a failure, and the only way she could take back control of her life was to manipulate someone more impressionable and naïve.

In conclusion, Giant was western that used melodrama to weave its tale of disappointment, redemption, success, and progress. Giant explores the diversity of the individual, and ends with a message about racial intolerance and bigotry. The movie was a creative expression of artistic integrity in as much as the characters were very human representations of the “American Dream.” Giant dared to challenge the traditions, and explored issues of, gender, race, and equality. Giant brought to light very real political issues that were present in modern and contemporary America. Giant emulated the rise and fall of Citizen Kane, and examined the idea that the individual is the architect of his own reality. Giant explored the relationship between the individual and society, and the alienation, contempt, and disgust for authority that has been found in films such as the Graduate. Finally, Giant was a cinematic masterpiece that encourages the audience to think about what they can do to make the world a better place.
Resources

Web
Stafford, Jeff. “Giant: Overview Article” tcm.com. Turner Sports and Entertainment Digital Network. 2 March. 2009. Web. 16 Nov. 2009 < http://www.tcm.com/tcmdb/title.jsp?stid=76242&category=Articles >
Gallagher, John. Interview with Dennis Hopper. The Directors Series. YouTube.com. 9 April. 2007. Web. 16 Nov. 2009
< http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=13yRCZGOMto&feature=channel >
Lucky White Girl [unknown] “ Blog :Giant” luckywhitegirl.com. Lucky White Girl: Marxist Feminism for the 21st Century 16 May. 2009
< http://www.luckywhitegirl.com/2009/05/giant-1956.html >

Books

Geraghty, Christine. Now a Major Motion Picture: Film Adaptations of Literature and Drama. Rowman &Littlefield, 2008. Web < not used >

Lewis, Jon. American Film: A history. W.W. Norton & Company. 2008. Print

Charney, Maurice and Reppen, Joseph and Gabbard, Krin and Gabbard, Glen. Psychoanalytic Approaches to Literature and Film. Associated University Presses. 1987 Print

Cornett, Claudia. Creating Meaning Through Literature and the Arts. ed.2 .Hamilton Printing/ Prentice Hall. 2003

Journal Articles

Carmichael, Deborah. “The American West(s) in Film, Television, and History” Film & History: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Film and Television Studies Vol 33. 2003: 6-8. Web JSTOR

Massey, Douglass and Sanchez, Magaly. “Latino and American identities.” Qual Sociol/ Springer Science+Business Media Vol. 30. 2006: 81-107. Web JSTOR

Marks, Stephen. “Teasing out the lessons of the 1960’s: Family Diversity and Family Privilege.” Journal of Marriage and Family Vol 62. 2000: 609-622. Web JSTOR

Just for fun
this project reminded me of the following video http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EO9lEN9y3mo

written by Gabriel R. Lopez