Since freedom is in short supply right now, there's much to be said for spending a nostalgic evening recalling the thrill of cutting loose and doing whatever you damn well please. So here are seven classic movies that take freedom to the extreme:
Into the Wild (2007, Amazon Prime)
Every so often, I like to picture myself in the log cabin of my dreams, cut off from the world, chopping wood, shooting deer, and reading a tattered paperback by the dying embers of the fire. Then I remember there’s something on TV I’ve forgotten to record, my back aches, and that the lasagne needs making for supper. Into the Wild is a cautionary tale about the terrible price that sometimes must be paid when you try to live out the Thoreau-esque fantasy of the simple life amid the splendours of unspoilt nature. Adapted from Jon Krakauer’s tragic telling of the life of hiker Christopher McCandless Into the Wild at once indulges and tempers our wanderlust, letting us feel free enough to know that we could follow it we wanted, but reminding us that a life on the road has its drawbacks.
Spartacus (1960, Amazon Prime)
"I'm Spartacus." And don't we all want to be that man, now more than ever, even if it means ending unhappily on one of the thousands of crucifixes lining the Appian Way? Kirk Douglas stars as the eponymous Thracian gladiator forced into a deathmatch arranged as a wedding gift for the sister of Crassus (Laurence Olivier, who famously later tries to seduce his slave, Tony Curtis, in the bath with his insinuating speech about 'snails and oysters). After he is spared by his opponent – who launches himself at Crassus and is strung up as an example – Spartacus decides he cannot tolerate his imprisonment any longer and his insurrection ignites an overthrow of the slavemasters. Spoiler alert: they all die in the end. But oh, how sweet the taste of freedom while it's all going well: the escaped slaves frolic amid the wide open spaces of an Italy looking remarkably like California (because that's where it was filmed) and engage in worthy, hearty, proletarian activities (spinning and weaving for the womenfolk, military training for the men) which remind you that this escapist classic was written by a dyed-in-the-wool Commie, Dalton Trumbo. Ironic, eh?
Les Intouchables (2012, Amazon)
Point Break (1991)
Enter the movie's hero – deeply implausible FBI agent Johnny Utah (Keanu Reeves) who must infiltrate the gang by cunningly impersonating an airheaded surf dude, almost developing Stockholm syndrome in the process. Mainly the preposterous plot is an excuse for lots of extended life-affirming involving freefall dives and big surf. But it all comes together in the almost unbearably poignant final scene where - funny how this theme recurs in so many of these disparate movies - freedom can only be attained by paying the ultimate price. One of those rare films you can watch over and over again and never be disappointed.
Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1987, Netflix)
Groundhog Day (Netflix, 1993)
What if you lived the same day over and over again? Not a premise, perhaps, that we've found that hard to imagine since March 2020. But this one is much more enjoyable. When weatherman Phil Connors starts living the same day in a loop, he initially hates it, suffers, despairs, and struggles against it – to the point where he starts acting reckless – insulting people, indulging in every vice, and killing himself just to test his limits. After a certain point however, he begins to realize that his curse is actually a gift, and he begins to recognize the importance of being able to live each day as if it’s your last. Bill Murray is sublime, and the film is made in such a way that the message never becomes tedious or tendentious – a rarity in 1993, and even more scarce now.