This paper analyzes two scenes Second Hand Lions film with regard to ways in which the writer/director manages to convey the theme of old age successfully. The first part of the essay summarizes the storyline and the significant aspects of the film.
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The second part analyzes the signs used in the film and how they work together to bring meaning. The last part gives a reflection on the target audience and the film’s production and reception context.
Brief description of the storyline and significant aspects of the film
Set in the Texas countryside in the 1960s, the 2003 film, Second Hand Lions tells the story of a 14-year old shy boy, Walter (Haley Joel Osment). Walter’s unreliable mother has dumped him at his wealthy great-uncles’ place during the summer.
Walter’s great-uncles, Hub (Robert Duvall) and Garth (Michael Caine), are eccentric old men who had disappeared for forty years and had come back with a lot of wealth. The film is a warm-hearted mild family comedy written and directed by Tim McCanlies (The Iron Giant).
In the excerpt of the film, Hub, Garth and Walter are taking a meal at a roadside bar. Garth notices that Hub is not eating his meal and wonders whether old age is troubling him. He reminds Hub of how he has never feared anything all his life. Hub tells Garth that he feels his life is useless.
Four greasers enter the bar. One of the greasers annoys Hub by teasing him of his old age. Hub tells the young man that his mother gives him everything but discipline. Hub grabs the young man and tells him of how he had led thousands of men in battle, killed many men, seen the Nile and many native tribes, won and lost many fortunes, and loved a woman.
He pushes the boy away and tells him to go home. The boy tells his friends to attack Hub with their knives. Hub beats up the four young men, and the light manner in which he does amazes Walter.
In another scene, a middle-aged woman (Deirdre O’Connell), her father (Michael O’Neill) and three children drive to the ranch. They get out of their car and look around. The old man assures his daughter that Hub and Garth must be on their way home.
The woman says she hates the run-down house and asks her father to burn it down immediately Hub and Garth die. The children, out of curiosity, release an aging lioness from its crate. Shortly, Walter, Hub, and Garth return, with the four greasers. Walter searches for the lioness and finds it in the cornfield. Hub orders everyone to get their guns, and they start looking for the lioness.
They find Walter playing with the lioness, and Hub asks them not to shoot it. The woman gets furious and commands her father and children to leave immediately. She promises never to come back until Hub kills the lion. Hub and Walter resolve to leave the lioness in the cornfield because it looks happy.
While sitting with Garth, Walter observes Hub lecturing the four greasers. Garth tells Walter that Hub is giving them a special lecture on “what a boy needs to know”.
The film has an excellent cast which does not develop traction. The theme of the film is “aging”. McCanlies successfully brings out the theme of aging in the two scenes. In the first scene, Garth asks Hub whether old age is troubling him. Hub replies that he thinks they have outlived their time.
The greaser also teases Hub regarding his old age. In the second scene, the woman asks her father to burn down the run-down house when the two old men die. The film demonstrates the men’s response to their aging bodies.
This excerpt is a perfect illustration of an art-house film that depicts the two old men going through complex, transitional experiences. Hub and Garth work on their issues by “talking them through” with other characters in the movie.
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Analysis of significant signs used in the film
The most eminent sign in this part of the film is imagery. The director metaphorically compares the two aging men to the aging lioness. Hub confides in his brother that he feels he is “being useless”. The aging lioness also seems to have become useless as it can no longer be used for hunting. Hub and others expect the lioness to harm Walter, and run after it with guns when it escapes from its crate.
However, it only plays with Walter and does not show any possibility of harming anybody. Similarly, Hub teaches the young men lessons which he believes all boys need to know, instead of killing them. Hub was a lion in his own generation, but his glory has faded with old age.
McCanlies also uses flashback to add dramatic structure. Garth draws the attention of the audience to the strong Hub during his youth. Hub also defines his greatness using his youthful deeds. The flashback sets the ground for Hub to teach the young greasers about manhood.
Suspense is another sign that McCanlies uses to enhance dramatic structure. The sound in the background creates suspense when Hub and others pursue the lioness with guns. The sounds used when the lioness escapes to the cornfield, when the lioness plays with Walter, and when Hub beats up the greasers make the acts light. However, there is no sound where Hub is conveying important messages to the greasers.
Reflection upon the audience, the production and reception context
The film appeals to audiences of all ages. Mature children will like the aspect of coming-of-age. Adults will love the excellent performances by the remarkable cast. Walter gives a masterful performance that matches the spirit of a teen with the desperation of being a man.
The message contained in the film is meaningful to both children and parents across cultures. The film demonstrates that growing up with a strong male figure makes a very huge positive impact in the life of a child. McCanlies uses the film to create an ideal avenue for conversation between parents and children concerning transitions in life.
59% of critics argue that the movie is great and has an excellent cast, particularly Osment, Duvall, and Caine. The film, though somehow quirky, is very amusing and entertaining. In addition, the message in the movie is quite meaningful. It explores the transition of two old men from their lives of excitement and adventure to retirement.
The Director, McCanlies, successfully conveys his theme through mastery of fictional and dramatic elements. The most important element employed is a unified and believable story. The film vividly brings out Garth and Hub as funny old men with tender hearts under their grumpy exteriors.
Hub’s fight with the four greasers is to demonstrate that he is still strong and vital. However, it might be relevant for parents to discuss the dangers of guns and fights with their children.