Battle Speeches – Power of Idealism

mel-gibson-braveheart-etbscreenwritingThis is an excerpt from a wonderful blog:  Fencing With The Fog written by MaryAn Batchellor:

…What is the purpose of the pre-battle speech in film? Does it have a purpose other than exposition or is it just a standard prerequisite of any war story?

BRAVEHEART – In Braveheart, William Wallace gives a pre-battle speech that became a defining moment in the film. What differs it from the same narcoleptic moments in Alexander? Wallace’s speech tells us as much about his character as it does the justification for the battle. It gives us another piece of Wallace’s motive for being there instead of serving solely as exposition.

Yes. Fight and you may die. Run and you will live, at least awhile. And dying in your bed many years from now, would you be willing to trade all the days from this day to that, for one chance to come back here as young men, and tell our enemies that they may take our lives, but the will never take our freedom?

GLADIATOR – Maximus gives his troops a similar speech in Gladiator — similar because it, too, is a look inside the motives of the leader. But because it tells us what the men believe about life and death, Maximus’ speech also serves as exposition.

Three weeks from now, I will be harvesting my crops. Imagine where you will be and it will be so. Along the line, stay with me. If you find yourself alone, riding in green fields with the sun on your face, do not be troubled for you are in Allysium and you are already dead. What we do in life echoes in eternity.

TROY – This film has two pre-battle speeches — Achilles’ speech to his Myrmidons and Hector’s speech to battalions of Troy. Achilles’ speech is about his character. He wants his name to live forever.

Myrmidons, my brothers of the sword. I’d rather fight alongside you than any army of thousands. Let no man forget how menacing we are. We are lions. You know what’s there waiting beyond that beach? Immortality! Take it. It’s yours!

KINGDOM OF HEAVEN – This pre-battle speach is not a speech. As Balian prepares Jerusalem to defend itself, he gives no pep talk. But he believes that no man is a servant to another and makes each man a knight by administering the same oath to them that he took at his father’s deathbed. This serves no expository purpose that I can see but solely demonstrates the character of the leader.

Be without fear in the face of your enemies. Be brave and upright that God may love thee. Speak the truth even if it leads to your death. Safeguard the helpless. This is your oath (he slaps a young teen as his father slapped him) and that is so you remember it. Rise, a knight!

I think all of these examples work, but why do they work? The one thing I see in each one is that the battle speech, like other dialogue in the film, also serves to reveal character.

ALEXANDER – So why does the speech in Alexander not work for me? Aside from being entirely too long and boring, it has several long pauses of silence as we watch an eagle or inaudible shots while the opposing army looks at each other. Even if we wanted to care at the beginning of the speech, by the time it’s over we’re too exhausted to give a rip how the battle turns out.

You’ve all honored your country and your ancestors and now we come to this most distant place in Asia where across from us Darius has at last gathered an army– (cut from speech to no audible dialogue and follow long descent of an eagle and then go back to Alexander mid sentence) — but look again at this war and ask yourselves, who is this great king who pays assasins in gold coins to murder my father, our king in a most despicable and cowardly manner? Who is this great king Darius who enslaves his own men to fight? Who is this king but a king of air? These men do not fight for their homes. They fight because this king tells them they must. When they fight, they will melt away like the air. We are not here today as slaves. We are here as Macedonian free men! Some of you, perhaps myself, will not live to see the sun set over these mountains today but I say to you what every warrior has known since the beginning of time, conquer your fear and I promise you, you will conquer death! When they ask you where you fought so bravely, you will answer, I was here this day at Gaugamela for the freedom and glory of Greece! Zeus be with us!

Conclusion? Well, first of all, I think pre-battle speeches have to serve some purpose other than pure exposition but what I don’t know is if it’s critical that the speech also reveal character.

Laurie’s Notes: I believe it is critical that a battle speech reveal character.  Each kind of leader sees the world differently and fights for different reasons.  Each kind of leader inspires followers differently.

All of the examples in MaryAn’s post above are Power of Idealism leaders.  Power of Idealism leaders believe that life and war should involve a grand passion or great ideal. They see the world in terms of sweeping epic poetry or as a struggle for individuality and freedom of operatic proportions against impossible odds.

Power of Idealism leaders are inspiring and challenge their followers to give their all to a glorious cause.  They create a sense of special destiny and often link their mission to the grand heroism  or glories of the past.
Often these characters lead their followers into a lost cause or an impossible battle.  They know the odds are grim and victory is improbable but they charge in anyway.
What they are after is valor, honor and a grand and glorious legacy—the kind of immortality to inspire others in story, song or legend.
One of the best examples of this kind of leadership is that of King Leonidas and his Spartans at the Pass of Thermopylae.
Leonidas tells his men in 300:  “This is where we hold them! This is where we fight! This is where they die! Remember this day, men, for it will be yours for all time… Spartans, prepare for glory!”

Power of Idealism leaders inspire and challenge their followers to give their all to a glorious cause. They create a sense of special destiny and often link their mission to a grand heroic tradition (knighthood) or the glory of the immortality (Elysian Fields).  What they are after is valor, honor and the kind of immortality to inspire others in story, song or legend.

Another example of this kind of leadership is demonstrated in King Leonidas’ battle speech to his Spartans at the Pass of Thermopylae in the film 300.

KING LEONIDAS  “This is where we hold them! This is where we fight! This is where they die! Remember this day, men, for it will be yours for all time… Spartans, prepare for glory!

In contrast, a Power of Will character fights for more territory, revenge or total domination and uses any means (fair or foul) he deems necessary.  This kind of leader and his followers are characterized by the burning desire for MORE!  Gordon Gekko, a Power of Will leader in Wall Street, gives a kind of battle speech to inspire the stockholders to throw out the old management of a company he is trying to take over.

GORDON GEKKO  “I am not a destroyer of companies. I am a liberator of them! The point is, ladies and gentleman, that greed — for lack of a better word — is good. Greed is right. Greed works. Greed clarifies, cuts through, and captures the essence of the evolutionary spirit. Greed, in all of its forms — greed for life, for money, for love, knowledge — has marked the upward surge of mankind. And greed — you mark my words — will not only save Teldar Paper, but that other malfunctioning corporation called the USA.


  1. Reply MaryAn Batchellor 1st October 2009

    So glad to find a like mind! Great site!

  2. Reply Gerald 28th February 2013

    Despite the morality of using violence to achieve personal or political aims, the fact remains that Countries exist because of wars fought against their neighbours or rivals. Independence is largely secured through the employment of armed forces and the willingness to fight if threatened, this alone prepares us all for such an eventuality.

    I commend you on your site it contains a lot of quality information and is well done.

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