The Jack Ryan of The Hunt for Red October, Patriot Games and Clear and Present Danger was a different kind of hero. He was an ordinary man who was afraid at times, who was vulnerable. What made him extraordinary – other than the circumstances that placed him in the middle of extraordinary situations – were the things that make common men real-life heroes.
Jack kept himself well informed of what was going on in the world around him. He was also tenacious. Once he knew the truth, he responded accordingly, which brings us to the final point: Jack didn’t pass the buck. He took responsibility for his actions. These are the overlooked qualities of true heroes.
Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit, might be titled, “Jack Ryan: Shadow of the man” and it isn’t because the new Jack Ryan isn’t a brawler. In fact, it’s just the opposite. Jack beats a 300 lb. assassin in hand-to-hand combat, hacks into a terrorist’s computer; he drives like a Nascar racer through the streets of Russia, remotely tracks down another assassin, whom a team of counter-terrorist agents couldn’t find and locates a bomb that a team of counter-terrorist agents couldn’t find right after subduing said highly-trained assassin… by hand… after some stunt motorcycle driving. Is this Jack Ryan or Jack Bauer?
What I like about the storylines of the original movies (I’m leaving out Sum of All Fears for obvious reasons) is that their dramatic tension illustrates true-to-life connection between human weakness and covert operations.
The villains have power and wealth on their side, but they are always betrayed by their pride. No matter their inherited position, wealth, or abilities, the villains’ own personal motives always get the better of them. It follows, then, that the villain is bested by a hero who does not have affairs, a drinking problem, self-loathing, chronic guilt, etc. These are usually championed by the anti-hero in a cape.
As much as Jack Ryan’s adherence to and defense of truth inevitably hands him responsibilities he’s too wise to bring on himself, it redeems him from betraying his calling, and thus he saves the day. As much as the anti-hero’s isolationism ruins him, it is portrayed as a quality that spares him from betrayal.
Batman, Wolverine, & Iron Man are not necessarily persuading youths in our society that heroes are comprised of supernatural ability via government experiment, inherited genius and billions of dollars with inner rage plus an English assistant who appeals to their reason. But maybe these comic book characters reinforce the belief that justice prevails only by the hands of those with supernatural ability, and it comes at such a cost we should count the blessings of being ordinary. As Jean Valjean sings in the opening of 2012’s Les Miserables, we are advised to “look down.”
Every young boy’s hero is his father. Every child needs a mentor, someone they can admire, who gives them courage to be better and live better than life by default, and instead live by design. Too often, the head of the house lives an uninspired life, thinking that those who have a calling to pursue justice are somehow “the chosen ones.” As Henry Thoreau said, many men “go to the grave with the song still in them.”
We are not designed to plateau, but aspire – and not for our own sake. Jack Ryan, for example, never thought highly of himself, but he did respond to his calling. There are truths that need to be lived out by the common man which Jack Ryan champions and it has everything to do with vision.
Arguments could be made for our favorite comic book movies, but overall, these superheroes’ indulgences are portrayed as an endearing character trait, something to prop them up, even if it’s not what is right, it is “necessary.” Perhaps audiences can relate to that brand of hero, the kind that can excuse himself from certain choices because the world is against him. Maybe Jack Ryan’s true-to-life heroism is too super to be believable anymore. Maybe he’s just a boy scout, not a chosen one.
Another movie in theaters tells the true story of real-life heroes, and they are the kind of men who really could do just about anything – the stuff of movie fiction. During an interview for Lone Survivor, actor Ben Foster said, ”These [S.E.A.L.s] are not superheroes, these are men.” It’s an important reminder, and an intimidating challenge. (If you have not read Marcus Luttrell’s book, I strongly recommend you do so. His story illustrates this point perfectly.)
I suspect we do not want to believe we can answer to the high calling we see portrayed in fiction. But that we constantly revisit and amend heroic figures is telling. It speaks to the yearning we all have, and the fear we feel when we recognize the reality of the challenge to uphold truth and justice. It is something the common man is capable of, and if it means being labeled a boy scout, so be it. One positive quality the anti-hero does possess is that he does not concern himself with the opinions of others.
Jack Ryan’s adventures were the stuff of fiction, but they are relevant as a picture of truth. All good fiction is. The hero of these stories reminds us how fragile life is, and how men and women who are ordinary by today’s standards are really the ones we count on every day. They are a dying breed.