Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Man Against Everything in Concussion

Last week, using Kung Fu Panda 3, My Writing and Editing Coach reviewed an archetypal conflict: the son in conflict with father figures. This week, Coach reviews a man in conflict with himself and others, conflicts portrayed beautifully by Will Smith in Concussion.

Will Smith stars in the role of Dr. Bennet Omalu, the pathologist who uncovered truths about the life-long health effects of American football as the game is now played. Hard hits and tackles cause players to develop CTE (Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy). Omalu uncovered this fact and recognized that CTE is an outcome of not only boxing but football also. His efforts to reveal this fact put him in conflict with football fans and the corporation known as the NFL.

The heart of the film is Dr. Omalu’s conflict with those who close ranks against anything and anyone who threatens the status quo, especially if that threat could affect profits and dividends. Omalu’s discovery is that threat. The rough style of football delivers blows to the brain, causing it to move inside the skull and sustain damage. Over time, those blows may cause delusions and dementia leading to increased health insurance costs, especially if players could make life-time claims against the NFL.

Photo provided by Al Griffin Photography
The NFL, according to the film and book it was based on, was aware. It had already conducted cost-benefit analyses and concluded a likely result was increased costs to franchises and owners so it suppressed evidence and fought to suppress Omalu.

As a corporation, the NFL could wield considerable influence to deny Omalu’s claims and marginalize the man himself. He was one man against many. He was also one man against the NFL’s inside physician whom Omalu commanded, to no avail: “Tell the truth.”

Being marginalized put Omalu in conflict with himself as well as with others. He wondered about the personal and familial costs of his position, but Omalu is not a man apart by virtue of others’ actions alone. He is a man apart by design. He has a vision and a moral code that demands he serve those who have suffered. He demands the truth of himself. He strives for excellence in himself, and he strives to be honorable at all times. He even turns down an offer for a powerful government position, a job that could quiet his voice against the NFL’s injustices. Omalu turns down the offer. It appears he is a man who cannot be bought. The better side of him triumphs when he confronts himself.

Concussion is an excellent study in literary conflicts, especially man against himself, man against man, and man against society (or a group). A fourth type of conflict is man against Nature, another type that Omalu’s story reveals. Omalu uses science and knowledge to discern truths in nature. His autopsies seek the truth about nature’s work upon the human body, and Omalu usually finds the truth for that death.

With regard to the fifth type of conflict, man against a supernatural power, Omalu’s story again serves. He contemplates why the path he’s chosen has been fraught with challenge, but concludes that he stands on God’s path. Through his moments of doubt, he weighs God’s hand upon his shoulder and accepts it.

Reading Challenge:

Read the book, Concussion, by Jeanne Marie Laskas or the film Concussion, starring Will Smith.

Writing Challenge:

Tell a story illustrating one of the five types of conflict.