Braveheart (1995)

Published: Jan 12, 2011 |Updated: Mar 13, 2012


After losing his father, brother and wife to the brutal Edward the Longshanks, King of England, William Wallace finds himself the unlikely leader of a Scottish fight for freedom. It is a job he didn't want, but with the dream of a wife, children and a peaceful home now shattered, all that is left is his dream of a country of our own. Braveheart is a solid introduction to the Warrior archetype and gives poetic accounts of the importance of Brotherhood and the power of love.

Jump straight to the powerful ideas

Action Drama
Production year
Mel Gibson
Male actors
Mel GibsonBrian CoxAngus MacfadyenBrendan GleesonPatrick McGoohan

General spoiler alert!

» Your freedom must be claimed

Ah, Braveheart... I remember leaving the movie theater that evening in 1995. I was seventeen, clueless and inspired. Something stirred inside and I could tell my friends had been impacted as well. Yep, we loved it and for many years to come, when asked my favourite movie, Braveheart was my answer.

With time I came to understand that I yearn for total and unmitigated freedom above all else. Freedom to express, to love, to penetrate and expand. And as William Wallace let out his "FREEEEEDOM!" at the end of my adolescent years, somehow that need was met - to taste, if only tangentially, a life lived from such a place...

It's our wits that make us men

We enter the story in 1280. The King of Scotland has died without an heir and the cruel King Edward Longshanks has claimed the throne for himself. One day, he lures many Scottish nobles to a barn under a banner of truce and has them hanged. William's father gathers the clan to fight.

There is a magnificent scene in which William's father and older brother prepare to battle the English. "I can fight!," William screams. What a bold statement – likely to be met with scorn by many modern parents. But Daddy Malcolm pauses, turns to face his son and gently tells him "I know. I know you can fight." He smiles knowingly. "But it's our wits that make us men."

This scene moves me. Instead of collapsing into shame when being confronted with his son's capacity for aggression, Malcolm recognizes the moment is ripe for mentorship. This scene points to the challenging job of every father to, without shaming him, embrace the Warrior archetype in his son and channel its vast energies into constructive, world-building pursuits (for the many new age fathers who are trapped in the masochistic shadow pole, this is virtually impossible).

Braveheart – early years

A man dies. A brother takes his place

Some time later, the men who set out to battle the English return with broken spirits, pulling a heavy chariot with bodies on it. "Come here lad," one of them says with a voice imbued with gentle, loving strength. There is something so nourishing about the way these men address young William, even when bringing the dark tidings of his father's and brother's death. A part of me feels yearning inside when I watch these scenes – no man ever addressed me like that when I was wee lad.

Then uncle Argyle arrives. Argyle is the mentor, appearing as if summoned by his brother's last breath. And it is as it should be; in many ancient cultures, it is the uncle's responsibility to bring the boy into manhood, as aboriginal elder Bob Randall reminded me when I spoke with him in September.

The teaching is about to begin.

Scotland rises

Many years later, William returns. We can but imagine his adventures. And as we will soon find, Argyle has done a fine job with his nephew. William quickly courts Murron and gets his way - his Lover archetype is healthy and the scene where he returns her thistle moving. I see it as a gentle reminder of how we can be soft and romantic, especially faced with the woman we love, without losing our masculinity; that is precisely the gift of the Lover archetype.

William and Murron marry clandestinely in a forest clearing one night, to avoid the horrific implications of primae noctis.

Their marriage is a short one. Murron is killed by the local magistrate and William returns to avenge her. Having defeated the English troops, the clans soon rally behind William, looking to him for leadership. It seems that a man who is willing to risk, risks becoming a leader. And though he desired but peace and a family, William now finds himself the unlikely leader of a rebellion.

And thus he picks up the sword left by his father. There is something quite electric about a man's experience of getting to know, in his adult years most likely, his father's (sometimes well hidden) goodness and vision for life (this journey is described well in the movie Robin Hood). In being given the chance to bring a father's seed to fruition, a man finds in some well hidden, moist and mourning part of his heart enormous power of lineage.

The dark father

Enter Robert the Bruce, a key character and the main contender for the Scottish crown. I'm fascinated by him. He wants to do the right and noble thing, but is torn between his own inner conviction and the toxic advice from his rotting father. This miserable, forlorn man that hides in a tower is reminiscent of Darth Vader - powerful in a way, yet greedy for power to the point of losing his humanity (though even in him exists a soft spot where he mourns the life he didn't live). And just like Darth Vader, he is a Shadow Magician, a cynical manipulator.

It could be that we all have a dark father, and though that dark matter may (or may not) be but trace elements in our own biological father, there is something archetypal going on here. We all have, I believe, a man in a tower somewhere who tells us lies for our "own good". And when we heed his voice, we and those around us suffer. (Get to know that voice and fight it. That tower needs to burn! New age embrace won't work here.)

Robert is inspired by William and inspiration is something his father does not understand. For his is a closed heart, void of any juice and joy. Be real wary of taking advice from such a person.

Invading England

At the fields of Stirling, William rouses the Scottish troops and Argyle lingers on the wind as the Scotsmen rise their spears in defiance of English cavalry. Soon, the English tuck tail and a blood-stained William rises his sword as a roar of victory ripples through the weary troops. William's Warrior archetype is at the peak of its power.

Despite their defeat of the English Northern Army, the Scottish nobles remain one bickering crowd, as is often the case with those who care for politics (too much brain, too little heart and body). William is no politician. And his leadership is of a temporary kind - alive only as long as Scotland's sons and daughters don't know freedom. It's not that he is void of the King archetype, it's just that he is not destined to be the leader of a people. His vision is of a simple life: A house, a woman and children. He is not a ruler for times of peace.

No, Scotland's future leadership lies in the hands of Robert the Bruce and it is with the harmonizing grace of his King archetype that William finds the strength to invade England and claim York.

Things are looking up for Scotland. Though Murron, sadly, remains just as dead.

The dream collapses

Princess Isabelle, the French princess who marries Edward Longshank's effeminate, weakling son (trust the son of a tyrant to become a weakling), becomes William's unlikely ally. She is fascinated by him. He is a true man, unlike her wimpy husband and the rest of the shut down men that lurk England's halls of power. A woman would do a lot, it seems, to honor true manhood (having a mission in life is real sexy to a woman. Just ask one).

But the Scottish nobles honor power and property - what else is there to love when your non-integrity steals your self-fulfillment? Surely, hiding self-contempt with pursuits of material gain is no way to live! At Falkirk, they turn their backs on Scotland. Selfish, single-minded hunt for property destroys all men in the end.

When William in one scene pulls off the helmet of a knight who just charged him, only to realize it's Robert the Bruce, something important happens. William has trusted Robert and now he finds himself betrayed. As I watch this scene, a thought enters my mind: If I were to break the trust of a friend, I would want him to react like this. If this level of hurt is not present at my betrayal, it is a friendship not quite worth having. I am saying that from now on, I want Brotherhood above all else, and you simply don't betray a Brother (are you with me?).

Bruce is torn apart by his ravaging guilt and tries to put things right. But his dark father intervenes and William is captured by the English. Bruce's heart is decimated. William Wallace dies (with a scream that still echoes from my adolescent years).

It is with Murron's bridal cloth in hand that Bruce continues William's legacy and claims Scotland's freedom at the fields of Banockburn. We imagine that his heart is put at rest somehow by this, through some sort of spiritual alchemy inherent in fulfilling any true legacy. And we conclude that one Scottish man's love for a good woman carried within it the power to free a people.

Love and freedom. Really Brothers, what else is worth living for?

Powerful ideas from Braveheart

  1. The sons and daughters of Scotland were enslaved because their King didn't produce an heir. How is this insight relevant to your own life?
  2. While freedom is your birthright, it's only truly yours if you step up and claim it.
  3. Your father had a vision for his life, probably far greater and more noble than you ever dreamed possible. As sons, we find enormous power of lineage when we manage to tune into and perhaps fulfill that dream.
  4. A boy needs a mentor to become a man.
  5. If the horsemen of the apocalypse keep trampling you, you need spears. Long spears.
  6. A man's betrayal of a Brother will tear him up inside, potentially destroying his soul.
  7. The man who pursues property for his own gain alone may have horsemen enter his bedchamber at night.
  8. Treat a boy with respect. He needs a man's attention to become one himself.
  9. Don't trust a joyless, rotting man who lives in a tower and tells you things "for your own good".
  10. Don't interfere with love. Its power is enough to make empires crumble.

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Discuss Braveheart below:

  • Alex C

    I was surprised when I first found this site that Braveheart was not included. I truly looked forward to this review. There are definitely parallels between Braveheart and Gladiator, for example, but Braveheart delves more deeply into the growth and culmination of the balanced masculine man. Wallace’s poise and tact, his fearlessness and leadership in battle, and his unyielding passion for love and freedom really struck me years ago in a similar way to how it must have struck you. He displays so many of the subtle but essential qualities in a complete man – the ability to feel his connection and admiration for nature, his resourceful and perfectly discreet wit, his fearlessness and conviction in his duty… Above all things, when I look at characters like William Wallace, Maximus, Katsumoto, and Aragorn from LOTR, I am immediately struck with this point: there is a lack of pettiness in their character, and their lives.

    One question for you. I’ve been reading KWML and books like it for a few months now. They are helping me recognize and articulate the feelings and instincts that I felt as a young boy yearning for manhood, and that I now am beginning to embrace. My question is regarding mentors. Do you believe that through the study of these books and a conscious and organized will to change, that one can become one’s own mentor?

    I appreciate it.


  • I resonate with everything you write, Alex. Yep, not much pettiness here. What strikes me about all of these characters, however, is that they’re under situations of extreme stress. I think this kind of challenge brings out the best in a man. Our challenge may be to bring out the best in us even though the danger is not immediate.

    Your question about mentors… It’s a good one. Simple answer is that I don’t know.Though there is something about mentoring oneself which seems very strange to me. You may be interested in watching the video with Robert Bly where he talks about how his mentors were dead men. So he tuned into their “spirit” somehow and was mentored that way.

    I’m thinking personally that it’s vastly preferable with a living mentor. His role, mainly, is to support us in healing our wounds – to tell us we are good and okay and powerful as we are and in that way empower us to be the men we are meant to be. Robert Bly calls him a male mother. I resonate with that strongly.

    I find myself curious if you are asking because you’re naturally drawn to solving problems on your own?

  • Alex C


    Yes, these characters only fortify the argument for ritual initiation. Modern men are tasked with providing their own heat for the crucible. It’s a delicate process.

    As far as mentors go, your Bly allusion reminds me of a pertinent quote:

    “The reading of all good books is like conversation with the finest men of past centuries.”
    — René Descartes

    My greatest mentors thus far have been dead men. Fictional characters, past leaders, and deceased authors have provided the bulk of my supervision. They differ mainly from traditional mentors in that I had to seek them out. This leap is where the boyhood usually lingers. Most boys in modern society never realize that the onus is on them to provide their own mentor, whether it be from literature, cinema, history, etc. They don’t realize it because the elimination of the mentor is an unnatural phenomenon unique to our present condition.

    I don’t think that I’m solving these dilemmas on my own. Hemingway, Bly, William Wallace, Teddy Roosevelt, Paul Newman, Buddha – I converse with men like these on a daily basis. The only difference between physical contact and indirect contact is the importance of individual resolve and perseverance. It’s not that I want to do it alone in a corporeal sense, it’s just that I have had no other option.

  • “Most boys in modern society never realize that the onus is on them to provide their own mentor, whether it be from literature, cinema, history, etc. They don’t realize it because the elimination of the mentor is an unnatural phenomenon unique to our present condition.”

    This is a very sage observation, Alex.

    My sense is that in this day and age brotherhood will have to replace the student mentor relationship. At least to the extent that such is possible. Boys can never initiate each other, but I think us uninitiated men can support each other far enough in our respective journeys to bring about the real mentors in our lives. Although it didn’t happen with Bly it seems. So who knows. Just thoughts really.

  • the K man

    Thank you Eivind. Long having held Shawshank Redemption as my favorite movie, I have lately – for some reason – wanted Braveheart in its stead. I just re-watched Braveheart, and reading your post added to my experience. I’ll return to whether there have been changes in my ranking of the two movies..

    You point out the nurturing communication between young William and his father. I did not notice that when I watched the film. I see it now. I can even feel it. I was transported back to my own childhood, and sadness around my father not teaching me his handcraft skills. Moments missed. My youthful want of being taken seriously as a man, and the often ridicule I received from expressing this want. It is a lesson to me to relate and connect with the man in my son when he arrives.

    I took issue with your need to let the “tower burn!”. The stories I have taken up over the years – helping me make sense of the world – had an important role to play. They kept me safe, and they are part of me. I have realized that some of these stories do no longer serve me. What I want to do is to smoke the pipe of peace with these parts of me, and unearth new stories to tell myself. Celebrate the gold in me. The old stories were useful at some point in my life, and I want to acknowledge them. If not, if I try to burn or kill those parts of me, its going to come back around and bite me in the ass. For one thing, I have recently experienced that when I try to override my sadness and lack of trust in other people, that very sadness will paralyze me a few steps into a new project. Instead, I aim to move as one.

    So, is Braveheart my new favorite movie? No. There is something about the brute force with William that I don’t connect with. His unapologetic killing, and his unwillingness to take the role of a peace time leader. Maybe there is something in there for me to look at. That by committing to a battle, I do not necessarily commit to a war. Shawshank Redemption is also a story of a freedom fighter: Andy’s fight for dignity under deplorable conditions. A patient man with the sole aim of freedom and persistence to pull that off. The Gandhi type. He keeps standing under pressure, claiming his freedom. He is also able to finally bask in his freedom, unlike William. Maybe I just like happy endings.

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  • Hello K man! 🙂

    I love to hear your reflections around the father-son relationship. Thanks for bringing those.

    I believe you interpreted my letting the tower burn metaphor differently than I intended. This is not meant to be an admonition to reject our past mistakes. I believe, as I believe you do, that they must be embraced with all the forgiveness and love that we can muster.

    This Tower to me is more of an archetypal symbol, pointing to an evil that lives inside all people. But I have been thinking a lot about this Tower after writing this review and have suspected that I’m not seeing the full picture. One interpretation of this Tower is that it holds the voice of the superego. And I have personal experience, as you know, that addressing the superego with love can be a healing experience.

    So I’m left with my still-present feeling that there is something else also at play with this Tower – that there is a genuine evil inside us that genuinely wishes to see us suffer. I believe this operates out of the collective unconscious, though I’m not clear on this. And I’d love to explore this more in the time to come. In fact, I think I may write a blog post about it.

    Thanks a lot for the feedback, bro.

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  • Caio Gutzwiller

    Great read! Thank you.

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