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Sometimes you'll be watching a movie and an old wise man will appear on the screen. He will say little, but those few words will be full of sage advice that will guide the hero on his journey. You may even find yourself quoting him later.

What is easy to forget is that behind that wise old man is just a hack Hollywood screenwriter, and that those ancient words of wisdom were thrown in on the third draft, at four in the morning, after half a pound of cocaine.

6
Yoda

Hollywood loves it when wisdom comes from unexpected places. There is always a homeless man around to teach an uppity grad student about love or janitor or limo driver to offer some folksy homespun wisdom.


More often than not, Morgan Freeman is involved.

That's why The Empire Strikes Back introduces Yoda as a rubbery little nuisance, seeming at first to be the comic relief, until we realize this wacky little gremlin is the spiritual and philosophical heart of the trilogy. The wisdom that comes from this troll sets the foundation for a creed which is more adored and revered today than many religions.

And it's pretty much all shit.

Take Yoda's chilling warning to Luke about the consequences of his decision to go to Cloud City:

"If you go now, help them you could, but you would destroy ALL for which they have fought and suffered..."

Set aside that this is vague to the point of incoherence, it consists of two separate clauses which are both proven completely untrue within minutes of Yoda saying them.


You're full of shit, old man!

The marginal "help" Luke provides to his friends consists in absorbing a Washington Generals-level beatdown from Vader, thus creating a painful and humiliating diversion to distract the Sith Lord from his friends' escape. Luke showing up at Cloud City has NO negative consequences for anything the Rebellion was fighting for or anything else we can see for that matter.

And let's not forget that Luke also "helped" them pick up Lando Calrissian, the guy who eventually joined the Rebellion and BLEW UP THE SPACE STATION CARRYING THE EMPEROR. In other words, the guy who ended up winning them the war.


Great call, Yoda. With those predictive skills, you must have spent many a long, hard day at the race track.

But even this comes after Luke's training, which largely consisted of slogans like:

"Do, or do not. There is no try."

Nonsensical lines like that one make Yoda the Yogi Berra of the galaxy. He seems to have picked up an incorrect definition of the word "try" at whatever community college he attended. You cannot do without trying first. It is impossible. If he'd said "get drunk, or do not, there is no drinking" it would have made as much sense.


"WOOOOO! Pride or no pride, I will get drunk."

Or was he just telling Luke to believe in himself, to plunge ahead against all odds, regardless of appearances? After all, Yoda said the line after Luke expressed doubt in his abilities. Well, we're all for self-confidence, but Luke's whole problem was that he overestimated his own abilities, and was charging into the situation without stopping to train first. The entire rest of Luke's training revolved around breaking him of that.

Which brings us right back to the trip to Cloud City that Yoda tries to talk him out of. Wasn't that just Luke trying to seize the initiative and "do" instead of hiding on a planet with the swamp rats and doubting himself?

5
Gandalf

Despite being generally the least useless of the forces of good, Gandalf is not immune to delivering little wisdom turds like these:

Frodo: It's a pity Bilbo didn't kill [Gollum] when he had the chance.

Gandalf: Pity? It was pity that stayed Bilbo's hand. Many that live deserve death. Some that die deserve life. Can you give it to them, Frodo? Do not be too eager to deal out death in judgment. Even the very wise cannot see all ends. My heart tells me that Gollum has some part to play yet, for good or ill before this is over. The pity of Bilbo may rule the fate of many.

No, someone should have really, really killed Gollum. It's precious that Gandalf wants a little Hobbit to keep his innocence, but the price of that innocence is thousands of other beings dying in a war over The Ring. Gollum is the one who told the bad guys where to find the ring, and later it's his betrayal that gets the ring within inches of being captured by Sauron (thanks to him feeding Frodo to a giant spider).


Though, we may have done the same thing.

Also, why is Gandalf so uptight about killing people, when according to his own words:

"End? No, the journey doesn't end here. Death is just another path... One that we all must take. The gray rain-curtain of this world rolls back, and all turns to silver glass... And then you see it. White shores... and beyond, a far green country under a swift sunrise."

Hell, you'd be doing him a favor! Only we see just minutes later that Gandalf and the good guys are delivered from their fate by, well, dead people. Dead people who have not actually been resting in beautiful fields, as much as trapped in a dark, dank cave for millennia.

It turned out they had been trapped there due to an old curse. So, no, Gandalf. In the Lord of the Rings universe you don't get to see those "white shores" if some third party, without your knowledge, casts the right spell. Better hope you never pissed off any powerful wizards when you were alive!


Oh.

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4
Mr. Miyagi

It was the 1980s and American spirits were at a nadir. We were still heavily ensconced in the Cold War, and recovering from a recession. Skinny, vaguely ethnic kids across the country were getting their asses kick by blond alpha-douches. America needed something to believe in.


America, circa 1985.

Then a man with crazy moves and ancient wisdom emerged from the most unlikely of places (Happy Days) and taught America how to believe in itself again. That man was the Fonz.


Aayyyy.

But we were also introduced to Mr. Miyagi, the mentor every hapless kid dreamed of. He gives you a classic car, beats up high schoolers for you and speaks in a broken English that alternately sounds hilarious and wise. Between Miyagi and Yoda, we want to know what it is about clearly spoken English that interferes with sage pontificating. Quote:

"No such thing bad student only bad teacher."

No. That's not even sort of right, Mr. Miyagi. We are not blaming bad teachers for Hitler, Timothy McVeigh and Spencer Pratt. Each of these guys had probably dozens of teachers in their life and we highly doubt they were all assholes.

And kids, whatever classes or karate trainings you try in your life, you'll only get out of it what you're willing to put in, even if your teacher is a cyborg with Bruce Lee's resurrected brain.


All Rights Reserved on that idea.

Do not write off your failure to a bad teacher.

The thing is, Miyagi knows this from his own life experience. In Karate Kid 2 we meet Miyagi's nemesis, Sato, the guy who drove Miyagi out of Japan. How does Miyagi know Sato? They were both students of the same teacher, Miyagi's father! In what must be the most telling statement in the Karate Kid franchise, Miyagi essentially says that his father was a miserable prick, and apparently so is Miyagi.

And while we're here, we'd like to point out another piece of wisdom that doesn't sit well. Upon Daniel finding his Medal of Honor, Miyagi tells him:

"Daniel-san, this [points to heart] say you brave, this [points to Medal of Honor] say you lucky."


The Medal of Honor is apparently the same as a four leaf clover.

This is one of the real bad habits of movie wise men. It's not enough for Miyagi to say he won a medal due to sheer luck. No, he has to phrase it as an inarguable law of the universe: Every Medal of Honor recipient who put their life on the line in defense of their beloved country is just a lucky asshole.

But, we guess Mr. Miyagi is a fictional character who made fictional heroic sacrifices so he's entitled to his fictional opinion.

3
Morpheus

Morpheus is like a really slick lawyer, relying heavily on his cool oeuvre to hide the fact that nothing he says or does makes any sense:

"The Matrix is a system, Neo. That system is our enemy. But when you're inside, you look around, what do you see? Businessmen, teachers, lawyers, carpenters. The very minds of the people we are trying to save. But until we do, these people are still a part of that system and that makes them our enemy."

This, of course, is added to the film to justify the wanton slaughter of innocent bystanders we're about to witness (including many cases where they clearly had other options).


We've come to expect more from you, Cowboy Curtis.

But hey, we understand that when you're in the Matrix and shit goes down, police and security guards will come at you and you may have to fight back. It is an action movie, after all.

But Morpheus wasn't talking about that. He said, "... Businessmen, teachers, lawyers, carpenters." Seems like he is handing Neo a free pass to straight murder just about anyone, you know, for the cause. Hey, terrorism doesn't come without its perks.


"Hey man, you see a pre-school teacher giving you skunk eye. Feel free to cap one on the house."

Since under his philosophy, any death is justified, we can boil down Morpheus' statement to:

"To save the people, we must kill the people."

And that's the creed of every terrorist and war criminal in the history of the species. You could print that on an Al-Qaeda bumper sticker and stick it next to the one that says, "My other car is an exploded pile of rubble." The way terrorism works is they declare an entire group "the enemy" and attack said enemy rather indiscriminately, figuring that even the common folk are supporting the infidels in spirit.

But Morpheus' worldview is actually worse. At least Al-Qaeda makes their targets as specific as "the West" or "America"; Morpheus declares war on everyone on the entire planet. Why? Because they're trapped in a system without their knowledge, against their will and from which they can't escape. It's like Calvinism as taught by John Rambo.


"You must submit to supreme suffering in order to discover the completion of joy."
- John "Calvin" Rambo

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2 & #1 The Wise Old Men of The Dark Knight

First, we have Batman mainstay Alfred the Butler, a calm, subdued voice of reason to counterbalance Batman's more rash impulses. His first appearance in the film is counseling Bruce about self-restraint, and knowing his own limitations. He's the kind of guy a vengeance-obsessed billionaire vigilante needs to have around. He doesn't try to stop Batman from being Batman, but still tries to be a guiding father figure.

But in a moment of crisis, Bruce Wayne turns to the normally subdued Alfred for advice, at which point we discover Alfred is a homicidal lunatic.

Bruce Wayne: "Alfred... That story you told me, about the bandit?"
Alfred: "Yes?"
Bruce Wayne: "Did you catch him?"
Alfred: "Yes."
Bruce Wayne: "How?"
Alfred: "We burned the forest down."


Don't fuck with Alfred.

If his accent left any doubt, Alfred's preferred solution for dealing with unruly locals leaves absolutely no question about his British heritage. Sure, they could have tracked the guy or bribed his associates or done a better job of protecting the stuff he was stealing. But would that have been as fun as laying waste to an entire ecosystem--and the people trying to live there--for no real reason whatsoever?

And how in the hell was Batman supposed to apply this advice to his situation? Take out the Joker by torching Gotham? Just detonate that building he was holed up in during the climax?

Then we have the other fatherly guiding hand in the Batman reboots, Lucius Fox. He's played by Morgan Freeman, who you may remember played a wise old prisoner in The Shawshank Redemption; a wise old President in Deep Impact; a wise old Civil War soldier in Glory; a wise old detective in Se7en; and a wise old God in the Almighty movies:


He started his career as a wise, old Easy Reader.

Lucius Fox: "You've taken my sonar concept and applied it to every cell phone in the city... This is wrong." And later, "Spying on 30 million people isn't in my job description."

Damn right! See, this is the wise man an obsessed Batman needs. One who'll put his foot down...

"I'll help you this one time. But consider this my resignation."

Ah, OK. Maybe not.

See, Lucius has a strong set of moral guidelines he always follows unless they interfere with whatever he happens to be doing at the present time. We said before that Morpheus' line of reasoning was shared by every terrorist and war criminal, but Lucius' "I stick by my ethics except when it's really important" is what virtually every bad person in the world believes.

Sentences like, "I don't lie unless I really have to," have as much meaning as, "I don't drink beer except for when I drink beer." Any time they feel the slightest like lying, they'll simply declare it a "really have to" situation. It's the same reason it's not OK for cops to fake evidence "when they're really sure the guy is guilty."


"I really enjoy cotton candy, except when I don't."

And the thing is, when you watch the movie you expect the "one-time" breach of ethics to blow up in Batman's face. After all, he spends the finale refuting the Joker's thesis that people are only good when it's convenient (the point of his whole "bombs on the boats" stunt), while actively doing something that proves the Joker right.

So how this hypocrisy come back to bite Bruce? It doesn't! The "unethical" machine works, they catch the bad guy, then they destroy the machine while Lucius stands by and nods approvingly. Everything is fine again! And they'll never violate the civil rights of Gotham's citizens again! You know, until they really, really need to.

You can read more from Dave at www.theblogofallknowledge.com


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For more absolutely awful advice that has been doled out to the masses, check out The 5 Worst Sources of Advice on Television and The 24,504 Worst Pieces of Advice Ever Published.

And stop by our Top Picks (Updated 3.3.2010) to see the old man who gives us our advice (he's just a urine-soaked transient, but Swaim has really taken to him).

And check out what some sports wise men would look like as beer, from our good friends at the Bleacher Report.

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