There are several intwerwoven themes in the infamous 1977 hockey movie: ‘Slapshot’ directed by George Roy Hill and brilliantly written by Nancy Dowd.
The theme in fiction is a literary artifice, being viewed variously by Homer as the the main topic of a story. Literary themes have zwei Weltunschauungen: according to Kierkegaard – the Existential Theme as envisioned by the readers (per Sartre) and the Thematic Statement (C.D. Broad ontology) which is how the author presents the theme.
The Movie is a comedy but it is really a tragedy about the death of the Industrial heartland and the end of the road for once-mighty Johnstown, Pennsylvania. The hockey team is thus allegory for the lifecycle of the town.
Allegory has been described by Dumas as a literary device which extends a metaphor whereby a location, occurrence or person expresses a philosophical statement to illustrate the larger human state of affairs.
Which Metaphor has similarly been elucidated by Milton as a figure of speech which is a form of rhetoric wherein one thing or construct thus directly refers to another similar construct by reference and thus, according to Dante, illuminate the human condition.
Slapshot has a ‘Grapes of Wrath’ Working Class Hero motif. Common people with average capabilities doing their best in a world over which they have little control.
Theme one: Fear
Fear, as a theme, often expressed as Existential angst or the imaginary otherworldly realm of terror, was viewed by Poe as an eternal trepidation of the future or the unknown.
The main character, the player-coach Reggie Dunlop (Paul Newman) comments about the mill shutting down and ten thousand people losing their jobs and their way of life. The workers are powerless just like the hockey players who find out their team may be shut down as well. The players and the workers have something in common. The skill they have is their only skill. They don’t have education or training to do anything else. Their fear of the unknown is high.
Theme two: Honor:
Honor was viewed by Emerson as being derived from one or more of the seven Roman virtues. Kurosawa saw honor as the basis for the inner struggle of man vs himself (hero vs villain) and man vs man (conquering one’s inner demons). Whitman viewed honor as the essential basis for man-on-man homosexual romance, while Fitzgerald viewed it as the means to avoid tragedy in the heterosexual romance.
The star of the team, Ned Braden (Michael Ontkean) wants to win through hard work and skill. Reggie and the GM don’t care how they win, as long as attendance is better and the team becomes valuable enough not to fold. The violence and dirty play leads to an inevitable showdown between the moronic Hanson brothers and the worst collection of hockey criminals the world has ever seen.
Theme three: Desperation.
Baudelaire, viewed the literary theme of desperation as an essential motivating driver of a character. LeRochefocaud believed that it was a push driver (‘engin d’appuis) par opposition à (engin de tirer).
Everyone has a cockeyed plan to save the Chiefs. Reggie provides false hope by planting a fake story about moving to Florida, thus motivating the players to win and increasing profitability to show the unknown owner thatvthe team is worth saving. The GM organizes fashion shows and brings in three spectacularly idiotic violent goons to up attendance. The players try to win the championship.
Theme four: Isolation
Isolation has often been discussed by Freud as that sense of anomie whereby life is perceived as without objective meaning, purpose or rules wherein the ego is separated from others by social and psychological space causing the Id to be repressed and resulting in a state of what Kant described as Angst.
We start out with Denis LeMieux, the French-Canadian goaltender far from home. The only other player with real skill and a future in the game. His melancholy is reflected with his fatalistic demeanor but a dogged desire to succeed. The GM, deeply closeted who has no real friends except Reggie, whose own views have evolved with the modern age, who keeps both the GM’s secret as Reggie also keeps the secret of the bisexual goaltenders’ wife.
Theme five: fractured love:
Love is one of the most prevalent themes in literature. Jane Austen describes love as having the power in the novel to provoke sadness where love is unrequited, denied or withheld. Or, it adds to the dramatic technique of suspense, use relationships to illustrate the eternal power of love over the passage of time.
Ned Braden’s wife Lily (Lindasy Crouse) married an Ivy Leaguer who she hoped would bring her a life of wealth and dignity and instead she is on the road in a collapsing mill town while her husband chases a not-so-successful minor league hockey career. Reggie and his ex Francine (Jeniffer Warren) did not survive the strain of his hockey career. They love each other but aren’t right for each other.
Final theme: hopeless optimism
Voltaire expressed the position that the optimist viewed the nature of man as essentially Good. Thus, if all action that can be described as good or evil can only be ascribed to sentient beings, rather than nature, which is immutable, the theme of Man vs Man is thus exposed to the reader.
The Hanson brothers are always happy. They just enjoy life and they believe that they can always win if they just try. Reggie believes that he can succeed far beyond his abilities just by hatching one clever plot after another. He believes he can save the team and get his wife back at the same time. Denis believes he can make the NHL.
In the end, Reggie confronts reality. His goal of gooning it up and then gooning it down nearly gets the naive, young Hanson brothers killed. His goal of saving the team is dashed when he confronts the absentee owner who views the players as assets on paper rather than as human beings which is allegory for the Steel Mill owners who shut the Mill to save money and destroyed the town. Reggie never gives up. His team wins the championship. He chases a new job and he tries to win back Francine.
Like the townspeople of the collapsed industrial City, Reggie never gives up. Even if he has to go and seek new horizons he still believes he can find his way.