The Point Breaks: Extreme Environmentalism and Extreme Polyathletes

Nothing quite says “academic rigor” like a film review, so why not do just that: here are some thoughts on the 2015 remake of the 1991 cult classic Point Break. No, a movie doesn’t necessarily need to be ‘good’ in order to become a cult classic. Quod erat demonstrandum.

The original Point Break movie focused on depicting a bunch of Southern California surfers who, on the side, robbed banks dressed as ex-presidents of the United States and, occasionally, jumped off airplanes with parachutes, and were chased by an ex-quarterback turned FBI agent by the name of Johnny Utah (Keanu Reeves). The surfing bank robbers were led by a quasi-mystical surf hero Bodhi (Patrick Swayze).

In the remake, on the other hand, the bank robbers are no mere SoCal surfer dudes but a tight-knit group of international-level “extreme polyathletes” who are experts in a variety of death-defying adrenaline sports such as rock climbing, snowboarding, BASE-jumping and wingsuit flying and yes, surfing, too. (As an aside: the concept of ‘extreme sports’, what they entail and why someone would participate in them, is a highly contested one. For an academic discussion on it, see, e.g. Brymer and Gray, or Victoria Robinson’s excellent monograph that rejects the tired clichés of extreme sports and their participants, such as those presented in 60 Minutes.)

Whereas the original Point Break did flirt with ideas of the surfers connecting with nature and being part of an anti-establishment tribal counterculture, in the remake things have been taken to an extreme: This time the bank robbers are not doing it to vaguely and hedonistically fight “the system” as Patrick Swayze’s Bodhi.

Credit: flickr.com

Now their stated motives are explicitly environmental and anti-capitalist: They are “ecowarriors” whose aim is to be “one with the planet”, and to fight the injustices of both unequal distribution of wealth and the environmental devastation caused by laissez faire capitalism. This is done by, for example, blowing up a goldmine to stop the rape and pillage of nature. The robbers’ attitudes and skill sets within so called extreme sports are also much more diverse and, err, extreme, as in: They are “extreme polyathletes” who master several extreme sports, and they’re truly willing to die for their stated goals.

Another thing that can be expected to have changed since 1991 is the look of the cast. The 1991 surfer/bank robbers were not exactly effeminate either but the 2015 cast’s look is thoroughly updated to reflect an even more, ahem, extreme, masculinity (besides the obvious muscle, think rugged, brand-name outdoor clothing, beards, and extensive tattooing, i.e. a blend of the spornosexual and lumbersexual looks), something that within academia (and even in popular press these days) is often called hypermasculinity.

To cut to the chase regarding my research into male extreme athletes: The changing of the looks may be expected, and the extremetization (Scrabble challenge anyone?) of the sporting element may also be somewhat expected as the popularity of extreme sports is continually growing, but how can the… extreme environmentalism in the movie be explained? And, could it be linked to the above mentioned extreme masculinities and extreme sports?

I am currently deep in the process of writing the second article of my upcoming dissertation that, among other things, considers this question. The vehicle through which I’m doing this is a fairly new, emerging theoretical paradigm within gender and nature studies, called ecomasculinity, which I’m using to study male extreme athletes. No, I’m not writing an article on the Point Break movies but ever since catching the flick last week I haven’t been able to quite get out of my mind the seeming parallels between the movies and my own research interests.

As a visual illustration and to give a taste of the combinations of extreme sports practiced in nature, countercultural masculinities, and the commercialization of them, let’s finish with a look at the trailer of the 2014 adventure film Valley Uprising. The film in question is based on the rock climbing “revolution” (in more than one meaning of the word) that purportedly took place in Yosemite Valley, CA in the latter part of the 20th century as a rather peculiar offshoot of the beat and hippie movements. As someone who wrote both their BA and MA theses on the literature produced by the Beat Generation I find it endearing that in the film the beats, with their proposed “rucksack revolution”, are seen as the progenitors of the anti-establishment, anti-status quo protagonists of the film.

I’m afraid this post, written after a long day of trying to actually write the above mentioned ‘serious’ article, is past rambling already (not to mention it doesn’t really qualify as a film review either) so let’s leave it here for now. If nothing else, this serves as a document of the current state of a mind amidst a demanding writing process, and maybe, hopefully, even offers some food for thought.

Featured image (not visible in mobile theme) from Point Break 2015, credit: surf-report.co.uk

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