Welcome to “Friday Favorites” which highlight some of my favorite movie-related things.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I love movie speeches. And as today is the 4th of July, I will once again be reviving Friday Favorites for today in order to feature one of my favorite all-time speeches. In fact, this was my first ever favorite speech, and my first memory of ever intentionally memorizing film dialogue. I would rewind this scene again and again just so I could get not only the text of the speech down but also the cadence, timing and delivery. And considering I make a point to watch Independence Day every July 4th, today seems as good a day as any to post this speech:
There all all manner of things I love about this speech, that captured the imagination of my 12-year-old self along with the rest of the film. To appreciate the speech you have to back up to the beginning of the film and look at the character arc of President Thomas Whitmore. Whitmore, a young president who served as a fighter pilot in the Gulf War, was elected with the hope that he would be a strong leader, yet from the first time we see him we learn that he’s far from those expectations. The newspapers compare him to Oliver from Oliver Twist when addressing congress, while the TV talking heads say “We elected a warrior and we got a whimp.”
Throughout the film, particularly in the extended edition, we see that he is manipulated by people with more forceful personalities, especially his Secretary of Defense. He’s talked into raising the Defense Condition to level 3, despite preferring not to. In a shocking turn, he’s convinced that they should attack the aliens with nuclear weapons, which proceed to do nothing except presumably kill innocent civilians in hiding and leave Houston uninhabitable. His wife dies and when David Levinson proposes his radical computer virus plan, Whitmore jumps on it out of desperation. It’s at that moment, when he endorses a crazy plan, that he starts to finally assert himself. He fires his secretary of defense, and he heads outside to make this speech.
What’s really cool about the speech, however, is that we can see at the beginning how uncomfortable Whitmore is. Just before the video above starts, he goes to begin the speech and starts speaking into the wrong side of the microphone, having to start over again. As the speech goes on, and David Arnold’s score grows, we see Whitmore finally coming into his element, living up to the potential for which he had been elected, and finally being the leader everyone wants him to be. It’s a compellingly delivered speech, and a large portion of my fondness for it comes directly from Bill Pullman’s performance.
I also love that it’s not the gung-ho pro-America speech that one would expect from a movie called Independence Day set almost entirely in the US and delivered by a US president. If this film was made today by Michael Bay it would sound very different, and would be filled with slow-motion shots of waving American flags. Instead, as written by Dean Devlin and director Roland Emmerich (who is German), it’s a statement against the sort of politics and patriotism that divides us in favor of planet-wide unity and harmony. Sure, the whole thing (and really the whole movie) is relentlessly cheesy, but it’s my kind of cheesy.
Good morning. In less than an hour, aircraft from here will join others from around the world. And you will be launching the largest aerial battle in the history of mankind. “Mankind.” That word should have new meaning for all of us today. We can’t be consumed by our petty differences anymore. We will be united in our common interests. Perhaps it’s fate that today is the Fourth of July, and you will once again be fighting for our freedom… Not from tyranny, oppression, or persecution… but from annihilation. We are fighting for our right to live. To exist. And should we win the day, the Fourth of July will no longer be known as an American holiday, but as the day the world declared in one voice: “We will not go quietly into the night! We will not vanish without a fight! We’re going to live on! We’re going to survive!” Today we celebrate our Independence Day!
What do you think? Do you like the President’s speech in Independence Day? Can you believe it’s been 18 years since this film was released? Did you notice Adam Baldwin (Jayne Cobb from Firefly) as Area 51’s commanding officer, Major Mitchell? Am I the only one who has to watch this every year? Are you looking forward to the rumored (confirmed?) sequel that’s in development? Let me know in the comments!