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Great Santini

In: Philosophy and Psychology

Submitted By alexkin
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The Great Santini Essay

Each and every family displays a unique dynamic and a diverse range of relationships in terms of a broad context, as well as within the family. Families work as a system, and deviations or changes in the behavior of one member of the family can transform the functioning of the family as a unit, as well as affect individual members of the family. The family structure is influential in the functionality of the unit, with the most influence stemming from the parents, as parents impact their children’s lives both directly and indirectly. These parent-child interactions have enormous impact on the upbringing and development of children. These interactions can be affected by various components within the family, such as the marital relationship, and in turn the parent-child relationship can impact sibling relationships. The movie, “The Great Santini,” follows the complex family dynamics of the Meechum family. Lt. Col. "Bull" Meechum, a pilot, who is also known as "The Great Santini" to his fellow Marines is the patriarch of the family of six. During peacetime, the military minded father moves his family to the military-base town of Beaufort, South Carolina. The complex family is comprised of Bull’s wife Lillian and their kids, Ben and Mary Anne. Lillian becomes tolerant of Bull’s aggressive behavior, hot temper, and excessive drinking. Ben and Mary Anne have become accustomed to Bull’s harsh discipline, therefore in addition to adjusting to a new town and new school, they must also behave according to Bull’s ever-changing behavior.

This film demonstrates the complexity of parent-child interactions, and the influence those interactions can have. Ben and his father have a very complicated relationship, causing Ben to have conflicting feelings toward his father. He is simultaneously proud and fearful of Bull, and is often torn between love for his father, and hatred for his father’s cruelty and narcissistic expectation of what Bull expects Ben to be. Each relationship within the family affects the family as a whole. Social learning theory suggests that children learn how to interact with people and resolve conflicts by watching their parents, therefore, with regard to Ben’s development, his mother had a greater influence on his character traits. Children who experience emotional arousal and distress develop a sense of emotional insecurity, which leads to later problems in social interactions. As Ben is developing and finding his own identity, he struggles with emotions due to the lack of emotional attachment or support to his father.

Bull displays a total intolerance of family life and fatherhood. Although he has a supportive, loving wife and a likeable, sensitive son, and good children, he finds the idyllic nature of peacetime completely incompatible with his war-like mentality and aggressive nature. Given the level of discomfort and unfamiliarity Bull feels toward his family life, he begins to drink, all the while drilling his family unmercifully, like recruits in the military. He drives and pushes Ben relentlessly, until the basketball game where Ben fights back. With the difficult time Bull is having adjusting to domestic life at home, his demeanor affects the entire family dynamic and tension builds within the household.

Bull’s war-time sensibility is hardly accustomed to peace time domesticity. He has an extremely difficult time adjusting to domestic life at home. In turn with ferocious rage and a war-like mentality, he treats the members of his family as if they were recruits in military that he was commanding. He is a proponent of strict enforcement of rules in the dictatorial and overbearing management of his household. Bull’s status in the Marines gave him great reason to show his dominance by ordering his family around. Home life with Bull can be compared to how cadets are treated while in military camps, something that Bull is very familiar with. For Bull his comfort zone is war, as it is all he knows and relates to. The comfortability of war leads him to behave accordingly, which has a great impact on the domestic, family life he is living in. This greatly affects all relationships within the family and is a source of dysfunction within the family system.

Although parents have the greatest impact on their children’s socialization, one parent can be more influential that the other. Ben seems to be more like his mother and rejects his father’s aggressive, dominating nature. Ben is in the process of developing and establishing his own personality and identity, and through some painful life lessons he finally forges his own path through crisis and tragedy. In and influential scene of the movie, Bull confronts Ben after Ben defeats him in a game of one-on-one basketball. Bull follows him up the stairs in the house, demanding a rematch and repeatedly bouncing the ball off of Ben’s head while taunting him. This scene shows the competitiveness that Bull equates with becoming a man and how he sustains a military ethic in everyday life. Bull also displays the rejection of the Ben’s kind hearted nature and attempts to instill in him a more aggressive attitude. Bull have a great imposing control over Ben, and tries to assert his dominance over Ben with any chance that he gets. Bull never lets or encourages Ben to win against him in basketball, and often results in using unnecessary physical tactics or humiliating Ben. Bull embodies an authoritative parenting style with extremely low warmth and a very high level of control. The traits and actions of Bull have instilled a level of fear within Ben. There was a reign of terror created by Bull every time he was with the family. This was extremely embarrassing and influential in Ben’s life. Not only was there physical and emotional abuse, but Bull never encouraged his children in a positive manner. Bull doesn’t understand Ben, and in turn Ben doesn’t understand Bull’s aggressive nature. Ben is unlike his dad in that he is sensitive and kind hearted. However, Bull wants Ben to be more like him, and therefore doesn’t respond well to Ben’s sensitive, good nature. This dynamic shows that child development is bidirectional, meaning that parents’ behavior affects children’s and children’s behavior affects parents.

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