Film Review – Point Break

Abraham Lincoln: “Gentlemen, I promised to take Mrs. Lincoln to Ford’s Theater tonight. We’ll continue this tomorrow.”


Point Break (1991)  
Director: Kathryn Bigelow
Cast: Patrick Swayze, Keanu Reeves, Lori Petty, Gary Busey, John McGinley


The opening of Point Break is not too dissimilar from the opening of Inception.  This sparks a psychological twist for the viewer.  Slow methodical waves represents the unconscious while the trancy music enmeshes and coaxes us into this dreamworld.

The ocean and the waves then are understood as symbolic and must be read in such a way; at the open we see perfect waves being executed by perfect surfers; we see perfect sharp shooting; and then we hear a final crescendo in our dream-  “100% Utah!” This is cinema at its best. This is cinema taking the realife and making it fantastic, unfolding the dreamscape.

But is this dream…or nightmare?

Utah (Reeves) and Tyler (Lori Petty) are cast to look alike; out on the waves and the beach scene they are often indistinguishable. Bigelow wants to represent specific value and the concern over male/female dichotomy is of little interest. Tyler is not the typical female requiring a rescue or a saving (motif) – she saves Utah from being drowned. One idea that i’d like to suggest is that this represents Utah’s male psyche requiring to be saved by his female psyche -perhaps Tyler saving him symbolizes a balance of masculinity and femininity that Utah will need if he is to survive out on the waves of ‘mother nature’.  Utah’s “100%” is also put into perspective after Tyler saves him. He says, “I’m Utah!” and Tyler will respond, “Who cares!” And she tells him, “stay out of the water!”

The relationship between Utah and Tyler takes place through conflict. He doesn’t simply win her over with flowers and a box of chocolates – their relationship requires conflict so they can become psychologically closer; and this takes place through ‘the Bodhi Sattva’ (Swayze).

In the earlyscene when they ride out for the early waves Bodhi comes a knocking; he says that this is the perfect time. Utah does not look happy about this turn of the screw: he might want out. He has no choice. Out on the waves the following dialogue takes place:
Utah: “I must be crazy.”

Bodhi: “Are you crazy enough?”

Utah:  “I can’t even see!”

Bodhi: “You don’t need to see…forget about vision.”

What do we have here? This is Obi-Wan speaking with Luke Skywalker! “You must feel the ocean,” the Bodhi Sattva will say, “You must accept its energy.” When they leave the beach the key line comes when Bodhi speaks, “I am dying.” Here is myth.

Must Bodhi die for Utah to live?

Here is the critical awakening for Johnny Utah. Back on land Tyler will tell Utah that his eyes look different and that he looks less like a boy scout doing his homework – he is doing this for real. The skydiving scene is a parallel moment, but here we could argue that the rabbit hole is getting more interesting for Utah. Back working for the F.B.I and the botched drug raid Utah’s Psyche becomes aware of the cracks: this is visually manifested in the broken mirror into which he gazes; this represents the conflict of value taking place within his Psyche.

We, the viewer, know that Utah will seek his own freedom. He does not like rules and he does not like rule makers. We know this from the opening when he lies to Harp (McGinley) about “taking the skin off chicken”. He eats a Jelly donut and for drinks – Corona seems to be the drink of choice. He walks around the office with the surf board and when shouted at by Harp his superior officer he nonchalantly says, “I caught my first tube today!” While there is this nexus of an attitude within Utah it requires this specific external world to grab him by the throat and push him on waves and to throw him from planes for the spiritual transformation to unfold.

Bodhi is the embodiment of spirituality. Bodhi’s reaction to people driving cars along the freeway to jobs they do not like is that, “they are dead in their coffins.” He is referred to as the “sattva”,  and in eastern religions this equates to spirituality; in Vedic philosophy the term means ‘purity’ –so here we have “Bodhi the pure”. But how true is this? It seems that there is a part of Bodhi that is already dead and that his death at the end illustrates this idea; this is his great dream after all – to surf the 50 year wave. He must have lived this many times in his mind. To achieve this he brings pain to Tyler, allowing her to be taken by Rosy. This might have all simply been for Utah’s experience and that really Bodhi would never bring pain to Tyler; it could have been a “stunt”. But however this is read, what remains clear is that for Bodhi to get where he needs to go he will do many things – including robbing banks.

The mask of choice for Bodhi is the ex-President Ronald Reagan. This symbolises Bodhi’s utter contempt for the corrupt world in which he finds himself. The line where he stands on the bank counter and says, “We have been fucking you for years!” The subliminal message here is clear – it is the banks that have been fucking people for years. Reagan in a sense is the innocent party – the actor. The real power is the hidden hand behind the actor – the people with money and those that pull the strings of the actors. It reminds me of the fantastic scene from The Dark Knight when the bank manager shouts, ““Do you have any idea who you are stealing from? You and your friends are dead.” Another great moment is when Bodhi speaks with the British accent saying, “allo, allo, allo! We are the ex-Presidents!” Why have him speak in this British accent? Are we to read this that the criminality of the bankers is international? Outside the U.S of A? Definitely.

Point Break as the name might suggest is a break in something and the break is a break in value – from material value to spiritual value and it runs the full spectre.  In a great way it is the death knell of the American Dream and Patrick Swayze’s character “Bodhi Sattva” represents this symbolic death – that all spirit is now dead that the banks have won and that the individual is now long dead. But the last thing we see is the F.B.I agent throwing his badge into the surf, landing in the ocean, and poetically linking Utah with his now dead spiritual master. Utah’s expression at the end of the film is quite fantastic and the reading of this allows us to guage the change in his path – and where it is taking him next.

2 thoughts on “Film Review – Point Break

  1. I love this film, one of my absolute all time favourites, it is also really deep for Hollywood. I just wish the main characters could really surf, then some of the cheesier surf scenes wouldn’t have been so cheesy. The film would have had much more authenticity. Darrick Doerne’s (Bodhi) wipeout at the end, was cool but fake. But hey! If you aren’t a surfer you wouldn’t know the difference. 9/10 for this one! Also Check out John Milius, ‘Big Wednesday’. Watched it over a 100 times.

    • Mine too. Although I have to say I loved the cheesey surfing! – Im not a surfer! I can body surf OK. I haven’t seen Big Wednesday, and now will get it soon!

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