Telling a story in the form of a major motion picture actually isn’t very easy. First, the team behind the project must find a story that resonates with viewers. Next, they need to find a way to tailor it so it fits the traditional movie format, with appropriate dramatic beats knit together to produce whatever overall effect the filmmakers intend. Finally, they need to actually produce a film that lives up to the strength of its story.
That’s why many filmmakers often turn to enduring narratives from the past when constructing pictures. By relying on story formats and motifs that have remained popular for hundreds (sometimes even thousands) of years, they can ensure the movie touches on universal themes and experiences that will resonate with a large audience. That said, they often update these stories in order to explore new themes and experiences on top of those embedded in the classic narrative structure.
A Modern Film Inspired by an Ancient Greek Classic
Brothers, a war drama released in 2009, is an example of this. Like the original Danish film upon which it is based, this movie takes much of its inspiration from Homer’s The Odyssey, the ancient Greek epic poem that relates the tale of the hero Odysseus and his tumultuous journey home after the Trojan War. While the characters in the movie may not face the same mythical foes that Odysseus faced, their motivations and overall quest are surprisingly similar when one takes a closer look.
After all, Brothers is about a soldier who goes missing when he travels off to war. Eventually, his wife assumes he is dead and becomes romantically involved with another man. However, her husband has actually survived, and must go at great lengths to return home to his wife, not realizing she has found a new love after believing him to have died.
In terms of the broadest strokes, this story is similar to that of The Odyssey. By grounding the story in a narrative that has stood the test of time—and has become one of the foundations of the Western canon of literature—the filmmakers behind Brothers were able to insert a new story for modern audiences into a tale that’s been told and retold many times before. Other films have found inspiration in The Odyssey too, of course; O Brother, Where Art Thou? is one such example.
Going Beyond The Odyssey
However, while maintaining some key similarities to a classic work of literature allows the filmmakers to touch on universal ideas that are relevant no matter what year it is, it’s also interesting to examine how this type of movie differs from the story that inspired it.
The major noticeable difference between Brothers and The Odyssey is the setting, of course. While The Odyssey takes place during the aftermath of the Trojan War, Brothers is much timelier for today’s audiences, setting the narrative in the U.S. War in Afghanistan.
This is a smart tactic when trying to make a movie that explores the impact of war and conflict on families and human relationships. It can be difficult to understand such events on a truly personal level if you’re not directly involved in them. When most of what the average person learns about the War in Afghanistan comes from news reports, some people may struggle to appreciate the emotional experiences of those who are directly involved in and personally affected by it. Often, filmmakers can fill in those gaps by grounding these events in character-driven narratives.
The problem is, a certain amount of time typically must elapse before filmmakers can touch on these subjects from the right perspective. When a conflict is still ongoing, finding the right way to frame a story set within it isn’t easy. Filmmakers usually have to wait several years before they can find the proper way to fit a small story from the event into its larger overall context.
That said, there are ways they can work around this obstacle. Choosing to ground the film’s narrative within a timeless story is one of the smarter methods. Because a story like The Odyssey has stood the test of time, a filmmaker can be relatively confident audiences will appreciate the various character arcs being depicted. However, by updating the setting, the filmmaker also gets the opportunity to explore how the specifics of a particular war impact the lives of the people involved in it on a more intimate scale.
Talent Also Matters
None of this means a film is guaranteed to work simply because it was inspired by a classic. Everyone involved still needs to make sure they apply their full talents to the project.
Luckily, that’s not a problem in Brothers. Thanks to the immense talent both in front of and behind the camera, the film succeeds on its own. The fact that its source material is one of the most popular stories ever told helps it succeed, but it’s by no means the only important factor.