This is a thread to discuss the holy fool archetype. What is the holy fool? Basically, it’s a simple-minded character that ironically possesses some wisdom or some other admirable quality and thereby undermines conventional notions of power and prestige. Do these characters attack intellectualism or offer reasonable critiques to the limits of intellect or over-valuing intelligence and other attributes that society highly values? Who are some of the more memorable and interesting variations on the archetype?
What movie is that from, Mary?
Btw, some films/characters off the top of my head:
Forrest GumpBeing There (Chance)
Drop Dead Fred
I would like to think that fools have more fun than Forrest Gump, though he is a fool.
Haven’t seen Being There, though my mom likes that movie.
Yes, it’s anti-intellectual. But it’s always refreshing to see a person who truly doesn’t give an eff, and since we all need to take our lives seriously to some extent, holy fools can be vicariously pleasing.
Drop Dead Fred is a gem of modern cinema. I’m hard pressed to think of a better film at the moment.
Is Drop Dead a holy fool or just a fool? :) There’s a difference. For example, TV sitcoms often have the dumbbell-type characters—Phoebe on Friends; Rose on Golden Girls; many others. But they’re not holy fools. Jim Ignatowski on Taxi comes closer to a holy fool. He’s really dense and clueless, but he often has wisdom, insights and values that make the “smarter” and “better adjusted” people look bad at times.
Yes, it’s anti-intellectual.
Well, I think we have to clarify this statement. I don’t think holy fools are anti-intellectual in that they don’t attack intellectualism to the degree that they promote or encourage ignorance. Instead, I think holy fools attack an over-valuing of intelligence and often challenge conventional notions of success and important values in society. That’s a big difference, and I wholly (no pun intended) support the latter, while opposing the former.
A couple articles from TV tropes to get examples from.
Dumb is good
Seemingly profound fool
I think it’s anti-intellectual insofar as intellectualism would promote skepticism, investigation and reason, and the very concept of a “holy fool” kiiiind of involves “going on faith” that a dogmatic level of insouciance is somehow related to wisdom. We are, after all, using the term “holy” fool. Convenient, at least for my argument…
Hmm, off the top of my head, I would say that holy fools don’t necessarily oppose skepticism, investigation or reason. They generally don’t use these modes of thinking, but can we describe their approach as a kind of “faith?” I guess we could. Still, I would say a couple of things:
1. There’s a difference between a specific faith in a higher power versus a more generalized faith and carefree attitude that all will go well no matter what. I have more regard for the former, and I do think it presents a valid challenge—or at least tension—to heavy reliance on intellect and rational thought.
2. To offer a different approach isn’t the same as negating the other approach. I value faith (which is largely irrational), but I also value intellect and knowledge.
Btw, I’m now wondering if Chance would fit in the holy fool archetype.
Chance – Chancey? Gardner? I would think so, big time.
Well… I mean, the thread is ambiguous. I suppose a holy fool is a merely a tool and is entirely at the mercy of the auteur holding the strings – whether we will be meant to mock him or admire him. But with such a character it is seldom in between… In Being There, I would venture that it is a rare example of ‘in between.’
Chance – Chancey? Gardner? I would think so, big time.
The film is hazy now, so I’m no longer certain. My hesitation might stem from the fact that Chance’s success stems more from the foolishness of those around him—which makes the film a satire. This seems to be slightly different from the holy fool as I understand it (which, I must say, isn’t really that great).
But with such a character it is seldom in between… In Being There, I would venture that it is a rare example of ‘in between.’
Actually, I think we end up mocking those around him. If I recall correctly, viewers wouldn’t mock or admire Chance.
Well, I don’t view Being There quite that way. For me, it’s just a demonstration of how easily humans miscommunicate, and moreso see what they’d like to see, what they choose to see. Chancey is a wild card whose token phrases are just ambiguous enough to sound relevant to anybody. But I don’t think it’s mocking anybody.
For me, it’s just a demonstration of how easily humans miscommunicate, and moreso see what they’d like to see, what they choose to see. Chancey is a wild card whose token phrases are just ambiguous enough to sound relevant to anybody. But I don’t think it’s mocking anybody.
Not just relevant but profound. This isn’t just miscommunication, but a kind of absurd stupidity—or at least that’s how I remember the tone of the film. Plus, isn’t his knowledge strictly based on TV? How can that not be mocking?
I’m surprised no one’s brought up Kaspar Hauser and the logic scene…
Intellectual, but anti-intellectualist.
Gilliam’s The Fisher King is kind of an interesting twist on the holy fool.
Sigh, yes, artist as holy fool or holy fool as “artist” is something of an obsession running theme for Gilliam. He seems to identify with the idea, which, to be fair, does seem to half fit him anyway.
I love Kaspar Hauser! That’s one of the most memorable scenes!
Oh, and speaking of Herzog and Bruno S., also Stroszek.
“Not just relevant but profound.”
Yes I was going to insert the P-word into my phrase but didn’t see the right segue. Again, I don’t regard it as stupid, however – at least not overtly. People see what they want to see, and as humans we strive to understand things greater than ourselves… it’s quite human to read profundity into any given situation. Chancey’s childlike stupor was mistaken for wisdom.
I haven’t seen Kasper Hauser, but I’ve seen Stroszek, and I think that’s a good pick.
I guess The Fisher King would apply, but I want to hear Matt make a case for it.
But their ascribing wisdom to platitudes from TV—the very opposite of wisdom and profundity, right? How can that not be mocking, at least a little? And doesn’t he also rise to a position of prominence?
Btw, this happens with Forrest Gump, when people see him as a kind of guru. You didn’t think that was poking fun at the people?
Kaspar Hauser came to my mind, except to a forgetful one, not remembering the name of that movie long enough to post it, Cinesthesia…. :D
One doesn’t need to be intelligent to be wise, one just as to understand their limitations and live within their means.
Smart and intelligent are two different things, as are dumb and stupid.
Smart is how one uses their knowledge, or lack thereof, and attacks their situations accordingly. A dumb person can live smart if they understand their limitations. And an intelligent person can be stupid if they are not are taking advantage of their knowledge.
So a “holy fool” is not anti-intellectual, they can be said to be pro-realization and pro-self-actualization, be who you are, put on no airs.
And as for Forrest Gump, he never pretended to be anybody but who he was, and he knew he wasn’t smart, he was just living life as the person that he was, and there is wisdom in that.
“I guess The Fisher King would apply, but I want to hear Matt make a case for it.”
Well, if you remember the story of the film, it’s sort of a pomo riff on the Arhurian legend of the Fisher King (a wounded king who was the keeper of the grail at the time of the story). I won’t summarize the whole movie, but Robin Williams’s character Parry tells Jeff Bridges’s character a version of the legend where a fool asks the King why he is suffering.
. . . will have to come back to this later . . .
The holy fool as a TV hero: about Pavel Lungin’s film The Island and the problem of authenticity
I wouldn’t call it anti-intellectual so much as anti-psuedo-intellectual.
That scene from Kaspar Hauser hits the nail on the head. It attacks the kind of people who confuse intelligence with the ability to regurgitate things that are mis-associated with intelligence.
This is the full monologue from The Fisher King, delivered by the Robin Williams character to the Jeff Bridges character during their infamous “cloud-busting” scene.
“It begins with the king as a boy, having to spend the night alone in the forest to prove his courage so he can become king. Now while he is spending the night alone he’s visited by a sacred vision. Out of the fire appears the holy grail, symbol of God’s divine grace. And a voice said to the boy, “You shall be keeper of the grail so that it may heal the hearts of men.” But the boy was blinded by greater visions of a life filled with power and glory and beauty. And in this state of radical amazement he felt for a brief moment not like a boy, but invincible, like God, so he reached into the fire to take the grail, and the grail vanished, leaving him with his hand in the fire to be terribly wounded. Now as this boy grew older, his wound grew deeper. Until one day, life for him lost its reason. He had no faith in any man, not even himself. He couldn’t love or feel loved. He was sick with experience. He began to die. One day a fool wandered into the castle and found the king alone. And being a fool, he was simple minded, he didn’t see a king. He only saw a man alone and in pain. And he asked the king, “What ails you friend?” The king replied, “I’m thirsty. I need some water to cool my throat”. So the fool took a cup from beside his bed, filled it with water and handed it to the king. As the king began to drink, he realized his wound was healed. He looked in his hands and there was the holy grail, that which he sought all of his life. And he turned to the fool and said with amazement, “How can you find that which my brightest and bravest could not?” And the fool replied, “I don’t know. I only knew that you were thirsty.”
As a dialogue, it’s there to draw parallels between the fable of the Holy fool and the story of the film, with Bridges’ suicidal ‘shock-jock’ as the keeper of the grail, wounded and defeated, and Williams’ broken vagabond as the fool, who looks beyond the complexities of the situation to see only a man, “alone and in pain”.
In this context, I don’t see it as “anti-intellectual” – the fool is “simple” only in the sense that he’s led by an immediate emotional response and not by vanity or greed. He’s a fool in the eyes of others because he rejects their vices, not because he’s literally foolish or a buffoon. See also the examples from Kaspar Hauser or The Elephant Man.
No one is going to mention Andrei Tarkovsky’s Andrei Rublev or Stalker?