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The Tao of Road House

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There are certain things that you learn to appreciate as you grow older. Usually, upon experiencing these things, you wonder how you ever lived without them before that day. Everyone has examples of these and it’s a list that grows as you age. One of the items on my list is the movie Road House starring Patrick Swayze. Yes, you read that correctly. Please let me explain… once you stop laughing, that is.

Many years ago, my friends and I used to go to a local bar that was frequented by many people from our high school. It was one of those places that at the time seemed cheesy and run down but looking back now, it was the source of a lot of fun. We went to school with several of the bouncers at that bar and I remember one day sitting around with them and somehow we started talking about the movie Road House, which coincidentally is about a bouncer and a nightclub.

Anyway, these guys could not stop raving about this movie. I admit, at the time I wasn’t a huge Patrick Swayze fan, and a movie centering on him as a bouncer at a cheesy small-town nightclub didn’t really interest me. However, their testimonials stuck with me, and a while later, on one of those socially-slow nights when you find yourself wandering alone through the “weekly rental” section of your video store, I saw Road House staring back at me on the rack. Remembering the praise this movie earned, I picked it up and headed for the checkout. My thinking at the time was that I should at least give it a chance, based on the cover charges my bouncer friends had helped me avoid. Little did I know how that decision would affect my life.

At first pass, Road House seemed like an errant script for an episode of Knight Rider that was somehow made into a feature film. But after the first viewing, I just couldn’t just dismiss it so easily. Something brought me back. In hindsight I think there was something more to it. I call it “instinct.” (Actually you could probably just call it being cheap, and wanting to maximize the privileges of the weekly rental. Regardless, the result was the aforementioned impact on my life.)

The second to fifth viewings really opened me up to the genius of the movie&#8212a genius that was ultimately embodied by the delivery of a feather-haired Patrick Swayze as the protagonist, Dalton. Sure, the true philosophy was in the written script, but it was Swayze’s delivery that drove home the strength of the words.

Now I could break down this movie on several levels. However by doing so, this little column would easily burn up 10,000 words. Yes, that’s how much fuel I have in the tank for this movie. So for now, let’s ignore a few things.

Let’s ignore the comedy, like how Dalton enjoys a cigarette after a grueling workout, how he beats a guy up and then shakes the back of his mullet for effect, how the movie incorporates a monster truck as a commuter vehicle and no one seems to notice, and how Dalton incorporates the top half of a karate uniform into his everyday wardrobe… and somehow pulls it off.

Let’s ignore some of the special surprises in the movie, like the gratuitous nudity, Wesley trying to kill Dalton by throwing a spear at him, and watching Dalton seduce Dr. Elizabeth Clay, while slowly realizing you’re watching Swayze seduce every woman in every movie he’s ever been in.

Let’s ignore the gimmes, like Dalton’s Three Simple Rules, the running “I thought you’d be bigger” joke and the “pain don’t hurt” quote.

I’m even going to ignore delving into the debatable aspects of the movie that still frequent my thoughts, like the significance of the bar being located in Kansas, the “Show Me State,” and how no one has used Road House and countless other Swayze movies to launch a fighting style/fitness craze based on the fundamentals of theatre dance techniques.

Nope. Today I’m going to concentrate on the deeper themes of the movie and how these themes bring about philosophies that could only be delivered by “the best damn cooler in the business.” Of course, this is just one man’s interpretation of the movie. A movie like this, acted by a guy like Patrick Swayze, is bound to be interpreted differently, but I can honestly say that I have extracted and used the wisdom in Road House to rationalize and navigate through my own life. Much of this wisdom comes straight from the dialogue Dalton has with the other characters in the film, so there isn’t much need for my commentary, but I do believe this wisdom should be highlighted. Unfortunately, it took me about 800 words just to get here. So without further ado, here is what I like to call “The Tao of Road House.”

Lesson 1: Think, observe and plan before you act.

The Testimony:

Dalton: “It’s a job. It’s nothing personal.”
Bouncer Trainee: “Being called a c*cks*cker isn’t personal?”
Dalton: “No. It’s two nouns combined to illicit a prescribed response.”
Bouncer Trainee: “What if somebody calls my momma a whore?”
Dalton “Is she?”

Lesson 2: Know your place in life, whether it be in your work life or personal life, and always be loyal until you are given a reason not to be.

The Testimony:

Dalton: “I want you to be nice until it’s time to not be nice.”
Different Bouncer Trainee: “How are we supposed to know when that is?”
Dalton “You won’t. I’ll let you know. You are the bouncers, I’m the cooler. All you have to do is watch my back and each others’ and take out the trash.”

Lesson 3: Frequently, the root cause of your problems lies within your own actions. If you don’t address these causes, your problems will persist.

The Testimony:

Dalton: “What is the joke?”
Carrie Ann (barmaid): “Well there’s no joke. I just think I’m looking at a dead man though.”
Dalton: “Seems everywhere I go I hear that same joke.”
Carrie Ann: “Yeah? Well something tells me you bring it on yourself.”

Lesson 4: Rather than lamenting, always try to make light of a disappointing situation.

The Testimony:

Dr. Elizabeth Clay: “How does a man like you end up a bouncer?”
Dalton “Just lucky I guess.”

Lesson 5: No matter what life sends your way, never underestimate your ability to adapt to even the most adverse situation.

The Testimony:

Garrett: “You having trouble?”
Dalton “Ah you know, nothing I’m not used to. But it’s amazing what you can get used to huh?”

Lesson 6: Be ready for anything and with this preparation you will find confidence.

The Testimony:

Dr. Elizabeth Clay: “Are you always better than they are?”
Dalton: “Pretty much”
Clay: “Never been put down?”
Dalton: “No. Not really.”
Clay: “How do you explain that?”
Dalton: “The ones who go looking for trouble are not much of a problem for someone who’s ready for them. I suspect it’s always been that way.”

Lesson 7: Do not be afraid to confront your inner demons.

The Testimony:

No specific quote here but I always thought that the Jimmy character was the Bizarro Dalton&#8212basically embodying all of the bad qualities Dalton saw in himself. He was even built similarly and also sported a mullet that was a darker version of Dalton’s own hair. Throughout the movie, you just know they were going to brawl one-on-one and (without spoiling the ending) their fight does not disappoint. However, I interpreted that fight as a representation of Dalton’s struggle with the not-so-nice aspects of his own self. Dalton saw a lot of Jimmy in himself (especially in his past self), and therefore he was actually confronting his own demons in that fight. That’s my take. By the way, I also feel like a huge dork right now.

Lesson 8: If it serves you better to project an image, do so, particularly when it comes to your career.

The Testimony:

Dalton: “If I keep talking, you’re gonna go on thinking I’m a nice guy.”
Doctor Elizabeth: “I know you’re not a nice guy.”

(That was the same reason Dalton chose to drive a beater in favor of his tricked out Benz coupe.)

Lesson 9: When your nemesis calls you up and asks you to choose between whether your friend dies or whether your love interest dies and then your buddy stumbles in at that moment looking like he’s gotten his ass kicked, take your buddy with you when you go and check on your love interest.

The Testimony:

This was the one thing about this movie that always bothered me. Dalton gets the call where he has to choose between Garrett and Doctor Elizabeth. Just then, Garrett stumbles through the door and instead of taking him along, Dalton leaves Garrett alone in the bar, already beaten up, while he goes to check on the Doctor.

And there you have it: all of this wisdom found within an unassuming movie about a bouncer at a small town bar. Surprisingly, most of the real pearls occur in the first half, after which the movie goes from a deep philosophical commentary to a classic 80s action-flick. So basically it gets even better. On that note, cue Jeff Healey to play us out to the credits.

– Hardy
Edited: PC

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About Hardy

  • Before people jump on how ridiculous this story was, it was done in a very tongue-in-cheek tone.

    – H

  • I was just going to say, how perceptive of you to spot all these Tao-ish concepts in the movie (one of my own favorites), then I read your comment.

    Man, talk about undercutting your own argument!

    I liked the catch of Jimmy as Bizarro-Dalton. Since I saw Garrett as Dalton’s father-manque, that would make Wesley the Bizarro-Garrett.


    Road House is one of those Fromage movies. And they rarely get any better. The guilty pleasures of life, is obviously badly made and acted movies you wouldn’t be caught dead admitting you can’t get enough of. You’d sooner admit to having a 200 GB porn collection on your hard drive than admitting Road House is a brilliant work of cinema.

    Your TAO put into words what I basically thought of Road House without ever finding the right words for it. Kudos Hardy.

  • Oh and yeah. If it’s as good as this, I’d love to hear your thought of Hudson Hawk, another one of my guilty pleasures =)

  • Ok, first of all, I think I need to go look up what “tongue-in-cheek” means. I totally stand by the genius of this movie. The fact that I don’t know what tongue-in-cheek really means is justification for why I’m not paid to do this stuff.

    Dr. Pat: I love the read on Wesley as Bizarro-Garrett.

    Jeliel: Thanks for the kind words and I’ll have to add “Hudson Hawk” to the list of future “Tao” movies…right now it sits just below “Over the Top” and just above “Hard Target.”

  • This article should make the editors pick, if not kill the editors, but do it nicely =)

  • By the way, the reason Dalton drives a beater is that angry bouncer-bashers take out their frustrations on his car. Remember the standing order he makes with Red (Dr. Elizabeth’s dad) for replacement windshields? Also, how pleased he is to discover the headlight shields are functional?

    So, in a way, it is also a lesson in not investing your self-image in your possessions.

    It’s like another Fromage flick (thanks, Jeliel!) I like, Straight Talk with Dolly Parton as an advice-giving talk-show host. She’s just been given a Mercedes by the radio station, and she goes to claim it from the valet at a restaturant. “Are you the Mercedes?”

    She sets him straight right away. “I’m Shirlee Kenyon. I DRIVE a Mercedes.”

    So Dalton isn’t his Mercedes. He isn’t even his job, good at it as he is. And when the situation requires it, he doesn’t hesitate to sacrifice that lovingly-preserved Mercedes in order to get into Wesley’s house to rescue his lady-love.

  • Well the guy is a philosphy degree also…

    Laugh all you want, but serious tudents of philosophy learn that quickly. Hardware is just hardware, it have no worth, no value and is only illusion.

    But one could also say that he prefers to take a beautiful woman home, rather than go out with her to be seen. It’s all about perception and the perceivers. He likes a low profile.

    I am not Jack’s degree

  • students* not tudents*

  • What do you guys think about the underlying theme about dealing with your past before being able to live in the present?

    You have Dalton killing that guy in Memphis, Dr. Elizabeth not telling Dalton she was married to Wesley and in a way, Garrett represents a guy who probably has a few demons in his past but he’s dealt with them and is now able to move on…basically what Dalton should do.

    Any thoughts/ideas?

    – H

  • Hey, Road House is one of my all-time guilty pleasure favourites. It’s a crazy list though–International Velvet is on it too! And you wouldn’t believe the rest. But you’ve managed to put down here all the things that attract me to Road House, and you’ve pinned down its ‘tao’ness really well too. I love the way you’ve picked dialogue quotes and commented on them so interestingly. Even if you’ve done the whole thing tongue-in-cheek (or tong in cheek?!) it’s a great piece of homage to a terrific piece of cinematic pulp fiction. Keep writing more of these, please!

  • Hardy, the only way this would have been better is if you’d invoked the name of Gary Coleman and had him play the heavy.

    Nice job!

  • This post was chosen by the section editor as a BC pick of the week. Go HERE (link) to find out why.

    And thank you

  • Thank you for making this a Pick of the Week and validating my strangeness.

    – Hardy

  • Derek

    To combine Jeliel and Ashok’s comments:

    An homage to fromage!

    I find it fascinating when a “crappy” movie keeps drawing me back. I think it’s usually because there’s something particulary worthwhile to me there that I haven’t picked up on yet consciously.

    My favorite example of this is “Any Given Sunday”. I’m not a huge football fan, but I watched this 5 or 6 times. Eventually I realized that the critical message in the film (for me at least) is that even though the main characters were all in disagreement with each other throughout the film about what to do, they each were right, and could only move further on by realizing that what the other person had to say was right too, even though it conflicted with their own (essentially correct) opinions. It showed that everyone’s got a piece of the puzzle. That piece can do a lot of work on its own — and when you have only that one piece for a long time, you can start to believe it’s the whole picture. But you’ll always eventually run into a situation where you can’t get any further without acquiring someone else’s piece.

    It’s funny I missed that in the film since it’d been one of my philospohies for at least a few years before! Something in my brain recognized it was there, and I think subvertly feeling that confirmation and familiarity was what pulled me back. Since I fully realized it, I haven’t had an urge to watch it.

    Anyway, I think the draw back to otherwise clunky films is very interesting. I definitely don’t get a draw back to most clunky films, and evey one that I am drawn to I find something worthwhile in. I’d like to know what the exact process is there — how that unconscious realization that something is going on gets translated into a motivation to keep rewatching something. Comfort seeking? Personal improvement? “Anything that works”?


  • Lizzie

    Guilty pleasure: Yes, if only to hear Sam Elliot say “Darlin’.”

    Just a small correction: You refer to Kansas as “The Show Me State.” Missouri (the state in which I now live) is “The Show Me State.” Kansas (the state in which my mother lived) is generally know as “The Sunflower State.” It is also sometimes known as “The Jayhawker State” or “The Wheat State.” (Also, Kansas is much prettier than the scenery they assign to it in the movie.)

  • Tinker

    Road House is set outside of Kansas City which is in Missouri, not Kansas. The “Show me State” line is bullshit.

    Polar Bear fell on me.