In 2006, Hollywood brought us a tale of bravely beating the odds with the film “The 300,” which told the tale of the a small, but skilled Spartan fighting force as they clashed with three hundred thousand invading Persians.
The 1964 Cy Endfield War/Drama film “Zulu” tells the tale based more in reality than legend, of a British colonial force of half the size of the mythic 300, as they fight off a fierce tribe of attacking Zulus in southern Africa. Grounded on the true story of the Battle of Rorke’s Drift, in January of 1879, this film chronicles the story of the conflict that led to eleven prestigious Victoria Crosses being awarded to British soldiers.
Why do we love stories about the underdog who fights on despite having little chance of victory? We love stories that confirm the idea that skill, training, hard work, and discipline can contribute to a clear purpose on the side of justice and morality to bolster a side that cannot lose.
Michael Caine’s character undergoes a transformation in this film even as Caine’s career transformed into that of a major film star. Concerned that his nerves got the better of him during the audition, Caine became convinced that he had lost the role when he felt snubbed by the director at a coincidental meeting at a dinner party. n the end, though, his skill and dedication helped Caine parlay the role into his entrance into big films.
Caine’s transformation from a nervous novice is not the only change in this film. The savage Zulu fighting force, who uses weapons stolen from dead British soldiers, takes a cowardly offensive on the British field hospital. The Zulus not only use the British weapons against the British, they also attack the men who are already at a disadvantage – hardly a fair fight. The British cling to the values they brought to the ‘dark continent.’ The story of “Zulu” takes a surprising turn, validating the victors’ cause. The Zulus, in the end, will abandon their villainous ways in favor of the valor shown them by the smaller British force who fought for God and Country.
We root for the underdog because we believe they should win. It’s not just the story of how they overcame the odds that drives us, but the firm belief that the underdog deserves to win. In stories from the Trojan wars to the stories of the British Empire rooted in the ideals of spreading fairness and valor for God and country, it is not merely the side of the underdog we love, it is the side of the moral and just that we love.
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