Sons of Scotland! I am the Deja Reviewer. And I see a whole army of moviegoers who are here in defiance of casual movie viewing. You’ve come here to dig below the surface of a great film, and dig we shall. What will you do with this new perspective? Will you read?
Hike up your kilt and unsheathe your broadsword because we are about to launch into an epic battle as we uncover a whole new way to look at Braveheart. This great film is yet another example of Cinematic Chiasmus. The first half mirrors the second half in a symmetrical storytelling structure that was used in ancient times to emphasize the duality of a story or idea.
Are you ready? Hold. Hold! HOLD! NOW!!
First, let’s list all of the film’s events in chronological order so you can see how they match up on both sides of the chiasmus:
A. Robert the Bruce narrates about how King Longshanks ruled Scotland as a tyrant
B. Longshanks betrays and murders Scottish nobles at “talks”
C. William Wallace’s father and brother are killed
D. Murron gives Wallace a thistle to ease his suffering
E. Wallace’s uncle comes and takes him away from his village
F. Longshanks institutes Prima Nocta
G. Robert and other Scottish nobles are indecisive in their response to Longshanks
H. Wallace returns to his village for a wedding, which is disrupted by the local lord demanding Prima Nocta
I. Murron runs away with Wallace to talk
J. Wallace rejects Campbell’s offer to attend a secret meeting
K. Wallace and Murron get married in the forest
L. An English magistrate kills Murron, and Wallace avenges her
M. At Murron’s funeral, Wallace kneels in submission before his father-in-law
N. Wallace and his supporters stealthily infiltrate an English fort
O. Before leaving for France, Longshanks struggles to motivate his son to act like a king
P. Wallace defeats English soldiers when it seems like his own men are cornered
Q. Robert and his father discuss the need to compromise
R. Princess Isabelle is inspired by Wallace’s love for Murron
S. Wallace meets a friendly man named Faudron and a seemingly insane man named Stephen
S. Stephen saves Wallace when Faudron proves to be a traitor
R. Wallace inspires his men to stay and fight the English
Q. Wallace refuses to negotiate with the English on the battlefield
P. Wallace wins the Battle of Stirling, despite being outnumbered
O. Before leaving for York, Wallace encourages Robert to become King of Scotland
N. Wallace and his men storm York by force
M. At his father’s return, Prince Edward is afraid to stand up to him
L. Longshanks kills Prince Edward’s lover, and Edward feebly attempts to avenge him
K. Murron visits Wallace in a dream
J. Wallace rejects Longshanks’s offer of peace
I. Isabelle sends Wallace a letter of warning
H. Wallace returns to Scotland to fight an English army, but the battle ends in defeat
G. Wallace kills the nobles who betrayed him
F. Wallace sleeps with Isabelle
E. Wallace leaves his friends and is betrayed
D. Isabelle tries to give Wallace medicine to dull his pain
C. Wallace is executed
B. Robert surprises the English with a battle at what was supposed to be his coronation
A. Wallace narrates about the Scots winning their freedom
Pretty amazing, huh? Let’s go even further and talk about each of these points so you can clearly see their commonalities.
A. Freedom Lost and Regained
Braveheart opens with narration by Robert the Bruce describing how Scotland lost its freedom to the English King Longshanks.
The film ends with narration by William Wallace describing how Scotland regained its freedom by defeating the English army.
B. Surprise Attacks at Peace Talks
Longshanks invites most of the Scottish nobles vying for the throne of Scotland to come to peace talks. But he betrays and slaughters them, cementing his power over Scotland.
Robert the Bruce is set to be crowned the new King of Scotland at an English ceremony. But he surprises the English by launching an attack and winning his crown by force.
C. Killing Wallaces
Young William Wallace’s father and brother are killed while defying Longshanks in battle.
Adult Wallace is executed while stubbornly refusing to swear allegiance to Longshanks to his dying breath.
D. Dulling His Pain
At the funeral for Wallace’s father and brother, a little girl named Murron offers him a thistle to show she cares and to ease his emotional pain. He tearfully accepts it and keeps it for many years.
Before Wallace’s execution, Princess Isabelle visits him in prison and offers him medicine to dull the excruciating pain he’s about to endure. He accepts it to calm her, but he immediately spits it out when she leaves.
E. Leaving Friends for an Uncertain Future
Wallace’s uncle Argyle arrives after the funeral and takes Wallace away from all of his friends to face an uncertain future. He turns out to be a good man who teaches Wallace everything he needs to know to survive.
Robert the Bruce invites Wallace to leave his men and come to Edinburgh in order to forge a pact with Scotland’s remaining nobles. Unbeknownst to Robert, it’s all a ruse, and Wallace is being led to his death.
F. Prima Nocta
Longshanks reinstates an ancient custom called Prima Nocta to permit his English lords in Scotland to have sex with common Scottish women on the first night after their marriage. In this way, he hopes to breed the Scottish out of their own island.
Wallace has sex with Isabelle. It is implied that she has never had sex with her weakling husband Prince Edward II. Ironically, she becomes pregnant with Wallace’s child, ensuring that Longshanks’s line will soon end, replaced by a Scottish commoner’s.
G. Scottish Nobles Pay for Their Decision
Robert and his fellow Scottish nobles are unwilling to fully support or oppose Longshanks’s introduction of Prima Nocta.
Eventually they all side with Longshanks, prompting Wallace to start murdering them one by one.
H. Wallace Returns to Scotland
After a long absence from his homeland, a grown-up Wallace arrives back in his Scottish village in time for a wedding. Sadly, the happy celebration is ruined when an English lord shows up and demands the bride spend her first night in his bed.
After invading England, Wallace returns to Scotland in time to meet Longshanks and his army on the battlefield. The battle of Stirling ends in defeat for the Scots, and Wallace is personally devastated when he learns that all of the Scottish nobles, including Robert, betrayed him.
I. Making an Impression
Against her parents’ wishes, Murron goes on a ride with Wallace to a place where they can talk in private. She admits she is illiterate, and he proceeds to impress her with his extensive knowledge of languages and cultures.
Impressed by her first meeting with Wallace, Isabelle sends him a secret letter warning him of the English army’s plans. This shows that she is smitten with him and that she is quite literate.
J. Rejecting Offers
A respected Scottish man named Campbell comes with Murron’s father to invite Wallace to a secret meeting to make plans for fighting the English. Wallace rejects his invitation, preferring to live in peace and hoping to win over Murron’s father.
Isabelle comes to York to present Longshanks’s terms of peace to him. Wallace knows not to trust the king and rejects the offer. He prefers to continue his war against tyranny, and his courage and intellect begin to win Isabelle’s admiration.
K. Meeting Murron
Wallace meets Murron one evening and they go into the forest where they are married in secret. They then spend the night together and consummate their marriage.
In a dream one night, Wallace walks through a forest and meets Murron. They have to separate almost immediately, so they don’t get to spend as much time together as they would like.
L. Murder and Revenge
Murron defends herself when she is savagely assaulted by an English soldier, and the local magistrate responds by executing her. Wallace soon takes his revenge, overpowering and killing many soldiers in order to get to the magistrate and slit his throat with a dagger.
Edward’s lover, Phillip, gets on Longshanks’s nerves, so the king throws him off a tower, killing him. Edward lunges at his father with a dagger, attempting to avenge Phillip’s death, but he is too weak to stand up to a single unarmed old man in hand-to-hand combat.
M. Afraid to Stand Up
At Murron’s funeral, Wallace can’t even find words to express his sorrow to Murron’s grieving father. All he can do is lower his head and submissively fall to his knees before his father-in-law.
At Longshanks’s return to England, Phillip encourages Edward to stand up to his father. However, at one point, Edward falls into his seat in fear and is too stunned to speak when a severed head of one of his relatives arrives from York.
This might seem like a small thing, but it’s definitely meaningful. Wallace is a commoner, but he is more kingly than Edward. He kneels in submission to a man he has hurt while Edward cowers in terror at the sight of the grisly work of a more powerful man than him.
N. Breaking Into English Strongholds
Wallace and his men dress as English soldiers to sneak into an English fort. They leave most of the men alive, but one of Wallace’s men kills the lord who used Prima Nocta as an excuse to rape his wife. Then they burn down the fort.
Wallace and his men don’t bother with subterfuge to get into York. They use a battering ram to charge right in. They kill the city’s ruler as payback for his cruel crimes against Scotland and send his head to Longshanks. They don’t destroy the city, though.
O. Act Like a King
Before traveling to France, Longshanks punches his son for his ignorance about Wallace and reprimands him for not acting like a king.
Before traveling to York, Wallace tries to verbally knock some sense into Robert by telling him he wishes Robert would have the courage to become the new King of Scotland.
P. Outnumbered Scots Outwit the English
A large group of English soldiers on horseback corner a few Scots and tell them that they are outnumbered and trapped. However, Wallace and more of his men show up behind them and quickly turn the tide in their favor.
During the Battle of Stirling, the Scots are outnumbered and they desperately face off with the English cavalry who have never been defeated. But they win the day after Wallace and his men employ some creative tactics to take out the English horses and archers.
Q. The Art of Negotiation
Robert’s father tells him that they must tread carefully and compromise with Longshanks in order to save Scotland from utter destruction at his hands.
Wallace refuses to negotiate with the English before the Battle of Stirling, preferring to insult them and goad them into fighting.
R. Inspired by Wallace
Edward is more worried about Phillip’s clothes than he is about his preparations for war. In the meantime, Isabelle is enthralled by her handmaiden’s incredible tales of Wallace’s courage and passion.
Wallace inspires his fellow Scots to take courage as they face a formidable English army. He laughs about the legends surrounding himself and helps his men have faith in their cause so they’ll stay and fight. In jest, one of Wallace’s men says he hopes they didn’t get dressed up for nothing.
S. Friend or Foe?
The turning point of the film comes with the introduction and vindication of a crazed Irishman. New recruits come to aid Wallace and his men in their war against the English. Among them are Faudron and Stephen. Faudron presents himself as a kind soul, devoted to Wallace’s cause. Stephen shocks everyone by acting crazy and putting a knife to Campbell’s throat. He joins Wallace, but he doesn’t look particularly trustworthy.
In the very next scene, Wallace is out hunting deer when Faudron and Stephen approach him. Wallace spots Stephen charging at him and thinks that he’s coming to kill him. But he’s shocked to learn that Stephen is actually protecting him from a stealth attack from Faudron. The man who Wallace thought was trustworthy turned out to be a traitor while the man he thought was insane turned out to be his loyal protector. Stephen says, “I didn’t like him anyway. He wasn’t right in the head.”
Every Man Dies; Not Every Man Really Lives
Braveheart’s duality stems from its message of mankind’s never-ending duel between freedom and tyranny. The film is all about the differences (and bonds) between father and son, noble and commoner, husband and wife, and wit and brute force.
Many of this film’s memorable lines are excellent examples of chiasmus:
- “Every man dies; not every man really lives.”
- “You have bled with Wallace. Now bleed with me.”
- “Peace is made in such ways.” “Slaves are made in such ways!”
- “Aye. Fight, and you may die. Run, and you’ll live – at least a while.”
- “There’s a difference between us. You think the people of this country exist to provide you with position. I think your position exists to provide those people with freedom.”
- “I don’t want to lose heart! I want to believe as he does.”
- “I have been given nothing. God makes men what they are.”
I love discovering these things about films I already love and admire. It just takes my respect for the craft that went into making these films to a whole new level.
This is the Deja Reviewer bidding you farewell until we meet again.
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Awesome. I loved it. Nice defense for a film I’ve always loved. 🙂
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Fascinating… I had never heard of Chiasmus. Braveheart is a masterpiece. This article is very convincing. It’s not surprising that such an excellent film would have this kind of elegance and symmetry of the structure.
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Thank you. It’s true masterpieces that keep offering something new on repeated visits.
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