Monday, June 30, 2014

Life Lessons from Robert De Niro

Life can get confusing sometimes. Sometimes it’s difficult to know where to turn to get some answers. Thankfully, there has always been one, unwavering source of inspiration and guidance that has been counted on throughout the ages as a pillar of Truth and Right Living: Robert De Niro.  The De Niro has spread his gospel though his generous ministry of full-length feature films through which he has depicted a multitude of everyday, average men just trying to make their way in this crazy, workaday world of ours: gangsters, comedians, gangsters, taxi drivers, gangsters, parents, jazz musicians, gangsters, professional boxers, war veterans, mental patients, Frankenstein’s monsters, gangsters, cops, priests, anthropomorphic animated sharks, bank robbers, low-level street thugs, ex-cons, and gangsters.

The De Niro works in mysterious ways, and though the characters he portrays are often morally questionable for the most part, each one has one or more life lessons to impart to those of us who didn’t always want to be a gangster for as far back as we could remember.  For those whose minds and hearts have been opened to the Word, then prepare yourselves for this small taste of the bounty that THE GOOD SHEPARD has prepared…

#1: Don’t Be Afraid to Call People Out on Their Bullshit 

There’s a scene in RONIN between Robert De Niro and Sean Bean where De Niro’s character calls out Bean’s character on his strategic ineptitude in developing a plan to ambush a motorcade carrying a coveted case that has ignited tensions between criminal elements of long-time historical rivals Ireland and Russia. The lesson here is never be afraid to point out the stupidity of another person’s plan of action, especially when large quantities of money and peoples’ personal well-being is on the line. Sometimes in our personal and professional lives it may be difficult to call people out on their stupid bullshit, but if we stick to our guns, we can be assured that the idiot in question will be fired and you can negotiate a better salary for proving how much more knowledgeable and valuable to the team you are.

It also never hurts to prove your point by scalding the offending party with hot coffee and scaring him by simultaneously hand-smothering him and dangling him over a relatively tall ledge. Trust me; that shit works every time, and people will thank you in the long-run for saving them from the consequences of the incompetence of a lone idiot.

#2: Know When to Hold ‘Em

“Don’t let yourself get attached to anything you are not willing to walk out on in 30 seconds flat if you feel the heat around the corner.”  This is the advice given by Robert De Niro to Val Kilmer and reiterated several times throughout HEAT.  Though Neil McCauley (De Niro) is a career bank robber whose advice is meant to help keep dangerous criminals out of jail and on the streets to terrify/steal/murder at their leisure, there is much wisdom to be gleaned here.

Sometimes we get so attached to material things like TVs, microwave burritos, and adult wet wipes that we lose sight of the truly important things in life like fat stacks of cash, fucking hot babes, and living life free from the fear of general corn-holing that Hollywood movies have convinced me takes place on an hourly basis within state/provincial and federal penitentiaries.  In that way, De Niro’s advice is philosophically in line with Buddhism, which is also marked by a dedication to spiritual enlightenment while shunning material attachments and a healthy fear of violent, non-consensual sodomy.

There are also certain situations or people that we feel ourselves becoming entangled in/with that there may come a time to make a clean break from but, for one reason or another, find it difficult to pull the trigger.  Sometimes it may be necessary to take some time to properly extricate ourselves from the situation, but sometimes it may be necessary to pull that trigger with prejudice, cut all ties, disappear into the night, get some high-quality fake IDs made, and start a new life across the country.   Metaphorically, of course.

#3: Always Have a Plan (or Never Not Have a Plan)

HEAT also has another important life lesson from Robert De Niro: Plan, Plan, Plan.  No matter whether you’re planning your first bank heist or you’re just trying to save up money for that boob job that you’ve always wanted, you’ve got to have a plan of attack.  Being thorough and planning for all eventualities is an important life skill that can help you achieve your goals and save you the heartache and trouble that will surely follow from being blind-sided by an unforeseen variable.  An ounce of bullets is worth a pound of cocaine.  Or something like that.

#4: Raise a Little Hell

In TAXI DRIVER, perhaps the most famous of his philosophical treatises, Robert De Niro once again cuts through the murk and mire of uncertainty and gets to the heart of the matter.  There’s this little frame house we live in called Society, and there’s a lot of people living in that house and a lot of nooks and crannies and a lot of cabin fever and antagonism.  There are some people whose job it is to make sure that house is as habitable as it can be for people, but sometimes there’s only so many burst garbage bags, overflowing toilets, and random household objects stuck in various bodily orifices that can be dealt with on any given day by the heads of the household.

There comes a time when you can’t pass the buck and hope the system will sort itself out and you have to take personal responsibility for an observable injustice, even if it means sacrificing the very ideals you mean to uphold.  As any cop patrolling our roads will tell you, you have to be allowed to speed if you want to catch a speeder.  Though Travis Bickle’s (De Niro’s) fervent desire that “Someday a real rain will come and wash all this scum off the streets” seems a little, well, insane, his heart is in the right place as he tries to free a girl from the disgusting shackles of child prostitution and brutally murder her pimp and all of his friends.  I’m not saying that sometimes it’s OK to take the law into your own hands, but what I am saying is that sometimes it’s OK to take the law into your own hands.   Or what’s left of your own hands after they’re riddled with bullets from your unfriendly neighbourhood pimps and lowlifes.

#5: Pay Attention to the Details

Casinos are a fun and enjoyable way for people to spend their hard-earned cash, so long as you’re the owner of a casino.  The important thing to remember about casinos, though, is that they are openly rigged in favour of the house (no, not that House), and in order for that rigging to succeed, everything has to be planned right down to the smallest detail.  You think those dancers’ breast sizes are going to sort themselves out?  CASINO features Robert De Niro in the portrayal of what might be his most meticulous character, whose attention to detail can be summed up with his assertion to the casino head chef that he wants “an equal amount of blueberries in each muffin.”

Some might call you “nit-picky” or a “buzzkill” or “more boring than your grandmother’s panties,” but you can safely ignore them with the certainty that long after they are brutally beaten with baseball bats and buried alive in an unmarked, shallow grave in the Nevada desert, you will still be a certified winner because you pay attention to the things that other people take for granted.  Also, don’t fuck your best friend’s wife.  Cannot stress that enough.

#6: Don’t Play the Odds; Act on Raw Facts

With CASINO, De Niro also teaches us another important lesson: never gamble.  Not that you shouldn’t place monetary bets based on the calculated probabilistic outcomes of games of chance and sporting events, because you absolutely should as often as you can with as much money as you can.  But gambling is very different than making informed business decisions based on cross-referenced information and hard numbers.  Just ask my bookie.  And my lawyer, and my cell-mate, and my ex-wife.  Everybody runs into a little bad luck every once in a while, but in the long run, you make your own luck.  And your own shank, should the need arise.

#7: Be Your Best and Don’t Let Paranoia Get the Better of You

This time, by donning the mantle of real-life professional boxer Jake LaMotta in RAGING BULL, Robert De Niro teaches us to aspire to the greatness that we know we can achieve and also not to beat the shit out of a family member on the unsubstantiated suspicion that he or she has been fucking your significant other.

In RAGING BULL, De Niro is hesitant to take a fall and play the game that goes on in the shady underbelly of professional sports where some fights are fixed, all bets are off, and buckets of ice are continually poured over the erections of men’s dreams.  When he does decide to play along, he does so half-heartedly, and so lands himself in some hot water.  The message is clear: if you’re going to fight, fucking fight, and if you’re going to go down, go down like a sack of bricks. Whatever way you choose to utilize your gifts for success, stick with it to the bitter end.

But don’t let it go to your head.  Arrogance in one’s abilities may lead to crossing the threshold of Total Narcisim, which can lead to extreme paranoia and its incumbent consequences.  Also, if you are going to beat the living hell out of a family member, you either make damn sure you’ve got your facts straight or that the evidence has been planted correctly beforehand.

#8: A Little Loyalty Goes a Long Way

There are few films that have become as iconic as GOODFELLAS and fewer still that have brought the message of De Niro to so many.  “Never rat on your friends and always keep your mouth shut,” Jimmy Conway (De Niro) opines to a young Henry “King of The” Hill after his first arrest.  (You never forget your first…)  In the context of the film, it’s a reinforcement of the standard code of silence that allows evil to fester below the surface of our society, but the valuable lesson to be gleaned in this case is to be aware of the cultural context in which you are operating and the relative social norms for the dissemination of information therein.  It’s all subtext, but it’s there.

Ultimately, the only currency we have at the end of the day is our reputation, and most people value a respected confidant as opposed to a cheese-eating rat bastard.  There may come a time when your balls are getting dangerously close to the coals and you may have to act out of conscience and instincts of self-preservation, but for the most part loyalty will pay dividends the likes of which most stock brokers and investment bankers would cream their pants for.  If you have the backs of your family and friends, that makes it all the more difficult for them to keep a loaded gun pointed at yours.

Here endeth today’s lesson.  All praise be to The De Niro.


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