October Sky is a 1999 coming-of-age film, set in a coming-of-age time in America’s mid-twentieth century, 1957. The movie harkens to a time before American innocence was lost. And the nation as a whole was forced to grow up, mature and face many trials and tribulations in the coming decades.
Like the teenage “Rocket Boys” in the film, America was still young and fresh in it’s idealism. We had not yet experienced the assassinations of John F Kennedy, Martin Luther King, the rage of Vietnam War, Watergate, numerous economic crises, the Reagan years, NASA’s Challenger disaster, and the Gulf War of the 90s.
A fun factoid is that October Sky is an anagram for Rocket Boys.
I remember when “October Sky” came out and hearing reviews like, “The best feel good movie ever made.” (Rotten Tomatoes) It was an inspiring story of how against all odds a coal miner’s son who dreamed of going into space, learned how to build rockets, and landed himself a scholarship that eventually led him to fulfill his dream. At the time, I had wanted to watch it, but life happened and I never did. When we received the assignment to watch one of six movies during the holidays, as soon as I saw the title, October Sky, I knew this was the one I would watch for our movie assignment.
As I watched October Sky, I thought back to the time this movie came out.
I was working as a Pharmacy Tech in a local supermarket, living in an old dilapidated 1950’s trailer, off grid. The road to my home was much like the muddy roads depicted in the mining town of this movie. Often times, it took me 2 hours to drive 5 miles, because of the muck. Wet caliche will suck the boots off your feet and the tires off your truck. One neighbor lost three transmissions that year, trying to drive the back road of the canyon. Almost all of us, lost our transmission at least once that year. 1999 was one of the most stressful years of my life.
It was before 9/11 and it’s aftermath. The Sopranos had just debuted on HBO and The Family Guy on Fox. I didn’t have cable or even time to watch TV, so I didn’t watch either. People were worried about Y2K, and the Internet Bubble was just beginning its early stages of bursting.
Elon Musk was just starting a business that later merged with Paypal. We didn’t know who he was, yet. But his ideas of travelling to outer space and Mars were already formulating in his mind long before 1999.
Jake Gyllenhaal who plays the ever tenacious Homer Hickam was young. This is one of his earliest movies. He received positive reviews for his portrayal of Homer. And I remember Chris Cooper being especially praised for how he portrayed Homer Hickam’s father, adding depth to a character that many felt in a lesser actors’ hand could have been played too flat and one-dimensionally.
The movie was so praised for being inspirational and feel good that I was surprised when I started watching the opening scenes. They were dark and dour to the point that I did a double check to ensure I was actually watching the right movie.
A spark of light in the dark
The film opens with a close up shot of a steel gray cable unwinding as the coal miners take the cable lift down into the dark mines. A prelude to the unwinding of what we now know of the coal mining and steel industries in America’s last century.
It’s 1957 and the people of Coalwood, West Virginia go about their day as a typical coal mining town of the time.
Especially poignant is the scene of one miner carrying an old transistor radio on his shoulder as a crew of miners enter the mineshaft cable elevator. He and the men standing near him listen closely to the radio announcer’s description of Russia’s Sputnik, soon to be visible to the naked eye in America’s October Sky. As the coal mine shaft elevator drops down the radio loses it signal and the miners turn on their head lights. The scene fades out to darkness and silence. This is based on a true story.
A part of the MKMMA assignment was to watch the movie in context of the Four Tiny Habits for Success/Persistance as outlined in our Lesson 11 Workbook slides.
1. A definite major purpose backed by a burning desire for it’s fulfilment. (DMP – Definite Major Purpose)
2. A definite plan, expressed in continuous action. (POA – Plan of Action)
3. A mind closed tightly against all negative thought and discouraging influences, including negative suggestions of relatives, friends, and acquaintances. (PMA – Positive Mental Attitude, Hill/Clement]
4. Friendly mastermind alliance with one or more persons who will encourage one to follow through on both plan and purpose. (MKMMA)
I wonder if others can relate,
as I did, to the conditions of Coalwood, in 1957, to similar times we may have experienced in our own lives? Or perhaps, to what our nation is experiencing now as we enter 2017?
On his site, Homer Hickam shares how he has received countless, heart-warming letters from people touched by him and his friends, his father and mother, and the tough practical strength of the townspeople of Coalwood.
The story of the rocket boys happened almost sixty years ago. Homer Hickam told this story almost twenty years ago; forty years after the actual events happened in his life.
It’s when people take the long view of their lives that they gain insight into their patterns, the long-term thinking patterns, that land them in lives they are living right now. For Homer, this perspective happened in the late 90’s, when he first wrote about the Rocket Boys of his youth. For any of us it can happen at any time, or maybe it has already happened?
The elder Hickam didn’t see his world in decline. The film captures this point well. It’s a part of the heart of the story. Homer’s father had come into his own in the mine. It was where his spark had been lit. He loved the mine. The mine was his world. It was the fulfilment of his Hero’s Journey. And he whole-heartedly wished this for his son, … the life of a miner.
When Homer saw that speck of light fly across the night sky on October 5th, 1957, his own unique spark was lit inside of him. He thought about it for days. Then announced to his family, I’m going to build a rocket. In that moment he established his DMP, his Definite Major Purpose. It was his call to action, the call of his own version of the Hero’s Journey.
Almost immediately he met with resistance. His dream was outside the realm of what was considered possible for most of the people in his life. But Homer stayed focused on what he wanted. He asked for help. He started where he was at and did what he knew he could do, and with each mistake he learned the next thing he needed to learn, and set about learning it. He persisted. And persisted. And persisted. Continuous action over time led to his ultimate victory.
He could have given up at any obstacle. And in fact, he almost did. A turning point in the film is when his teacher, Miss Riley said,
Sometimes you really can’t listen to what anybody else says. You just gotta listen inside.
Early on in our MKMMA experience, Mark J and Davene talked about the importance of deciding what we want regardless of what we think about the conditions of our lives. Let the inside decide, not the outside. Let subby determine the how, our job is to keep our focus on our “what”, our dream, our call to action from the spark inside of each of us.
Work the process, and the process will work for you. (the answer to how is, yes)
12: Commentary: Homer now gives motivational speeches citing “Passion, Planning, and Perseverance” as the secret to a successful life. He stresses that planning in a sequential, incremental way is very important in reaching your dreams.