The Grey Areas of Friendship: ‘Point Break’ Revisited

We all love Point Break. It’s a rare film that seems to work its magic with almost every single person you talk to and for good reason. Kathryn Bigelow’s 1991 action classic is a bonafide gem, a film that is endlessly quotable and boasts one of the most impressive rewatch capabilities. Underneath the surface of bank-robbing surfers, skydiving exploits and Gary Busey’s quest for two meatball subs, what Point Break does best is show the journey of a character struggling to find his place in the world, his place within himself. I thought I’d write a bit about just that, the grey areas of friendship and the journey of Johnny Utah (Keanu Reeves) discovering where he stands in life.

When we first meet Johnny, he’s an overachiever. An arrogant new addition to the FBI, Utah is immediately cut down to size, when John C. McGinley’s Harp so politely puts it on front street, that Utah’s top of his class stats mean nothing when he has zero experience in the field. Utah is used to winning. From his early days in college football to his police academy training, he’s a winner and there’s a level of cockiness that comes with that. When he’s partnered up with Busey’s Pappas character and brought up to speed with Angelo’s opinion that the group of bank robbers terrorizing Los Angeles could be surfers, Utah goes along with the undercover plan to infiltrate the surfer community. There’s reluctance, but there’s a moment when Utah experiences something of a revelation. For the first time in his life, he’s involved with something that, to him, is greater than he is. When Lori Petty’s Tyler character, sceptical as hell but having the wool pulled over her by Utah, agrees to teach Johnny how to surf, there’s a moment in which Johnny sees a figure in the water, almost being one with the ocean. The moment Utah sees the zen-like surfing of Bodhi (Patrick Swayze), he experiences the idea that maybe what he’s jabbed at incessantly to Pappas, is something profound. It’s that moment that Utah feels new, like everything he’s followed his entire life, doing what others wanted him to do, was for nothing.

The more Utah and Bodhi hang out and Johnny begins to understand what drives the crew, his strict set of ethics begin to waver. There’s a grey area to the friendship of Johnny and Bodhi, an area that conflicts with the black and white set of rules he’s always followed. Bodhi and his crew are all over the place, but disciplined. They know who they are and they revel in that self-awareness. It’s a self-awareness that Utah has never felt. Following the path everyone else wanted you to follow can lead to one direction, but feeling free by following your own path is more romantic and there’s a level of adoration that Utah feels for Bodhi’s crew. It’s a character that sees the kind of people he wishes he was, it’s not jealousy at all, it’s more of an eye-opening realization that more than the FBI, Utah feels at home with his new surfing buddies, warts and all.

The film’s biggest struggle comes into play when Utah realizes that the friends he finally sees himself in are indeed the bank robbers he’s been trying to find the entire time. We don’t see a “Eureka!” reaction to Johnny discovering that. N, it’s more of a letdown vibe. Utah feels betrayed by his friends because he knows what’s coming: the inevitable showdown between Bodhi and the gang and Johnny and the FBI. He doesn’t want to go through what will soon come, but it’s something that will certainly happen.

What we then see is a series of moments and sequences, in which Johnny has the opportunity to stop Bodhi but doesn’t. He shoots in the air when Bodhi is cornered because even though the timeless good guys versus bad guys myth is alive and real, Johnny knows that he leans closer to Bodhi and his outlook of riding the perfect wave and adventure. Johnny’s awakening gets in the way of multiple opportunities and eventually the two men, each one stubborn and wanting to win, lead their own into slaughter, by their own insistence on winning at everything. Bodhi breaks his own rules with robbing banks and some of his crew is shot to death. Johnny steps in front Pappas asking Bodhi down and Angelo is gunned down by one of the surfers. Each man loses people close to them because they can’t give up the alpha role of wanting to win.

Point Break works not only because of Bigelow’s excellent direction (easily one of the best directors around) but because of how great it is at showing two stubborn characters, knee-deep in the grey areas of their friendship, that they begin to question the set of rules and moral code each man has. It’s that grey area that compromises each man’s ethics and ultimately leads both Johnny and Bodhi to their lowest. By the end of the film, Bodhi is alone and Johnny is ready to throw in his FBI shield, but the universe leads them to one final confrontation and that brings closure to both men. For Bodhi, he goes out riding the ultimate wave and for Johnny, he feels freed by one-upping Bodhi in his own way. Bodhi does get to surf one last time because he won. No, Bodhi rides that epic wave because Johnny let him. As Johnny walks away, knowing that Bodhi is going to die that day, he throws his shield into the water and moves on. From the FBI and from Bodhi.

We can all watch Point Break with our buddies, over pizza and beer, celebrating the film and doing our best Keanu impressions and that’s fine. But there’s something magical about the film that transcends even that. It’s a film about discovering who you are and how you really feel about the path in front of you. Excellent stuff.

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