Friday Night Lights: A Parable of Heroism Jordan Katz

Peter Berg’s, Friday Night Lights (2004) is based on a true story which took place in west Texas, 1988. The true story is from author, H.G. Bissinger, who wrote the story, Friday Night Lights: A Town, a Team, and a Dream. The film focuses on visualizing the hardships the young men encountered in Bissenger’s book on the high school football team located in the economically depressed town of Odessa, Texas. In the film, the viewer witnesses the impressive Permian High Panthers’ journey to the Texas State Championship. Director Peter Berg portrays this football team as the town heroes in a grace of hope given their economic situation.

Ratliff Stadium

The film opens up with landscape extreme long shots that surround the town of Odessa. Through these shots the viewer has a better understanding of how bad the economic situation is in Odessa, Texas. Once Berg provides this understanding, we are introduced to quarterback and one of the main characters, Mike Winchell (Lewis Black). This scene is important to understanding the towns beloved sport. Winchell is normally eating breakfast while his mother persists for him to understand his playbook. The quick scene ends with Winchell’s mother questioning her son about a scholarship. Berg utilizes quick shots using distance to set the tone. Close-up shots typically have more emphasis that the viewer must take note of for understanding of this film. For example, Winchell’s mother is sick and one of the close-ups is her prescription drugs in the kitchen. He emphasized this early on to understand Mike Winchell’s situation, which becomes a conflict later on in the film. The following scene cuts to Boobie Miles (Derek Luke) out for a run with a radio broadcasting as audio. Coach Gary Gaines (Billy Bob Thornton) is mentioned as earning a 60,000-dollar salary, which is higher than the principal’s salary. While mentioning this, Berg uses more landscape shots. However, this time they are tracking shots through a handheld camera. Berg is known for using handheld shots religiously through the film he has directed. In this case, combining the shots underdeveloped communities with the audio from the broadcaster explaining wages of the head coach sets the tone for this film and how this team represents the soul of Odessa, Texas. Immediately after this is stated, Berg introduces the state-of-the-art Ratliff Stadium of Permian high school through a bird’s-eye shot, “a shot taken from an extremely high angle,” (Sikov, 12) with ambient background music playing in the background as an uplifting tone. This scene is where we are introduced to the main characters of the football team or what others view as heroes in the town. On their first day of pre-season, Berg includes close-up shots on Universities scouting the players of the team. Notable Division-1 schools, such as University of Southern California, University of Florida, Notre-Dame University, and University of Miami. These schools represent a way out for these young men.

As mentioned above, the football is viewed as heroes in this film. Coach Gary Gaines states, “…protect this team, school, and town. Make no mistake about it gentlemen, we are in the business of protecting this town.” (Friday Night Lights) This explicitly shows the team as heroes. The fact, that it is mentioned twice to protect the town emphasizes their impact on the community. With that said, there is no director better than Peter Berg regarding heroism. Berg has directed other films regarding heroism, such as Lone Survivor and Patriots Day. Both of which include heroes of today’s society. These films all show a similar theme, but Friday Night Lights represents heroes in the eyes of their town rather than a nation.

Heroism is defined as, “great bravery.” (Oxford Dictionary) This definition is important when recognizing the parable in this film. When considering the parable of heroism in this film, one must highlight, “our will is our capacity to follow without hesitation that once-chosen way.” (Ricoeur, 281) An example to relate to this is Boobie Miles. Miles tears his ACL in the home-opener of the season. He was considered the Panthers’ ticket to the state title. With weeks to follow, Miles would not step off his once-chosen way. Towards the middle of the season, Miles goes to the top hospital in Texas for an MRI. The doctor explains to him how he will not be capable of returning for the remainder of the season and Miles’ immediate response was to suit up for the game. Not only does this show great bravery, but he came into this game without hesitation of his way. Miles steps on the field, and the crowd could not be more ecstatic for the return of their home-town hero. However, the injury takes him right back off the field after two plays and reality steps in. Miles must now accept his fate and reorient his path of life. Shortly after this occurs, Miles enters the locker room to clear out his locker. He removes everything including his name plate off the locker. At this moment is when he reorients his path. This eventually occurs with the rest of the senior class players on the team. After Miles’ injury the team has had to reestablish their game plan to win games and continue their journey to the state championship. They were successful in doing so, and reached their goal. This game could be comparable to the story of David and Goliath. Permian was set to go against Dallas Carter. Opening the game, Dallas Carter silences the Permian Panthers until a spark towards the end of the first half. Going into the locker room for halftime is when Coach Gary Gaines motivates his heroic team to step up. Coach Gaines states, “Well it's real simple: You got two more quarters and that's it. Now most of you have been playin' this game for ten years. And you got two more quarters and after that most of you will never play this game again as long as you live. Now, ya'll have known me for awhile, and for a long time now you've been hearin' me talk about being perfect. Well I want you to understand somethin'. To me, being perfect is not about that scoreboard out there. It's not about winning. It's about you and your relationship to yourself and your family and your friends. Being perfect is about being able to look your friends in the eye and know that you didn't let them down, because you told them the truth. And that truth is that you did everything that you could. There wasn't one more thing that you could've done. Can you live in that moment, as best you can, with clear eyes and love in your heart? With joy in your heart? If you can do that gentlemen, then you're perfect. I want you to take a moment. And I want you to look each other in the eyes. I want you to put each other in your hearts forever, because forever's about to happen here in just a few minutes. I want you to close your eyes, and I want you to think about Boobie Miles, who is your brother. And he would die to be out there on that field with you tonight. And I want you to put that in your hearts. Boys, my heart is full. My heart's full.” (Friday Night Lights) The importance of this quote relates to the parable of heroism for the team. The speech begins with the path these players have chosen. Gaines refers to the players who have been playing football for 10 years and how they only have 2 quarters left. 10 years represents their path and Gaines follows up on how the majority of them will never play again for the rest of their lives. This is Gaines giving his players the reality of the path they have chosen. The path they will need to reorient at the end of the game. Next, Gaines explains the idea of being perfect, which he has used the whole season. He explains to the players that being perfect does not refer to the path they have chosen, but to their relationships with those around them as well as the idea being put in situations and knowing that you have done the best of your ability. With this said, the team continues on their one-chosen way for the next 2 quarters. As they claw back up in an attempt of victory, the team is left one-yard shy of their goal and they lose the game. It is at this moment when the team faces reality and follows the reorientation that Boobie Miles was left to follow. To step down as heroes for Odessa and continue their lives.

While this defeat occurs, it is important to note Peter Berg’s use of ambient sounds throughout the movie. Ambient sound is defined as, “the background noises of the scene’s environment.” (Sikov, 79) Berg typically will vary between the tempo of the sound to bring higher emotion to the scene. The best example relates to the end of the film. On the very last play of the game, uplifting music is played while Mike Winchell is fighting towards the end-zone. Winchell goes down and the sound fades out to the crowd cheering for victory. Once the referees deem Winchell short of the end-zone by 1 yard, emotional defeatist music fades in to match the emotions of the players. Other scenes refer to those of emotion. While Miles is down in pain from the injury the viewer begins to hear ambient sound in the background, emphasizing the emotion in this scene.

Other analysis of the movie Friday Night Lights is the importance of Berg’s scene to scene segmentation:

Friday Night Lights: locations (Beginning: Odessa; Middle: Odessa; End: Houston Astrodome)

Friday Night Lights: desires (Beginning: Mike Winchell wants to play football at a higher level; Middle: Mike Winchell wants the best for his mother, but his family won’t come home to help; End: Mike Winchell gains one desire to play football on a scholarship in college.)

(Beginning: Boobie Miles wants to play football at next level; Middle: Boobie Miles wants to play football in general (post-ACL tear); End: Both desires are not fulfilled at the end)

(Beginning: Gary Gaines wants to win a state championship; Middle: Gaines wants a state championship after reconstructing the offense after Boobie Miles’ injury; End: Gaines fulfills one desire next season as stated in the credits.)

Friday Night Lights: conflicts (Beginning: Mike Winchell wants to play football at a higher level. Problems at home with his sick mother are holding him back from playing; Middle: Mike Winchell has to step up following the injury to Boobie Miles’ ACL; End: Both conflicts are resolved by the end. Mike Winchell accepted a scholarship to play in college and he stepped up to bring the team to a state championship try.)

(Beginning: Boobie Miles vs. decided where to accept his scholarship to college; Middle: Booble Miles tears his ACL vs. his “I’m better than everybody” attitude in football = full tear in ACL; End: One conflict is resolved, Miles accepts the knee injury and moves on from football.)

Overall, segmentation in this film, “simply break down a familiar movie into its broadest component parts.” (Sikov, 98) This is rather important when analyzing this movie to fully know what’s going on. The segmentation in this case shows the desires and conflicts of this film. Reviewing the segmentation, there are some cases where conflicts or desires are resolved and some that are not.

Furthermore, when analyzing this film, it is clear Peter Berg did use some aspects of Special Effects when creating this film. One notable special effect is CGI or computer-generated imagery. CGI is defined as, “any image that has been created by or manipulated by the use of a computer and software.” (Sikov, 164) Berg utilizes CGI when controlling the amount of fans in the games. Without doing so, imagine how long the credits would be to include the fan sections. This CGI is evident in games at Ratliff Stadium and considerably noticeable in the Houston Astrodome for the Texas state championship. The Astrodome specifically, is much larger than Ratliff Stadium and can hold the same capacity as other stadium used in the national football league, which are made to hold at minimum anywhere over 50,000 people. In this case, Berg used CGI to generate the large amount of people to fill this stadium. Other special effects related to slow motion. I would consider this slow motion to a rotoscoping special effect. Rotoscoping, “means projecting live-action footage, frame-by-frame, onto an animator’s drawing table so that he can trace the figures with great precision.” (Sikov, 165) I would consider slow motion based on the frame-by-frame. Berg typically utilizes slow motion shots when a dramatic possible plot-twist will occur in this film. We see this used multiple times throughout the film. The first example is Boobie Miles’s injury, Berg used a close-up on his knee during the injury and slowed down the frames per second causing a more emotional plot-twist. We see this again when the Panthers are playing Midland Lee. If this game was won, the Panthers would 100% advance into the state championship. On the very last play of the game, Winchell overthrows the pass towards the end-zone and the Panthers lose. Berg slows down the frame rate as the ball travels through the air causing the more dramatic scene. Lastly, towards the end of the film in the state championship, the Panthers fought a long second half. They needed to score once more to win the championship. On that final play, Berg manipulates the frame rate speed. It seems as if the Panthers will win the state championship, but through the slow-motion, they fall short and Berg has created the last plot-twist.

Lastly, the definition of genre. To define genre, we must take into account 4 aspects of the film. These are Mise-En-Scene Elements, Character types, Story and Plot Elements, and Themes. Mise-En-Scene Elements are broken down into color, lighting, location, costumes, and makeup. Colors are rather dull in this movie; this makes sense for the economically depressed town of Odessa. Colors only seem vivid towards the end of the movie when they are playing the state championship, this would lead the viewer to believe that they are going to be victorious. Color had the power to change the tone throughout this film. Lighting is rather dark with the exception of being under the Friday night lights. Location takes place in west Texas, 1988. Costumes change throughout the film. The players are wearing casual clothing when off the field and uniforms when on the field. Makeup plays a major role in the film for the games. It provides an extra sense of emotion and drama. An example may be the state championship. Makeup was used to creates cuts on the players. This sets the tone as the players being beat physically and mentally when we really observe the cuts during the halftime speech. Next, we observe the character types. In this case, there are the players, coaches, and the people of the town. The players are very similar in situations. Majority of players have economic issues or family issues or a combination of both. They are sought out to be the protectors of the town by giving them hope or something to look forward to in taking pride for themselves. This may be the reason why the cover of the film states, “Hope Comes Alive.” (Friday Night Lights) The coaches are all very dedicated to the program and looking out for the players in the best interest. We observe this through the speeches of Coach Gary Gaines. Gaines’s speech towards the end of the movie defines how the players should continue their lives post-heroism of the Permian Panthers. The coaches want nothing less from the players than to be successful in their lives and football provided that for them in this situation. Lastly, the people of the town have multiple personalities. Whether it be encouraging by providing support to the players in a successful meaning or retaliation for events that transpire. One example of support, refers to an earlier scene of the film. Winchell, Christian, Billingsley, and Chavez are out grabbing a bite to eat. The owner of the establishment allowed the boys to eat for free and provided a meal to Winchell’s mother on the house. Other people of the town retaliate to situations such as Boobie Miles’s injury. Coach Gaines put Miles back on the field with a bit over a minute left in the second half. This was a result to third-string runningback, Chris Comer, not having his helmet present on the field. When Gaines arrives home after the game, there were about a dozen realtor signs placed on his lawn as a retaliation. After analyzing the character types, story and plot elements are next. These observations refer to central story events, daytime vs. nighttime scenes, presence or absence of explicit violence, and plot structure. The central story events follow: 1. Predicted to win state championship 2. Boobie Miles suffers injury 3. Rely on Winchell and other teammates to reestablish the offensive gameplan 4. Lose mid-season game that guarantees team into the state championship 5. Win 3-way tie to advance into the state championship 6. Make it to state championship 7. Fall short of a state championship title by 1 yard. Daytime scenes are typically their normal lives while nighttime scenes usually are on the field under the lights. There is the presence of violence to a certain extent. Football is considered a violent sport. During the games, violent hits may occur. Lastly, the plot structure, this film does not include any flashbacks. The story continues sequentially in terms of events that transpire. Plot is built around the players and how they continue their season with the loss of Boobie Miles. The plot twists occur during the slow motion shots as mentioned above. These plot twists occurred on three plays between, the injury, Winchell’s overthrown pass, and the final play of the state championship. Themes could be categorized into the hope. Football is a game of discipline that forms structure for the players. This game was the player’s way out both literally and mentally. Some players may receive scholarships for their accomplishments on the field resulting in a way to leave Odessa and go to college, others may use this game to hide tensions regarding their everyday lives. Economic struggles or family problems may be difficult for these players and football could mean a way to escape from that. To conclude, the film, Friday Night Lights, falls into the genre of drama. Furthermore, this film would fall into a sub-genre of sports drama.

This film provides the meaning of heroism solely based on the opinions of others as well as hope for most. This football team encapsulates the true heart of Odessa, Texas. The harsh reality is that these people have nothing to live for in their economically depressed town other than the great American sport of football. These players sacrifice their day-to-day living as an act of bravery to not only find a way out of Odessa, but to protect the pride of the town. Through this game they perform at their max willpower and strength to continue on their path to protection. By the end of their season their path is disrupted, and they must reorient their path from protection to perfection. An idea instilled on them by their head coach, Gary Gaines. An idea that perfection is what will lead them to living great lives that may occur outside the border of Odessa. The idea that perfection is to perform and very well know that you did your very best in any situation thrown at you in your life. Whether it be a situation in protecting your hometown or protecting your family, a hero cannot be anything less than perfect. That is the proper path of a hero.

Works Cited

“Friday Night Lights.” IMDb, IMDb.com, 8 Oct. 2004, www.imdb.com/title/tt0390022/.

“Friday Night Lights.” IMDb, IMDb.com, www.imdb.com/title/tt0390022/characters/nm0000671?ref_=tt_cl_t1.

“Peter Berg.” IMDb, IMDb.com, www.imdb.com/name/nm0000916/?ref_=nmbio_bio_nm.

Sikov, Ed. Film Studies: an Introduction. Columbia University Press, 2011.




The essay fulfills the requirements set for the Final Project for Parables in Pop Culture (T/RS 228) at The University of Scranton, under the direction of Dr. Cyrus P. Olsen III, for spring semester 2020, under the conditions of COVID-19 lockdown.