The Impractical Nature of Dreams in ‘Rudy’

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By Sam Hendrian

This article is part of our Classic Film Throwback Series.

“Well, you know what my dad always says: Having dreams is what makes life tolerable.”

Technically speaking, the word “dream” is synonymous with “hope,” “goal,” “aspiration,” and several other abstract nouns. Yet it seems to operate on a whole level of its own, transcending any concrete definition and symbolizing happiness in its purest form. It does, as is stated in the above quote from the 1993 fact-based drama Rudy, make life tolerable. But if that is all a dream was, it would ultimately be something sad, something that reminds us that life has perhaps more suffering than it has anything else.

Young factory worker Daniel “Rudy” Ruettiger knows that a dream is far more than a mere coping mechanism. To him, it is not only what makes life worth living; it is why life is worth living, a summit that can be reached no matter how strenuous the climb. Ever since he was a little boy, he has wanted to play football for the University of Notre Dame, and he is steadfastly committed to somehow achieving this dream before he dies.

Like most dreams and dreamers, Rudy finds himself face-to-face with the sabre-toothed monster of impracticality. Small in stature and academically weak, pursuing a degree at Notre Dame and playing football there is highly unlikely and then some. Whenever he speaks of his dream to family members, they chuckle and give him a patronizing pat on the head. Oh, bless your heart, sweet boy… That sort of thing.

But Rudy follows a strict code that has been echoed in the hearts of all dreamers throughout history: Screw practicality. His family’s discouragement inversely encourages him to work even harder to obey the restless whispers of his soul, whispers that command him to ignore Doubt and even Logic for the sake of something far more powerful: Vision.

Yes, Vision often defies the straightest of logic and fiercest of doubts because it is the cousin of Love. And Love is the epitomy of freedom, unable to be shackled nor subjugated. Rudy loves to feel alive, and he anticipates that his sense of aliveness will only peak on the football field of Notre Dame, playing the game that has brought his working-class family together every week and strengthened the compassion they have for each other. It is this transcendent love that enables Rudy to have such a practicality-defying vision and boast complete confidence in its fulfillment.

Since Rudy is such a beloved classic seen by millions, there is probably no point in summarizing the rest of the plot. Suffice it to say that young Ruettiger achieves his dream in an unexpected but completely valid way, ultimately carried off Notre Dame’s crowded football field in a bath of humble glory (it is one of cinema’s happiest tear-inducing scenes). Even those who care nothing about sports cannot help but loudly cheer for him.

Each person has a dream whether they are aware of it or not. And even when certain dreams fade away or miss their opportunity to be fully realized, no one ever stops dreaming. It is what helps define our humanity.

While it is true that some dreams can take on a selfish nature, no authentic dream is selfish in and of itself, for it can only be born of a divinely-placed desire to resist mediocrity and dare to make the world a happier, more beautiful place. So be not afraid to dream, and dream big, even when practicality seems to stand in your way. Dreams are rarely practical. But neither is love. Love is… well, perhaps it is too extraordinary to fit any definition. It does fit a certain Person though.

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Sam Hendrian is a student at John Paul the Great Catholic University (Class of 2019) pursuing an emphasis in Directing.

For more articles by Sam, click here.

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