Finding Your Character in Your Five Favorite Movies: The Razor’s Edge

Arise, awake, and learn by approaching the exalted ones, for that path is sharp as a razor’s edge, impassable, and hard to go by, say the wise.” Katha Upanishad 

What might you learn about your own character by identifying with your favorite characters from the movies? If you are a reader of the Great Books, you have likely discovered pathways to character there as well. The Great Books certainly had an impact on my enlightenment and on the movie character I discuss today.

I must admit some irony in the fact that two of the five character-building movies I am writing about this week have comedian Bill Murray in the starring role. Perhaps it’s not ironic at all, at least if I admit that this fact alone may say as much about my character as anything else about these movies!
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1984’s The Razor’s Edge has had a profound and lasting effect on me like few other movies. In fact, I can say it has had an effect that very few other movies, books, people or experiences can match. This prolonged effect is so deep, I often find it difficult to put in words; but that’s why movies are so powerful. Of the five movies I am writing about, and the many more that I could have included in this series (Secondhand Lions, Simon Birch, August Rush, Ratatouille…don’t get me started), The Razor’s Edge is special, defining, liberating and divine among my movie experiences.

“He had everything and wanted nothing. He learned that he had nothing and wanted everything. He saved the world and then it shattered. The path to enlightenment is as sharp and narrow as a razor’s edge.”

It is the gestalt of this story and the protagonist Larry Darrel (Murray’s character), rather than any one scene or aspect of the movie, that affects me so. However, there is one scene I will focus on today.

First, the setup. 

If there was ever a man in search for meaning, it is Larry Darrell, a great personification of what I call the “crisis of character” in the original 1944 novel by W. Somerset Maugham, and a very good personification in this movie.  Darrel is an adult modern Siddhartha, the title character in Hermann Hesse’s great book. [The word Siddhartha is derived from two Sanskrit words, siddha (achieved) + artha (meaning or wealth). The two words together mean “he who has found meaning (of existence)” or “he who has attained his goals”.]

Larry sees it a matter of duty as much as adventure to volunteer for the Red Cross during World War I. But when his partner is killed in the fog of war, the war-weary Darrell sets out on an isolated quest to learn, to understand, to be enlightened through the human experience.  He gives up romance, career, and what seems like a certain path to good fortune and societal esteem for the sharp, often dirty, lonely and always narrow path to salvation.  He reads the Great Books and meets the Great People, who he discovers in the most humbling of circumstances much as I believe we do in life.

The Scene – The Awakening
One of my favorite movie scenes (watch below) is the turning point in Larry Darrell’s life journey when he is alone in the bitter cold night atop a Tibetan mountain (India in the book), reading and meditating in his search for enlightenment. His fire goes out and he grows cold. Realizing his book now has more value as physical fuel than it does as spiritual nourishment, he begins to tear it apart to stoke his life-preserving fire. The next scene shows him looking toward the horizon at “the top of the world.”


“The man I am writing about is not famous. It may be that he never will be. It may be that when his life at last comes to an end he will leave no more trace of his sojourn on earth than a stone thrown into a river leaves on the surface of the water. But it may be that the way of life that he has chosen for himself and the peculiar strength and sweetness of his character may have an ever-growing influence over his fellow men so that, long after his death perhaps, it may be realized that there lived in this age a very remarkable creature.” – W. Somerset Maugham, introduction to The Razor’s Edge (1944) and inspiration for The Intersection of Purpose

Tomorrow, I continue my list of five movies with Mr. Holland’s Opus.

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About pdncoach

A Go-Giver business coach working with leaders whose success depends on the performance and productivity of others. I coach individual leaders and their teams... in small to mid-size businesses, ministries and non-profits... to accelerate their results and achieve dreams by getting past the difficult, strategic challenges of their current realities.
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