One of the funny things about Big Trouble in Little China is Jack Burton’s (Kurt Russell) smug self-confidence about his superior reflexes. It parodies a certain American ideal, at least for me. There is another line that sticks in my mind from the movies. I only saw the trailer, but Leonardo DiCaprio in The Beach is some guy in a foreign land with his foreign friends staring across a body of water at a distant shore. They are thinking about swimming the distance and one of his friends estimates it must be 900 meters away, and he’s doubtful about all of them making it. DiCaprio’s character looks confidently into the horizon and says “How far in miles?….Americans think in miles..” —or something like that.
I remember these two scenes whenever I observe how Americans measure themselves against a situation and rather quickly decide whatever the problem, it can be solved; if it’s a set-back, it can be overcome; if it’s ‘wrong’, it can be righted; and perhaps most importantly, if there is sin, there is also redemption.
Americans believe in the American Reflex. We believe our response to any adversity will result in something that is technically possible, morally correct, and will ultimately prevail. That we may look like fools in the meantime is disregarded ( like swaggering Jack who waves his machine-pistol around menacingly all-the-while unaware of the lipstick he is wearing ). DiCaprio’s character–ever the optimist– only needs the challenge intimidating his mates to be re-framed in American terms. If he can understand it, he can rise to it.