Forever Strong, a 2008 film directed by Ryan Little, recounts the inspirational, semi-fictional self-realization of a wayward young rugby star, Rick Penning, who painfully overhauls his hedonistic personal values (Little). It is loosely based on a compilation of true stories associated with the famed Highland Rugby Team coached by Larry Gelwix. Gelwix used rugby as a tool to help boys become noble young men with strong, traditional values centered around the simple rule of never doing anything to bring shame upon oneself, one’s team or one’s family. While the movie inspires viewers to improve their lives by adopting better values, it simultaneously suggests that even those with the noblest values are not necessarily much more successful in terms of worldly achievement than those with deplorable values.
The movie highlights two rugby teams, one that values winning on the field at all costs (Razorbacks), and one that values individual honor and character above all (Highland). Members of the former are not discouraged from underage drinking, drugs or other harmful personal practices in their private lives, so long as they win on the field. This is clear from a pool party scene near the beginning of the film, when Penning receives smuggled drugs while in juvenile detention for drunk driving, and when he returns to his team on probation after “juvi”. Additionally, Penning’s father, who is also the coach of the Razorbacks, does not discourage underhanded plays on the field, provided that the team wins and the referees don’t see.
Highland, on the other hand, is a team founded on the basic precepts of personal honor and character. Coach Gelwix explicitly states that if team members work hard and behave honorably, they will find fulfillment in life and, coincidentally, often victory on the field. Having won twenty-one national championships, coming in second in seven more over a 30-year period, it is difficult to compete with the real Highland team’s record on the field (“Boys HS”). In the film, however, the team with low moral standards (Razorbacks) makes it all the way to the national championship and barely loses to Highland. The implicit message is that strong personal morals lead to only marginally better outcomes in worldly success. Further, it is not entirely clear from the film that the self-indulgent behavior of the Razorback players leads them to less happiness off the field.
Although the movie attempts to demonstrate that the road to success in both life and on the rugby field stems from adopting strong personal morals of self-discipline and noble behavior, the differential in both realms with the less righteous alternative appears unfortunately slight. This drama would likely appeal to adolescent viewers and older who enjoy inspirational coming of age movies. It will likely not appeal to those who are primarily seek superficial action, be it in the form of rugby games or special effects. Despite the ambiguity in the film, those who work hard and live virtuously have significantly higher chances of finding happiness than those without principles.