Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure
Starring: Keanu Reeves, Alex Winter
I love this movie. It is an absolutely ridiculous piece of 80s culture that delves into the truly psychotic, but at the heart of the movie there’s a message that you can learn from history and love it too. Also, seeing a young Keanu Reeves adds some entertainment value.
Surely the screenwriters didn’t try too hard to make this movie accurate, but I thought it would be fun to touch on because it does portray a lot of incredibly famous historical figures and display the common myths and stories everybody knows about them. So, the following is a list of the characters, their role in the film, and a little bit about their actual lives.
The first figure Bill and Ted pick up is Napoleon in Austria, the year 1805. He actually was there at the end of the year, fighting off Austrian and Russian troops who had sided with Britain against France. He had officially been the Emperor of France for about a year – being granted the title in May 1804 – and had been the King of Italy for about seven months.
For anyone trying to pinpoint this exact moment against their bullet point knowledge of Napoleon, here’s a little bit of context:
– Napoleon was born in 1769, graduated from his studies in 1784 (at fifteen), became a Second Lieutenant in 1785 (at sixteen), the French Revolution happened in 1789 (when he was twenty), defeated the Royalist Insurrection in 1795 (at twenty-six), married his wife the following year, took an expedition to Egypt in 1798 (at twenty-nine – notably, this group discovered a great number of things that we still value today, including the Rosetta Stone), became a consulate around 1800, fought the War of the Third Coalition in 1805 (at thirty-six), attempted to invade Russia in 1812 (at forty-three), forced to abdicate in 1814 (at forty-five), and died in 1821.
– He was the cause of a lot of change in France, as well as military and tactical approaches. There’s simply too much about him to summarize it all here, but if you’re interested, there’s a lot of information out there. Let’s just say that the French don’t have a complete history of military failure.
– In the movie, Napoleon is left with Ted’s little brother while the two teenage boys go to collect more historical figures. These moments of Napoleon in present day crack me up more than they should, probably, but I love the image of a Ziggy Piggy button pinned onto his jacket along with military medals (for eating a giant ice cream sundae), and going down waterslides at a park aptly named Waterloo.
– Predictably, the movie makes fun of his height. In truth, Napoleon was not that short. The British sometimes tried to portray him as tiny in an effort to humiliate him and generally make the people less afraid of the threat of his army. Furthermore, according to Wikipedia (a paragon of accuracy), he comes to a different height when measured in the French pouce (2.71 cm) and the British inch (2.54 cm). He was about 5 foot 7 inches, which is on the short side for a man today, but not by much.
Billy the Kid
Bill and Ted pick him up in New Mexico, 1879 during a bar brawl. Born in 1859, Billy would have been about 20 at the time of his adventure to San Dimas California, and I’m sorry to say that the actor playing him (Dan Shor) was 33 at the time the movie was made. It doesn’t really get across this whole “Kid” aspect of the guy, who could only have been nicknamed such for having a complete baby face.
At this time, Billy – or William Henry McCarty, or William H Bonney – had already been running around with hard living people for quite some time. He got into the career at about the age of 16. Essentially, after moving to New Mexico in 1877, Billy got caught up in a group of people hired by John Tunstall and Alexander McSween to act as cattle guards. Tunstall was killed by some men in a competing faction (who worked for some men who were business rivals). The men hired under Tunstall and McSween formed a band to find Tunstall’s murderers and dubbed themselves the Regulators. Originally trying for revenge (or justice, if you want to look at it that way), the Regulators became the bad guys when a new governor came into town sided with the men who were anti-McSween. Billy was soon after busted out of jail, which led to a couple of murders and then a couple of shoot outs, which led to the Regulators to hiding out with McSween at his house. In July 1878, the house was set on fire, McSween was gunned down and the Regulators ran for it.
Billy was offered amnesty for his actions during this time, but due to political dealings was forced to run for it again and scrape together a living. Keep in mind all of this happened when he was a teenager.
His legend has partly to do with his badassery and also the legend of how many men he killed. In truth, killing a lot of people is different today than it was a hundred years ago. The number for Billy the Kid has been pegged as high as 26 – but seems to have been between four and nine. When he was put on trial in 1881 for the murder of a Sheriff (done during his prison escape), and when sentenced, he managed to escape before his execution by killing both of his guards. This was horrifying, and led to his death later that year, when he would have been about twenty two years old.
The thing that would cause me to raise eyebrows the most is that Billy enters the bar where Bill and Ted venture by himself. He’s looking for me. It seems that he always had a posse or group on hand, so why would he need Bill and Ted? My favorite fact is that in addition to speaking Spanish, Billy was a huge hit with the Latina culture in the west and had a lot of friends were not white. I’d have loved to see this. Still, his overall charm and quick adaptation to what’s happening to him, and all the fun he’s having seem to chime with his character.
In one of the best gags in the movie, Bill and Ted persist in calling him “So-crates” from the time they pick him up in 410 B.C. and manage to impress him by quoting “Dust in the Wind” lyrics back at him.
If you’ve ever had to deal with discussions in an English class, you are likely familiar with the Socratic method, which deals with asking questions about the book and people in your class then talking about those questions. If you’ve ever been in a philosophy class, you are familiar with Socrates through the writings of Plato, who was his student. According to Plato’s writings, Socrates’ method of philosophy was asking a lot of question until the person he was talking to eventually circled their logic around to align with what Socrates thought. A clever method, but also incredibly annoying.
We know about Socrates through the writings of other philosophers, as he did not write down his own work. Due to that fact, it’s difficult to determine much about the historical Socrates. The dates I can find for his life, though, are 469-399 B.C.E. which would have put him at age 70 when he died. At the time Bill and Ted find him he would have been just less than 60. The grand picture of Athens presented, which is common, is that of majestic white columns and steps and statues. Some archaeologists believe that ancient statues were painted brightly, which means that time has worn off all the paint leaving us with this image of white statues as being this noble and impressive force.
Socrates was sentenced to death in 399. There are a number of reasons, such as his positive comments about Sparta, who Greece was fighting at the time. More prominently (probably) were his social and cultural beliefs, which were corrupting the youth of the city. This makes Socrates sound like an awesome old hippie. Some of his friends made plans for his escape, but Socrates decided instead to accept his punishment and drank poison.
Picked up in Vienna, Austria in 1901, Freud was working for the University of Austria at the time and was 45 years old. His main purpose in the film is to poke fun at what we know best about Freud – the Oedipal complex, and phallic jokes. At the mall in San Dimas 1989, he approaches a couple of girls holding up a corndog. When they reject him, he visibly lowers the corndog. GET IT? After the historical figures are arrested, Freud pesters the cop questioning him by saying, “Tell me about your mother” and at the end of the film, during the big presentation, he does a session of psychoanalysis with Ted. When he asks Bill if he wants to talk, Bill dismisses him, “Nah, just a minor Oedipal complex” (his step mother is four years older than he is).
It’s perhaps unfair to categorize Freud the way we have, but the man really was obsessed with the penis and developed another theory he termed “penis envy” which consists of all women wishing they had a penis. There is something to be said for his contribution to the idea of conscious and subconscious and his observation that everybody is motivated – whether consciously or not – by sex. There has been a lot of debate over where psychoanalysis is a valid method, or whether it’s mostly nonsense. Does having someone talk at length really allow someone insight into repressive childhood memories? I seem to recall hearing that this type of therapy is thought to sometimes cause patients to remember things that never really happened. After all, traumatic events in childhood cause neuroses. They must have had some.
Picked up in Kassel, Germany 1810, the first and foremost tragedy in his representation in the movie is that he is caught playing “Fur Elise.” A song that most people know because we learn the simplified version during elementary school piano lessons, this song has become overplayed and therefore too popular. I would have liked to hear Beethoven playing something else that we hadn’t heard, but that at least sounded difficult. He would have been 50 years old in 1810, and according to accounts, probably already hard of hearing although not entirely deaf.
I don’t want to say too much about him, because I am planning on reviewing at least on Beethoven biography film (Immortal Beloved) in the future, but I will say that his use of synthesizers in the modern day mall are hilarious. It’s baffling how he discovered 80s sounding guitar licks, but he does cause the least trouble out of the all the historical figures, drawing a crowd as he plays (which pisses off the person at the store for some reason).
Joan of Arc (Jeanne d’Arc)
The only female representation for history in the movie, Joan is picked up in Orleans, France in 1429 when she was about 17. Joan’s life is a seriously interesting story, and the movie doesn’t get into it much, although it nods at her praying a couple of times. At about the age of 12, Joan received a vision telling her to drive out the English and get the Dauphin (prince) his coronation. This was during the Hundred Years’ War, which consisted of a lot of fighting between the British and French, and poverty as well as dynastic struggles in France.
As a girl, and as a girl from the country, it seems unbelievable that Joan could have risen to prominence like she did. Believing that her visions were the will of God, Joan determinedly fought to go to the French court, and some of the things she did amazed the wealthy and older men she faced. First, Joan correctly predicted the outcome of a battle near Orleans, which granted her a private meeting with Charles (who would be Charles VII) and an opportunity to fight. At this time, France had been so demoralized in their beating, that Charles was willing to try anything. She joined the army at the Siege of Orleans in April 1429 when it had already been going on for five months. Nine days later the siege ended with a French victory.
She became a co-commander of the army and succeeded in prevailing Charles VII to his spot on the throne. In 1430 the English army captured her, put her on trial, and found her guilty of heresy.
My favorite bit in the movie is her involvement in calisthenics, which Bill and Ted tell the audience during their report she will start applying to her army. This part is true! Joan did have the army regularly exercise, although probably not as the result of her time traveling.
Bill and Ted find him in outer Mongolia in 1209, although they claim in their report later in the film that they got him in 1269. Considering that he died in 1227, the first date is accurate, and would have put Khan at about 47 years old. As the only non-white representative of the bunch, my roommate was taken aback at his first appearance. Eating voraciously, and then grabbing a slave girl, presumably to have sex with her. That was crazy racist! Perhaps, but it also fits the modern day picture we have of Genghis Khan, as a man who was incredibly violent, and pillaged Asia to his heart’s content. Furthermore, through a test of Y-chromosomes, it’s predicted that as many as 200,000 people in Mongolia (out of the 2 million who live there) could be descended from Khan, and that about 8 percent of men in that region of Asia have a chromosome present that could be linked back to Khan. If this is true, the guy must have slept with a lot of women.
It’s unfair to simplify him that completely. After all, this is a man who had lead to a series of intelligent military campaigns. Winning in battle doesn’t make a person a violent killer, but it does indicate intelligence concerning strategy and battle plans. Furthermore, he established peace between warring confederations of Mongolian rulers, which brought peace to the country and allowed the army to go forth and start conquering others.
In the modern day, Genghis Khan spends most of his time at the sports store, hitting people with bats and wearing football pads. It is funny, but not fair to what Genghis Khan did, although we do get a short nod to his accomplishments in the presentation at the end.
Snatched from the White House in 1863, Abraham Lincoln’s main purpose in the film is the speech he gives at the end of the presentation. Which starts with “Four score and…(checks watch) seven minutes ago…” Hey! It’s the Gettysburg address! Why would you pull this guy out of the White House during a serious national conflict that needed his full attention? Come on, Bill and Ted.
No doubt this movie is ridiculous. But I love the star quality of the presentation at the end, how enraptured everybody is by the glory of history. When else is an entire auditorium full of high schoolers completely wrapped up and interested in history? I love this image so much, it ultimately makes the movie. Not to mention, giving an oral presentation on history which asks the students to theorize how historical figures would react to society at the present, getting people to dress up and act the parts is a brilliant idea. Granted, in this case it’s the actual figures, but you catch my drift.
Can I also state how much better this presentation is than the end of the one we see given by another student? She draws parallels between Marie Antoinette and pre-Revolutionary France in California 1989 claiming there is the same dichotomy in both eras, where the few possess much. All right, that’s true. Then, she says that instead of saying “Let them eat cake” she might instead say “Let them eat fast food.” This is a horrible connection. The purpose of this “cake” line was showing how disconnected Marie Antoinette was with the French peasants. They don’t have bread, then they can eat cake. Fast food is at the bottom of the totem pole, and nobody really has any problems getting to eat it. Maybe it would be similar to saying, Oh, the common man doesn’t have fast food? Let him eat a REAL GODDAMN HAMBURGER. But that’s just me.
I recommend the film. It’s good fun. Plus, it has an excellent message: Be excellent to each other. Party on, dudes!
General internet searching. This was mostly for fun.
UP NEXT: I should be receiving “The Eagle” from Netflix in a couple of days. A review should be up shortly after. I’ll update you via Twitter when the live tweeting session will take place. (Follow me @hhistrionics.)