Actor Patrick Swayze succumbed to cancer yesterday after a long illness. Despite the fact that most of his movies were terrible (seriously, Red Dawn? Oh noes, the Nicaraguans are going to take over Colorado! If only some plucky high school kids could form a resistance...), he was always a likable presence in his movies and he's responsible for the most iconic film character ever put to the screen.
I'm talking about Dalton, the hero of the 1989 classic, "Road House".
Dalton wore a mullet and made his name as a bar bouncer, but viewers soon realized that he was not just some ordinary bouncer. Dalton was "the best". There was a legend afoot that he'd torn a man's throat out in a fight "back in Memphis" but you wouldn't know it to meet him. In fact, upon meeting him most people say "I thought you'd be taller". He seemed subdued, quiet, even peaceful--in fact, as we'd soon learn, he had a degree in philosophy from NYU. This philosophy degree is what enables Dalton to deal with the contradictions he faces in life as a bouncer who wants peace--his two twin mantras are "pain don't hurt" and "nobody ever wins a fight." (Of course, for a guy who doesn't believe anyone wins a fight, Dalton sure does an excellent job of "not winning" his foot up the asses of many fight opponents!)
Dalton is more than a bouncer--he's a "cooler" which means he's the head bouncer, in charge of keeping a situation from becoming a brawl in the bar (and smashing all the nice furniture). As he describes his "cooling" strategy to his lesser bouncers, he tells them "be nice...until it's no longer time to be nice." When asked when it is time to no longer be nice, Dalton says "when I tell you". Much like Clovis, the legendary king of the Franks, Dalton has established his absolute authority over the bar. Of course, one of his mulleted minions asks: "well, what if someone calls my momma a whore?" Viewers at this point are thinking, "yeah, Dalton--he makes a good point! Surely he'd have to punch the insulting bastard now!" Dalton deftly handles this question in the Socratic method--he says "is she?" This settles the matter.
Of course, Dalton ends up facing a gang of thugs that are ruining the town, and has to replace his Gandhi-esque "nonviolence" strategy with a more Chuck Norris-like "violence" strategy, showing us that sometimes the only answer is to rip out another person's throat. The story is a character study, and Patrick Swayze pulled it off with all earnestness in a way that recalls the method acting styles of the Stella Adler school.
RIP Swayze, you will be missed!