6 Great Movies About Brotherly Love

Brothers 6 Great Movies About Brotherly Love

The relationship between brothers, or siblings in general, is a difficult thing to capture in words. I come from a family with three brothers. Brotherly bonds have all the masculine tensions and complications of a father-son dynamic, but with subtler power hierarchies. In other words, you’ve got the manly competitiveness and bravado and culturally-formed inability to articulate feelings with a less clear master and student rapport. It’s also not explored as much by the psychologically curious such as Sigmund Freud. It doesn’t get a whole lot of attention. But that only makes it more interesting when movies look closely at how brothers function with and against each other, when the subject is handled with skill and depth.

There are also plenty of examples of movies and things that examine the kind of male friendship that is meant to be analogous to brotherhood. But for our purposes here, let’s cast aside for one moment the war genre with terrific examples like Band of Brothers and look at a few more literal takes on stories of brotherly love. Here are 6 movies that offer interesting looks at how brothers often relate to one another.

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1) The Fighter

The Fighter1 6 Great Movies About Brotherly Love

Perhaps the most recent movie to closely examine the relationship between two brothers this well, 2010’s The Fighter is a fascinating look at the life and career of Micky Ward and his rocky relationship with his family, most notably his brother, Dicky. The two are played spectacularly by the consistently solid Mark Wahlberg and the metamorphosizing man that is Christian Bale. The dynamic between the two feels very much like one between two brothers that have achieved varying levels of success, with Dicky    serving as Micky’s trainer and both seemingly on the decline, Dicky in particular, whose former fame is now just a shadow in the midst of severe drug problems.

Being older, Dicky’s the one whose superstardom in the boxing ring came first, and being more generally extroverted and self-promoting, his achievements seem to overshadow Micky’s more modest career. What makes this movie feel like it truly captures the unique dynamics a family can often possess is how hesitant Micky is to stand up to his family; being the younger of the two and having a bunch of sisters and a mother who outnumber him at all times, he’s used to being relatively deferential, receding to the background. That’s what makes his ascent to greatness so satisfying to see. At the same time, he can’t completely escape where he comes from, and who he’s known all his life, his family. Even as he asserts himself, he relies on Dicky, and their connection is one he can never shake, so his greatest triumph is finding a way to make this part of him work for him rather than against him.

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2) Rain Man

Rain Man 6 Great Movies About Brotherly Love

Rain Man has been the source of a bit of caricature in the 25 years since its release, but the truth is it still plays quite well despite its age, and paints a pretty bang-on sample portrait of a man with autism. I must admit, having worked in the past in programs to assist those with Autism Spectrum Disorder, I have some familiarity with the characteristics that Dustin Hoffman portrays in his Raymond characterization, many of which are very common in the kids I worked with, including strict adherence to scheduling, a general disinterest in ordinary communication and social skills, and in some instances, incredible skill with numbers and memory. In short, he’s totally believable as a representation of a real person on the autism spectrum.

The movie itself finds its heart in the relationship between Raymond and his estranged brother Charlie, played by Tom Cruise, who only learns about Raymond upon the death of their father. They start to spend time together because Charlie thinks he can get Raymond’s inheritance, and for a period of time treats him rather horribly, not understanding Raymond’s disorder or how to communicate with him. But over time, he starts to figure him out a little bit. And it’s that connection, including the shared history of which Charlie vaguely remembers, that creates an instant bond that appears to endure beyond the conclusion of the film. There’s something about the way these brothers find a way to communicate even though their languages, so to speak, are remarkably different that captures something about the family link that transcends regular vocabulary.

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3) The Darjeeling Limited

The Darjeeling Limited 6 Great Movies About Brotherly Love

Before he put out Moonrise Kingdom last year, I think The Darjeeling Limited may have been Wes Anderson’s sweetest film. It features not two brothers, but three, played by Owen Wilson, Adrien Brody and Jason Schwartzmann, on a train trek across India to reunite with each other and eventually their mother. It has all the usual quirks of a Wes Anderson movie that many find charming and deliciously strange and others find utterly grating. That template applies to Darjeeling to an extent, with its typical Anderson framing and bright color palette and pithy dialogue, but I found this one to be less detached than most of his other work.

Part of this may be the spiritual aspect, which I think is meant somewhat ironically but also possesses some actual meaning. It’s as if it takes the position of “of course this is all silly and absurd, but maybe there’s something to it and either way it’s a nice way to think about things for a moment.” The things these brothers experience together on this train are presented in a way that indicates a shared history, as though these new experiences are just the newest of many they’ve had together. It comes full circle in the end, when their visit with their mother results in a repeat of past events. The movie also nicely portrays the lies families tell each other and the baseless fears members will have of others finding out the truth. Also, a real nifty soundtrack.

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4) What’s Eating Gilbert Grape

Whats Eating Gilbert Grape 6 Great Movies About Brotherly Love

What’s Eating Gilbert Grape is almost like Rain Man meets The Fighter except completely different of course. Maybe a little bit of Shameless tossed in there. A young, handsome Johnny Depp stars as the titular character, and front and center of the story is his unique bond with his special needs younger brother, Arnie, played by a teenage Leonardo DiCaprio. Gilbert’s father is dead and his mother is too depressed to look after the family, so the responsibility rests on his shoulders, not unlike Fiona Gallagher. Somewhat similar to Fiona, and to Micky Ward, Gilbert is torn between the escape symbolized by a young female character played by Juliette Lewis and the responsibilities for him at home.

The relationship between the Depp and DiCaprio characters is one of the most touching bond between brothers that I’ve probably ever witnessed on screen (although now that I think about it, Shameless actually has a lot of beautiful little sibling moments). Gilbert doesn’t care for Arnie out of obligation as much as love and devotion. But the movie doesn’t gloss over the inevitable frustrations and outbursts that can arise when it comes to looking after a younger brother, particular one with the mental challenges and needs that Arnie has. Though there are temptations to pack up and move away, there’s really no question about Gilbert leaving Arnie behind.

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5) Step Brothers

stepbrothers5 6 Great Movies About Brotherly Love

After Anchorman and Talladega Nights, the writing team of Will Ferrell and Adam McKay moved away from characters in the public eye to the domestic setting of Step Brothers. Of course they brought John C. Reilly along with them after his virtuosic work as Cal Naughton, Jr alongside Ferrell’s Ricky Bobby. This movie spans the reaction to the revelation of merging families, that new siblings and roommates are on the horizon—it quickly goes from the worst case scenario to the best case scenario, with the two starting out as bitter rivals and quickly just becoming best friends. Yup!

It’s another one of those arrested development type stories where Ferrell and Reilly get to play these manchildren who do things like go to job interviews in tuxedos and other activities (so many activities). I’m not sure it has anything terribly profound to say about the mixed family dynamic or the nature of step-sibling relations, but the friendship these two guys form is just as cute as it is stupid and hilarious. The climactic scene that allows them to collaborate in an area that they once fought over may actually be one of the sweetest moments in a Ferrell/McKay joint to date. Oh, and Adam Scott as the insufferable successful younger brother is an absolute starmaking performance.

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6) American History X

American History X 6 Great Movies About Brotherly Love

Probably the heaviest film on this list, American History X is a pretty devastating story about a complicated relationship between two brothers. There are elements of the severest kind of racism and domestic abuse, hate crimes and the quest for redemption. Edward Norton plays the older brother, Derek, a neo-Nazi who commits a hate crime and changes his ways entirely in prison. The trouble is, on his release, he finds his younger brother, Danny, has taken up his racist mantle.

It’s a compelling take on the inherited nature of prejudice, the circumstantial and narrow experience that can lead one down the path towards darkness and hatred, and the prospect of ever finding a way out of that kind of culture. The element of brotherly relations is also interesting here, in its depiction of the influence an older sibling can have on one who’s younger, sometimes being a case of idolization, or simply the act of following the example that’s been set. It also examines questions of responsibility, with the Norton character ultimately recognizing his level of responsible for his actions and their effects on others, although with his brother his earlier transgressions seem to have already done significant damage.

Relationships involving romance or simple friendship are probably the most common in cinematic narratives, with parental relationships following close behind. But the dynamic between siblings is one that has peculiarities worth examining. There are really good examples of brother-sister dynamics in movies like You Can Count On Me and The Savages, even Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, or sister movies like Your Sister’s Sister or Hannah and Her Sisters and probably other movies that don’t have “sister” in the title.

Are there any movies dealing with literal brotherhood or siblinghood that you enjoy? Share them in the comments section below.

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