For the last few days, I've been obsessing over the ending of Braveheart - one of my favorite movies of all time. Now, I don't know how I got started in this direction; but, I've been thinking about the one line of dialogue that brings the Scotsmen into their final battle with the English. It's not a rousing speech. Robert the Bruce makes no overtures of freedom or of greatness. In fact, you could argue that he sounds half-defeated as he delivers his line. And yet, "starving and outnumbered", the men charge with him into fray. I used to think this was odd. But, the more I reflect on this scene, the more I come to understand the subtle transformation that is happening. This is the moment that Robert the Bruce becomes far more than just the King of Scotland - this is the moment he becomes a leader of men.
Throughout the movie, you can see that Robert the Bruce struggles with his identity. Torn between the will of his father, the greed of the nobles, and the desire to help his fellow countrymen, he fumbles continually, often letting himself down as much as he does anyone else. At one point, William Wallace even pleads with him to step out of the "noble" mindset - to forget about his title - and just lead the country to freedom:
Of course - Spoiler Alert - this doesn't end well. Robert the Bruce unwittingly leads William Wallace into capture, betrayed by his dying father. And, tragic as it is, the guilt that he feels over Wallace's death is perhaps what finally allows him to shed his fears and become the leader that he always wanted to be.
With one line, everything changes. With one line, Robert the Bruce convinces men to follow him into battle. With one line, he becomes a leader:
You have bled with Wallace. Now, bleed with me.
And, what's even more powerful about this moment is that his metamorphosis is immediately and implicitly understood by his countrymen. No discussion is needed. No clarification is required. Robert the Bruce's willingness to bleed with and for his men is explanation enough.