October Sky (1999) is one of those classic feel-good movies that leave its viewers feeling as though they are capable of anything with the right amount of effort. What makes this story in particular so compelling is that it is based on a true story. Homer Hickam, the film’s protagonist appeared to be just another kid from Coalwood, West Virginia that was destined to spend his life in the mines. However, he and his friends end up building rockets, studying physics and escaping the bleak future that lay before them.
In the end, he and his friends Roy Lee and Quentin are able to leave the old mining town and become successful in their careers as engineers. My three favorite characters were Homer, Roy Lee, and Miss Riley—the teacher that went beyond the call of duty. Homer Hickam is such a likeable character because he is like everyman. He comes from a working class family, and does not seem to be a prodigy of any kind. Instead, he is passionate, ambitious and determined to go his own way in life, staying up late learning complex physics and mathematical problems and rocket design.
Although his ambitions for his life differ remarkably from his father’s wishes for him, he demonstrates that it is possible to have total respect for someone anyway. In a conversation with his father he says, “Dad, I may not be the best, but I come to believe that I got it in me to be somebody in this world. And it’s not because I’m so different from you either, it’s because I’m the same. I mean, I can be just as hardheaded, and just as tough. I only hope I can be as good a man as you.
Sure, Werner von Braun is a great scientist, but he isn’t my hero” (Homer Hickam, October Sky). Roy Lee was the second rocket boy that also aspired to leave the town as he did not want to die of black lung disease as his father had. He always had a smart comment for anything, mentioning that if they do not succeed in creating a rocket that worked, that neither he nor his friends would ever become non-virgins. He also had a flair for making fun of Quentin’s ‘hot gases. ’ Though his humor endears him to the viewers, his motives for success are actually more common than Homer’s.
While Homer wants to learn about engineering and live a better life, Roy Lee wants to succeed because it will most likely get him laid. His friendship with Homer was solid. Miss Riley is a small, supporting role in this drama, and her story is the most tragic. After teaching for a few years, she passed away from Hodgkin’s disease at the age of thirty-two. She was the main force behind Homer’s success as she encouraged the trio to enter the state science fair and deepen their study of physics and mathematics, often working with them after hours.
Now there is an award created in her name because of her uncommon dedication. Although his father appeared to be the main antagonist of the story in terms of actively discouraging Homer from his quest, it becomes quickly apparent that he believes that it would be less painful for his son if he would give up these dreams of space flight and settle down to more “practical matters. ” Still, he comes across as difficult to like, he is authoritarian, aggressive, and completely unsupportive of his son.
His wife and Homer both believe that the mine is his entire life and that he loves it more than his family. Unfortunately, the mines are one of the only places in the area where men can provide decently well for their families and it is unlikely that he had trained to do anything else. One of the few true movies around that show that one can succeed with a dream and a team of supportive people behind them, even in the most dire of circumstances. This is especially refreshing because many true stories on the cinematic screen often have such tragic endings.