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Film / Taps

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"Never be ashamed of being human, Mr Moreland. Without humanity, a leader becomes a tyrant."
General Bache

Taps is a 1981 film, directed by Harold Becker and starring George C. Scott, Timothy Hutton, Ronny Cox, Sean Penn, and Tom Cruise. The story revolves around young military cadets who take over their academy in order to prevent it from being closed and sold to real estate developers. It is based on the novel Father Sky by Devery Freeman.

It was the second screen appearance for Cruise (and his first major role after a brief appearance in Endless Love), and the first non-TV movie for Penn. Hutton had already burst into the acting scene with his Academy Award-winning performance in Ordinary People.

These Tropes are beautiful, man ! Beautiful :

  • A Father to His Men: General Bache plays this role to the cadets at first, but once he's out of the picture, Brian steps up to replace him.
  • Adults Are Useless: Played for drama, as just about every adult save General Bache is either jeeringly dismissive towards the boys (the school administration) or completely disinterested in their day to day lives (their parents). That is, until the boys seize the school by force of arms after they try to shut them down.
  • All for Nothing: The standoff ends in bloody failure, with several deaths and the school still scheduled to be closed.
  • Ambiguous Situation: When General Bache and a local teen scuffle over his pistol, closeup shots of their hands appear to show the teen drawing the gun and firing; however, when the film cuts back to a wider angle, the gun is in Bache's hand, and he acts as though he is the one who fired.
  • Ax-Crazy: Shawn, especially by the end.
  • Badass Boast: Colonel Kerby to Brian:
    Kerby:The governor is this close to ordering us to take you in by force. When that order comes, I'll do it and you won't ever be that unhappy again.
  • Blood Knight: Shawn is the most militant of the three main characters, and is the one who opens fire on the gathered National Guard just as Brian is about to surrender.
  • Boarding School: The cadets stay in barracks on the academy grounds.
  • Bring My Brown Pants: Mentioned by Bache in a war story he tells Moreland. "Of course I was scared. Must have lost twenty pounds, all of it brown."
  • Calling the Old Man Out : Brian to Sergeant Moreland, who still considers him as a kid (see They Call Me MISTER Tibbs!).
    Brian: He [Bache] is the example we follow!
  • Child Soldiers: The senior cadets are teenagers and there are considerably younger ones as well. Moreland even quotes what Bache taught him about children being the last line of muster, something that Col. Kerby finds horrifying.
  • Colonel Badass: Kerby, from start to finish. At first, he tries a gentle and reasoned approach with Brian, as he genuinely understands their point of view. However, once the first cadet is killed and it becomes obvious that Brian still doesn't understand that he's in over his head, Kerby wastes no time in cutting him down to size. He tells Brian in no uncertain terms that he's just been playing at being a soldier, his views on war are incredibly naive and romanticized because they're based on classroom lectures and not real life, his cadets don't stand a chance against trained soldiers, and the campus will be retaken. While he's spelling all this out, it's clear from Brian's face and body language that he's having another BSOD.
  • Curb-Stomp Battle: An insane idiot armed with only an M-60 goes up against an M48 Main Battle Tank. It ends pretty much exactly how you would expect.
  • Cut Phone Lines: The cadets do this to the school themselves to keep out outside interference.
  • The Dead Have Names: Church services at the school are said to always conclude with a reading of names from the Book of Remembrance, which lists every Bunker Hill graduate killed in action.
  • Death of a Child: All the cadets who die.
  • Death Seeker: Colonel Kerby accuses Brian and other cadets of being this.
  • Didn't Think This Through: Moreland's plan to force the school to re-open by taking it over with a bunch of armed children goes pretty much exactly as well as you'd expect it to go: into an increasingly downward spiral of disasters before ending in blood-soaked tragedy. Likewise, Shawn's decision to take on tanks with an M60 produces extremely predictable results.
  • Downer Ending: The film ends with several soldiers and cadets being killed and none of the demands of the cadets being met.
  • Elaborate University High: Bunker Hill is in essence a junior West Point or Citadetal, boasting the same sort of facilities as a proper military academy. Most notably, the school's armory boasts enough firepower to make the student body the envy of a comparably sized infantry unit.
  • Elevator School: The youngest cadets are middle school aged; Brian and his cohort are high school seniors.
  • Establishing Character Moment: When climbing the stairs and getting to their room, right after the introduction ceremony, the three main characters are exposed:
    • Brian Moreland is the gentle leader, respected by all others (we don't know yet he is the Cadet Major).
    • Alex Dwyer is his subversive close friend, mocking the book of remembrance.
    • David Shawn admires Moreland but hates Dwyer (see Flipping the Bird) and already looks like an insane, angry Jerkass.
  • Flipping the Bird: Shawn to Dwyer in introduction.
  • Foregone Conclusion: The school IS going to be closed. Used by Colonel Kerby when telling Brian that he can't win this.
    Col. Kerby: Mr Moreland, you know, and I know, that it's never gonna go your way. You do know that, don't you ?
  • Four-Star Badass: General Bache. Played with, in that it's implied at several points that Bache's career stalled for whatever reason and his running the school is a way of reliving his Glory Days, and while he means well it's clear that his philosophy and teachings ultimately have harmful consequences.
  • Heroic BSoD: Brian gets several when things start to go wrong.
  • Honor Before Reason: Brian, oh so much. Deconstructed, since Brian is informed by several people that rigidly and needlessly holding to his actions in the face of doomed circumstances for nothing but honor is a fool's errand, and ultimately it only results in people getting hurt and killed, including Brian himself.
  • Military School: Bunker Hill Military Academy. Unlike most depictions, the cadets love it there and are outraged that's it's going to be closed down and razed.
  • My God, What Have I Done?:
    • Brian during his last BSOD about Charlie.
    • General Bache has a similar reaction after accidentally shooting a local teen during a scuffle.
  • Never My Fault: When one of the cadets gets burned while starting an old generator, he claims it was an accident. When another cadet is shot and killed after a rifle is dropped and goes off, they blame Kerby and his men. Despite being called out on it, Brian doesn't seem to grasp that he's responsible for both incidents since he created the circumstances that led up to them.
  • Oh, Crap!: Colonel Kerby has this reaction when Brian calmly calls the younger cadets the "seed corn" that must be "mobilized" with weaponry: he realizes Moreland, whom he had considered intelligent but misguided, is actually a zealot.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: Colonel Kerby.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: When Brian refers to himself as a "soldier," Colonel Kerby lets him have it:
    Kerby: A soldier? No, goddamnit, I'm a soldier, with the career goal of all soldiers - I want to stay alive in situations where it ain't all that easy to do! But you, my friend? You're a death-lover. I know the species. Seventeen years old and some son-of-a-bitch has put you in love with death. Somebody sold you on the idea that dying for a cause is oh, so romantic. Well, that is the worst kind of all the kinds of bullshit there is! Dying is only one thing: bad! Don't find that out. Please!
  • Sarcastic Devotee / Sour Supporter: Alex Dwyer is this to Brian Moreland.
  • Swiss-Cheese Security: General Bache keeps a huge arsenal in the academy, in a building that apparently all the cadets can freely access. This is particularly absurd when you consider the actual U. S. military maintains their firearms on domestic bases in highly secured armories that only certain qualified personnel have access to.
  • Sliding Scale of Idealism Versus Cynicism: Impersonated with Shawn vs. Dwyer.
  • Taps: Obviously pops up a number of times; at the beginning when the school reads off the names and dates of alumni who fell in battle, and when they have their memorial service for General Bache. The movie's title, and thus the Trope Namer, also indicates the impending death of the academy.
  • Soldier vs. Warrior: Played with. The Soldier half of the equation is perfectly exemplified by Col. Kerby and his National Guard troops, but the cadets approach being a deconstruction of the Warrior trope — naive, dangerously misguided kids raised on highly romanticized notions of war. Most have their beliefs shattered the instant they get the smallest taste of actual combat.
  • They Call Me MISTER Tibbs!: Brian to his father :
    Brian: Stop calling me kid.
    Sgt Moreland: You expect me to call you Major ? You can forget it.
  • They Have Reserves: From Bache : "They kept coming at us, wave after wave. Totally indifferent to casualties. Of course, the Chinese always had plenty of bodies to spare."
  • Who Will Bell the Cat?: After the National Guard are first called in, Brian musters all of the cadets together and offers any of them who want to leave a chance to do so freely. It was absolutely clear that many of them wanted to, but no one wanted to be the first to step forward... until Lt. West, who'd been trying hard to act as a voice of reason for Brian, recognized that things were now spinning out of control and requested to be dismissed, followed by nearly half the cadets. This was Brian's first BSOD, and probably the closest he came to realizing it was a lost cause.

- What in God's name did they teach you in here? What did they turn you into?
- A TROPER, which is the only thing I ever wanted to be !