These scenes will be examined under the lens of the rhetorical triangle, which involves three methods of persuasion. The triangle includes ethos, which focuses on making the speaker seem credible, pathos, which appeals to the audience’s emotions, and logos, which concerns the use of logic. The rhetorical triangle is good for identifying how a speech compels its audience, and for getting a better look at the speaker’s philosophy- in film, often the one giving the speech is the main character, and which methods they are or aren’t using can be used to further define them as a character and their purpose in the story.
The first speech being analyzed is Scottish warrior William Wallace’s, played by Mel Gibson in the 1995 drama Braveheart. One of the most iconic film speeches of all time, Wallace rallies and inspires his troops near the end of the movie in a scene that sums up what the character is all about: freedom, honor, and defiance.
The main methods Wallace uses to give his speech are logos and ethos, with some elements of pathos. Unlike the other speeches being discussed, his audience is not so easily receptive, and his words are met with doubt. He counters this by ensuring his credibility is immediately established in some of his opening lines: “I am William Wallace. And I see a whole army of my countrymen here in defiance of tyranny. You have come to fight as free men, and free men you are.” When a soldier responds, “Fight? No, we will run, and we will live,” Wallace uses a combination of pathos and logos to persuade his audience. Considering that the Scots are depicted as freedom fighters, as well as the film’s medieval time period, the character uses the logic of honor and freedom and delivers it with great emotion: “Aye, fight and you may die. Run and you’ll live- at least for a while. And dying in your beds many years from now, would you be willing to trade all the days from this day to that for one chance, just one chance to come back here and tell our enemies that they may take our lives, but they’ll never take our freedom!” The naysayers are convinced, and the army is inspired- sure signs of an excellent public speaker!
The second speech being analyzed is given by Spartan leader Dilios, from the 2007 epic 300. This sequence also takes place near the end of the film, after King Leonidas and his 300 men have already sacrificed themselves. However, the tables have turned since then, and now with a 10,000 man strong army, Dilios uses the speech as a reminder to his soldiers exactly how things have changed.
This speech makes succinct use of all three elements of the rhetorical triangle, and while fairly short, reveals the mentality of both Dilios, and the Spartan soldiers as a whole based on their reactions. The ethos method, aside from credibility, also involves ethics, and Spartan ethics are on full display: “…the word was spread that bold Leonidas and his 300, so far from home, laid down their lives- not just for Sparta, but for all Greece, and the promise this country holds.” For logos, Dilios uses some simple math to communicate the impending victory to his men: “Just there the barbarians huddle, sheer terror gripping tight their hearts with icy fingers- knowing full well what merciless horrors they suffered at the swords and spears of 300. Yet they stare now across the plain at 10,000 Spartans commanding 30,000 free Greeks!” Finally, for pathos, Dilios inspires his men to fight for the future: “This day we rescue a world from mysticism and tyranny, and usher in a future brighter than anything we can imagine… to victory!” In just a few sentences, Dilio nails all aspects of the triangle, and it’s no surprise that it visibly puts vigor into the Spartan warriors.
The third speech comes from the fictional version of stockbroker Jordan Belfort, played by Leonardo DiCaprio in the 2013 film The Wolf of Wall Street. Belfort gives this speech to an office full of his salespeople-in-training, and though they don’t seem to need much convincing, Belfort convinces them regardless.
Pathos and ethos take center stage here, with logos not really in play. Rather than giving some standard, professionally appropriate advice, or suggesting some new rules or methods, Belfort uses past performance to explain his sales technique. This falls under ethos, basically saying that what has been proven to work is all that matters: “In the case of the telephone, it’s up to each and every one of you, my highly trained Strattonites, my killers. My killers who will not take no for an answer! My warriors who will not hang up the phone, until their client either buys or f***ing dies!” Then, he uses pathos to give an example of a future in which two types of people are compared- those who stick with him, and those who don’t: “If anyone here thinks I’m superficial or materialistic… I want you to take a good look at the person next to you because sometime in the not-so-distant future, you’re pulling up to a red light in your beat-up old f***ing Pinto, and that person’s gonna pull up right alongside you in a brand new Porsche.” Emotions are a big part of what makes this speech so successful, and Belfort has the whole crowd cheering at multiple points.
The rhetorical triangle could cover countless speeches in film, as it is applicable to any kind of persuasive speaking. In fact, it could also be used to analyze conversations in which someone is trying to convince someone else. If you want to understand how somebody is able to persuade others, in real life or not, try watching for their methods of persuasion.
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