While visiting my sister-in-law a while back, we watched the movie version of Man of La Mancha. It stars Peter O’Toole as Don Quixote, Sophia Loren as Aldonza, and James Coco as Sancho Panza. I will admit at the top that I prefer the Broadway casting. Richard Kiley embodied Don Quixote almost entirely. The only other case I’ve seen of an actor so completely embodying his character was William Daniels in 1776.
Despite the casting, the movie is quite good. It is a pretty faithful rendition of the Broadway musical, which concerns Miguel de Cervantes, the Spanish writer, and his character Don Quixote de La Mancha. In the musical, Cervantes is a prisoner of the Inquisition and the prisoners act out the story in the cell.
Don Quixote is Alonzo Quijana, an elderly Spanish landowner who has read a lot of books about knights-errant and is out to restore the ethic of chivalry to his society. He and his friend Sancho go off in search of dragons to slay. Instead, they encounter windmills and other such items, and they stop at an inn (which Don Quixote insists is a castle) where the innkeeper formally dubs him.
While there, they encounter the scullery maid Aldonza, whom Don Quixote declares to be his noble lady Dulcinea. One of the most beautiful songs in the show is his paean to Dulcinea. Aldonza, of course, rejects him completely, but winds up taking his side in a “battle.”
Don Quixote continues to fight to restore the noble ideals of the knights-errant until he is felled. At the end, back at his estate and restored to his identity as Alonso Quijana, he is visited, first by Sancho and then by Aldonza, who has completely transformed. She now sees herself as Dulcinea. She encourages Don Quixote to get back out in the world.
We can learn a couple of lessons from the book Don Quixote, and from Man of La Mancha. First, whatever your vision is, follow it, no matter how many windmills stand in your way or how many seemingly ridiculous battles you have to fight. The most famous song from the show, “The Impossible Dream”, sets out Don Quixote’s vision and his quest. Do you have a vision? Are you willing “to follow that star, no matter how hopeless, no matter how far”?
The other lesson is in the form of a question. How do you see yourself? Who do you think you are? Do you see yourself as an Aldonza or as a noble Dulcinea? How you see yourself will define how you are in the world. Look how Don Quixote transforms Aldonza. Look who she becomes. If your life is not in a place you like, you too can make that transformation. You can change your inner Aldonza into Dulcinea.
This is a powerful, lovely, and very entertaining movie. If you haven’t seen Man of La Mancha in some form, I recommend that you do so.