Enneagram movie review of “Invincible”

Originally posted to the internet on September 6, 2010

Movies about true stories or real people can be, because they are welded to actual events, bland. Even an epic biography, like Gandhi, makes my eyes cross. This historical thing happened, then this thing, then this. Meh. Invincible, based on the real-life football player Vince Papale, is not that kind of story. As we look at how closely the story flow follows the structure of the Enneagram I think we’ll be impressed. This movie is an annual must-watch in the Worthington household.


I wanted to begin our Enneagram One with the opening credits, which are incredibly evocative. Return us to 1976 Philadelphia; remind us of the post-Vietnam depression and economic stagnation of that era. Our dog is down and he is getting kicked. The images of the opening credits, especially those of labor unions striking, overlaid with Jim Croce’s “I Got a Name,” are the literal and figurative beginning of the movie. In some movies the credits are a throwaway, but not here. Unfortunately though, I cannot offer you a clip due to strict copyright restrictions (surrounding the song, I’m guessing). Just know that the One scene is set from the earliest moment. If you watch this movie at home, don’t think you can get in a quick bathroom run at the start.

Here’s the first clip I can offer you:

The movie has to establish many story lines at the beginning. The economy and general malaise of the time is one story; the actual sporting record of the Philadelphia Eagles is another. The Eagles are losers in a time when the country is full of losers and the people desperately need to believe in a winner. We see our hero Vince, played wonderfully by Mark Wahlberg (faithful Catholic, incidentally), as a sports fan who could also use a winner. The journey of the Eagles team is as much a part of our Enneagram as Vince is, so establishing their arc now is as important as introducing his.

So Vince is an Eagles fan. So what? The movie next reveals that Vince is an unsung athlete, at least in his own neighborhood.

Again, we’re still in the One, still establishing our scene and our story lines. Be patient; a lot of threads have to be laid down. I find it all interesting, though, and I don’t feel that the One is too ponderous. When I watch the movie I only feel that a lot needs to be introduced, especially because this is a biographical period piece. No Gandhi going on here as far as I’m concerned. We have brief scenes showing that Vince is a (now unemployed) substitute teacher without seniority, and that his wife is unhappy and unsupportive.

Now watch this.  The following scene closes out the One and segways right into the Two. You don’t get much smoother than this.

That’s Greg Kinnear doing a lovely job playing head coach Dick Vermeil.


Thus, while Vince is somewhat desperately asking for more hours as a bartender, the disruption (and potential for greatness) in his life has been seamlessly initiated. At this point Vince doesn’t even recognize what lies ahead, although his friends in the bar begin to instigate the trouble. They think he should try out for the Eagles; Vince sees the whole plan as far-fetched. What incredibly long odds! Dick Vermeil catches hell for even suggesting open try-outs, which strikes everyone as a desperation play. I like this convergence of story lines: everyone needs a radical change.

A hallmark of good storytelling, however, includes a protagonist who is reluctant to change. What will persuade Vince that he should risk this unusual course?

His father’s despair is a step too far for Vince. Whether or not this actually was the straw for the real-life Vince, in storytelling the influence of the father resonates as true. I believe that Vince will now attempt the impossible.


The try-outs are a fun sequence, with our expectations met. We’re looking for comedy: a doofus brigade of former high school football meatheads who think they have any chance in a professional league. In our current era of reality TV where any bozo can become a star it’s particularly gratifying to see mediocre athletes asked to leave the stadium. This is justice, baby. And when we see that Vince, who (for all we know) may have no professional-caliber talent, prove that he is really that good is very thrilling. Here’s the transition:

The actual Three is the moment Vince is offered a spot at Eagles camp, a moment we technically do not see. Wahlberg plays Vince as a very stoic fellow (which, judging by documentary footage on the DVD, he is not) and this scene reinforces that impression. Vince lets his friends in the bar recognize the drastic change in his life, and then he can appreciate it, too. So can we. One man’s enthusiasm is so much more enjoyable when it’s shared by everyone else in the room.


And so the Four becomes Vince’s struggle at football camp. His professional teammates don’t want him; the coaching staff considers him mostly a publicity stunt by Vermeil. Vince keeps a horrible letter from his ex-wife that says he’ll never amount to anything. A tentative romance with bartender Janet is rocky at this point. All classic Four stuff, yet our hero battles on.

At what point will Vince catch a break? We know that at some point Vince will turn it around and start to succeed. How soon until that happens? Traditionally in Enneagram storytelling, this grind will be relieved at the Four-Five Switch. Invincible pulls a fast one, though.

See what happened there? Someone is nice to Vince. The ice is broken and Vince is treated with a little respect. Our tension, our worry for Vince has been relieved. Somebody likes him!

But what’s the fast one being pulled?

4/5 Switch and 5

You’ve just seen the Switch and, shortly thereafter, you get a brief Five where Vince successfully uses his new tackling knowledge. That’s it! Whoa. Seeing a professional player treat Vince as an equal is a small, but perfectly acceptable Switch. What happened to the Five, though? How can we be sure that the Five is, for all intents and purposes, missing?

Because of this:


I love the pun play with the phrase “it won’t start.” Also, I get the sense that Vermeil was convinced the words, “We’re letting you go,” would come out of his mouth, and was as much surprised as Vince when he said instead, “We’re keeping you around.” If you can get a character to astound himself you’ve done some great writing. Would you believe any of this if you didn’t know you were watching a true story?

That, my friends, can be none other than the Six. First of all, our Three-Six mirroring is evident. Vince gets accepted to the team camp in the Three; Vince gets accepted to the team in the Six. This is a lovely Three-Six. Very satisfying. Put the missing Five out of your mind for a moment and appreciate this Six.


So what the heck happened to the Five, and what is all this story being delivered after the Six? We see Vince going to pre-season games and, basically, sucking.

He knows he sucks, too, although he doesn’t seem to know how to break out of this cycle. He proved throughout the Four that he had the athletic skills to play pro ball; his confidence is what needs work. Normally, this kind of information is classic Five work. And in a strange way, that’s what we get.

In case the scene taken out of context is unclear, the kid is wearing #83, Vince’s jersey number.

This all seems like Five information sandwiched in after the Six. Either the filmmakers tried to cheat, or this is the longest Seven ever put on film.

I, your intrepid movie reviewer, had to stop my methodical Enneagram discovery and rework what I had written when I followed the movie through to the following scene. You see, I’m ashamed to admit, I got lost for a minute. The filmmakers pulled quite a switcheroo.


This scene in incontrovertibly the Seven. I know this because . . . the climax is the next scene. How often does discovering the Enneagram involve working backwards? All the time. Almost every single movie can manage to get the Eight right. And the scene before the Eight, where the character makes a decision that leads him to the climax, must be the Seven. Vince sits in his car, utterly despondent, and decides to irresponsibly join in the neighborhood contact football game. His love for his friends and his love for the pure game win out. Through acting on this love he also happens to discover how he can synchronize his former life and his new life, thereby moving forward into a successful football career. Yes, yes, this is a very good Seven with many important morals incorporated into Vince’s decision. Also, watching actors get tortured by making them roll in mud for multiple takes is always great fun. The swelling music and the camaraderie onscreen are very uplifting. And we beautifully transition into a very fulfilling Eight.


Now that’s a payoff.  Every single thread of every single character that we’ve been following throughout the movie is wrapped up in this beautiful package of a climax. Even the economy seems fixed now! (Well, not for another four years until Reagan comes into office.) And the best part of all?


It was all true.  I love this movie!

But what happened in the middle? I would say the filmmakers gave us the smallest possible Five in the history of movies (when Vince successfully tackles his training buddy) and booked right on by. Who wants to see Vince kick butt at training camp? Yawn. We want to see him make the real touchdowns. Highly unorthodox, but a justifiable choice.   When Vince is accepted to the team the movie would be less dramatic if he were suddenly a star. He’s a 30-year old bartender! His physical talent gets him in the Eagles’ door, but it’s his determination that keeps him inside. By loading up the Seven with Vince’s wimpy ego the movie creates dramatic tension and a great downhill build to the climax. I proclaim this movie a winner.  What do you think?

Just don’t make a habit of playing fast and loose with the Enneagram. The odds for success are not in your favor.

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