Golf enthusiasts who enjoy classic comedy, which might be a little bit old fashioned but, nevertheless, contentwise up to date, are getting their money´s worth. Even though there are a lot of critics to the movie, Chevy Chase and Bill Murray are always worth to see and Caddyshack, in particular, offers huge potential for social criticism. That is what makes Caddyshack an enjoyable movie: it offers great comedy including the omnipresent criticism of golfing. Furthermore, the film offers a great insight to controversies in terms of conflicts between golf and nature conservation as well as conflicts between golf and animals. In particular, the conflict between Carl Spackler (Bill Murray), one of the greenkeepers, and the gopher offers a lot of space for social criticism and is part of the story through the whole film.
Caddyshack is about the character Danny Noonan (Michael O´Keefe) trying to raise enough money in order to go to college by working as a caddy at the upscale Bushwood Country Club. He then tries to gain favor with Judge Elihu Smails (Ted Knight) by caddying for him in order to become the scholarship holder of Smails´ Caddy Scholarship program. However, Danny wins the Caddy Day golf tournament and thus earns praise from Judge Smails. But, in the end, a golf match between Judge Smails with his golfing partner and Al Czernik (an obnoxious nouveau riche causing a lot of trouble at the golf club) with Ty Webb (a talented and smart golfer and son of one of Bushwood´s co-founders) endangers Danny´s scholarship. During the match Czernik hurts himself with his own ball and has to find a substitute in order to continue his ridiculously high staked match and pushes Danny to play for him. Consequently, Smails threatens Danny to revoke his scholarship if he plays for Czernik (who becomes Smails´ archenemy throughout the film). Even though he always wanted to get the scholarship, Danny eventually decides that humiliating Smails appears nicer to him after all the humiliation Danny experienced in order to gain favor with Smails. Additionally, Czernik promises Danny that it will pay out for Danny if he wins against Smails which might have had an influence as well because this payment will help Danny to finance his studies or whatever he likes to do just like the scholarship could have done. As mentioned before, Carl Spackler tries throughout the film to kill the gopher which lives in the golf course and damages the course. He tries a variety of methods in order to kill the gopher but the gopher appears much smarter and is always one step ahead. However, this conflict ends with a huge explosion which ensures that Danny´s final putt, which did not make its way into the hole, eventually finds its way into the hole to win against Smails.
As mentioned, the main plot of the film is about Danny trying to achieve his scholarship and the conflicts between the different characters. Since the movie shares a lot of funny features which are represented within the conflicts on both the main plot and the side story of the greenkeeper fighting against the gopher, the genre of the film is comedy. Although the social criticism on the one hand and issues of animal welfare on the other hand provide serious contents, eventually it is a comedy.
The conflict between the gopher and Carl, the greenkeeper, perfectly illustrates the exploitation of animals all around the world in order to amuse ourselves with facilities in various dimensions. Ever since humans think that the world we live in belongs to them and try to use every part of it in their interest. Basically that worked out without any major problems for a long time. But, latest events have shown that this only works to a certain extend. We faced a lot of natural disasters in recent decades and there has been no drastic rethink which is necessary in order to save the planet. With regard to the gopher-greenkeeper conflict, humans clear forests to build idyllic settlements or stunning golf courses, ignoring the fact that it used to be habitat for animals. Building these beautiful golf courses involves to wipe out everything that might destroy the perfectly idyllic impression. Since golf courses appear to be the last nonfragmented green area in urbanized spaces, golf courses have a huge responsibility due to the fact that they are in focus of animal welfare organizations (cf. Golf Course Superintendents Association of America (GCSAA) 2013). Furthermore, it is proven that golf courses can offer habitat for animals and thus protect nature and animals (cf. Science Daily 2014). Even though there are evidences that golf clubs can help to protect habitat of animals, all built golf courses destroyed habitat of animals as well. However, Caddyshack offers a lot of interesting social and environmental topics to argue about but since this entry represents a short introduction to the hidden critics it will only focus on a certain area.
The role of animals in Caddyshack represented through the gopher is that it represents the voice of preserving nature. The gopher and the conflict with it takes a minor role in the movie but, nevertheless, gives the movie an important environmental criticism. Moreover the gopher is not represented in a natural way but kind of humanized, unrealistic, and overpowered which ensures that the environmental criticism is clear to the audience. The superiority of the gopher towards the greenkeeper is shown through its humanized intelligence which again is shown in its behavior dealing with the attacks of the greenkeeper. As mentioned, the gopher is physically represented with humanized attitudes and cleverness which can be perfectly seen when the gopher dances in a unnatural way in the very end of the movie or when he is able to identify the plan of the greenkeeper to kill the gopher while looking through the window of the greenkeepers shack. This shows with regard to its victory in the end that there is a chance that exploitation of animals and our nature (represented by the greenkeeper) itself will not succeed against clever and proactive nature conservation because the greenkeeper who represents human exploitation of nature loses in the end and thus nature exploitation as well. But, due to the very unrealistic representation the audience gets another message as well which is that there is no real chance of winning the fight. Nevertheless, there is the message that exploitation, represented by the clumsy greenkeeper, will not pay in the end which is maybe the most important lesson. Because the greenkeeper tries to eradicate the gopher population on the golf course in order to get an illusory landscape which ends with a huge explosion that destroys his plans. That again might stand for the catastrophe humanity might have to face when continuing exploitation as it does. Especially the fact that the gopher survives and wins the conflict shows that in the end nature will win the fight that was started by human exploitation of nature and animals.
In particular, the conflict between the gopher and the greenkeeper illustrates the contradiction within golf itself. I was able to get to know about some of the golf club policies concerning nature protection when I spend a summer working in the office of a golf club in Scotland in 2015. The policy of golf clubs is ambiguous in the way that on the one hand golf courses have the aim to eradicate every animal and plant which might endanger the perfect illusion of stunning courses. On the other hand, golf clubs distribute the message of a nature friendly activity which helps to escape from modern and industrial life and includes an idea of a harmonious and peaceful co-existence of humans and animals (cf. Millington & Wilson 2013, p. 53). This interplay of love and hate between animals (nature) and humans makes the questionable contradiction of golf courses which is presented in the movie. With regard to the artificial impression golf courses try to create, which the one in the movie represents as well, one could say that the impossibly high standards of golf courses are due to our consumer culture and televising. Therefore, golf courses became an illusion of perfection over the years which often have an effect of disguising artificiality. It is a natural consequence coming from the principles of consumer orientated behavior which fulfills the demand that was increasing ever since.
The gopher itself is a burrowing rodent which can be found in North America and Central America. To keep it short and focus on the most important features gophers live and mostly forage underground. On the one hand gophers are extremely beneficial to the soil because they form humus by burying organic matter but on the other hand they build huge tunnel systems which lead to damages on earth dams and banks (cf. The Columbia Encyclopedia 2015). These attitudes of gophers perfectly show the conflict which can be found throughout the whole topic. Our nature (represented through the gopher) is on the one hand enabling habitat to humans (in the gopher example the production of humus) but can on the other hand destroy this habitat again. The message is that we should start to value the benefits of our nature because it can destroy our habitat easily.
Thus, Caddyshack is the perfect social criticism and makes the major problematic of golf subject of discussion which namely is animal and environmental protection. In the end, the film offers a great balance between comedy and serious subliminal messages. Even though there is a wide range of serious criticisms and topics to argue about, the film eventually serves as light cuisine and wants to entertain its audience. Nevertheless, there is a deeper message which should be clear to the audience in terms of rethinking environmental matters and social criticism as well.
Millington, B., & Wilson, B. (2013). Super intentions: Golf course management and the evolution of environmental responsibility. In: J. Gillet & M. Gilbert (2014), Sport, Animals, and Society (p. 53). New York: Routledge.
The Columbia Encyclopedia 6th ed. (2015): “gopher.”. Encyclopedia.com. URL:
http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1E1-gopher.html [retrieved on March 9th 2016]
Golf Course Superintendents Association of America (GCSAA) (2013): “The plight of the bees”. Gcaa.org. URL:
https://www.gcsaa.org/gcm-magazine/2013/november/gcm-november-2013-the-plight-of-the-bees [retrieved on Mai 20th 2016]
Science Daily (2014): “Health of ecosystems on U.S. golf courses better than predicted, researchers find”. Sciencedaily.com. URL:
https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/04/140410122201.htm [retrieved on Mai 21st 2016]