Wisdom (film)

Wisdom is a 1986 American romantic crime film written and directed by its star Emilio Estevez in his filmmaking debut. The film also stars Demi Moore, along with Tom Skerritt and Veronica Cartwright as Estevez's parents. The ending credits song is "Home Again" by Oingo Boingo and the score by Danny Elfman.

Theatrical release poster
Directed byEmilio Estevez
Written byEmilio Estevez
Produced byBernard Williams
CinematographyAdam Greenberg
Edited byMichael Kahn
Music byDanny Elfman
Distributed by
Release dates
  • December 31, 1986 (1986-12-31) (premiere)
  • January 2, 1987 (1987-01-02)
Running time
109 minutes[1]
CountryUnited States
Budget$6.5 million[2][3]
Box office$5.7 million[4] or $1.5 million[5]

The film is dedicated to the memory of Henry Proach, who was a good friend of Estevez, and who appears briefly in the picture.


John Wisdom is a young man just out of college. On the night of his high school graduation, he had gotten drunk and stolen a car. With a grand theft auto conviction he is branded a felon and as a result can not hold down a decent job. Seeing no future for himself, Wisdom takes a left turn: he decides to become a criminal "for the people", evocative of Robin Hood. After seeing news reports about impoverished farmers and working class people being sent to the bank to pay ownership debts, Wisdom goes on a bank robbing spree with his girlfriend, Karen Simmons; they don't steal money, but rather erase loan and mortgage records, buying time for the poor to pay their debts.

With the FBI after them, things take a turn for the worse when a panicky Karen kills a local sheriff. She and Wisdom make a run for the Canada–United States border, but when Karen is shot by a police helicopter, Wisdom leaves her in the care of some high school students and their teacher. He resumes his flight but is surrounded by police and federal agents at a college football field. As Wisdom appears to be reaching for his gun, he is riddled with gunfire and dies.

John wakes up where the film started, in his parents' bathroom. He emerges from the bathtub and proceeds to get ready for his job interview. His entire story has apparently been a daydream.



Estevez says the idea for the film "started as just the title. I thought it would be great visually. Just 'Wisdom' across the screen."[3]

He wrote the first draft in three weeks. Wisdom became the surname of the lead character. Estevez says Wisdom is "without a place in society... He becomes a criminal because he feels it's the only thing society has left him to do."[3]

Estevez added at the film was basically "about two people – their relationship and their discoveries. Those discoveries leave Wisdom not only wanted dead or alive in five states, but also a modern-day folk hero."[3]

In October 1985 David Begelman's Gladden Entertainment announced it had signed a deal with the 23 year old Estevez to write, produce and direct Wisdom. Estevez had previously written That Was Then This is Now.[6] Begelman had been in charge of Columbia, and MGM, during which time he gave Walter Hill, Barry Levinson and Richard Benjamin their first directing jobs.[7]

Comparisons were made with Orson Welles who was 24 when he wrote, produced and directed Citizen Kane. Estevez said "if they promote Wisdom as this most phenomenal thing that hasn't happened since Orson Welles, I'm going to get hit."[8]

"I have a kind of nihilistic point of view", he added. "I'm into making films that are realistic and not fluff. When you deal in reality, you're dealing with a lot of serious problems. We could be sitting here and now and being vaporized by nuclear weapons by accidentally. That's reality... Life does not end happily ever after."[8]

The female lead went to Demi Moore who was then Estevez's fiancée. (The two met while making St Elmo's Fire.)[3]

"I'm not going to sit here and say it was the most positive professional move for me when I made that picture", she said later. "Of course, doing it was based on my feelings for him and my desire to share it with him. It was very special. I was around from the day Emilio wrote the first page. I would read every page, and we would talk. The attachment to the project was real."[9]

The Gladden Entertainment Company suggested Robert Wise be hired to work as "executive director" (mentor) and Estevez agreed. Wise said, "I was there to be an aid to him if he wanted to discuss something or whether he felt this kind of angle or editing standpoint was a good one, whether the different angles in a scene were enough coverage. I didn't ever step in when he was staging a scene. Then if I saw something that bothered me, I would get him aside and say, 'Be careful of this or watch for that. Be careful, I think you have her looking the wrong way in this shot.' Mainly technical things. We would discuss the pacing of scenes. And that would be primarily it."[10]

The film was finished $200,000 under budget and a day ahead of schedule.[3]

It was one of the first film scores from Danny Elfman.[11]

"In a way, it's a very subversive film", Estevez said. "A lot of people are angered by the message it gives the kids: If you want something changed, then pick up a gun and change it. But if they stay until the end, they'll realize that violence doesn't solve anything. I'm going to take a beating on this one. "I can see myself getting my feet wet as a director, and there's a choppiness, an awkwardness to it. It's not totally relaxed. I made the movie first for myself, and I think just getting it done is an accomplishment. I fought my battle in just getting it done, and being the youngest person to get it done. Not that I set out to break any kind of record or anything, or to prove to anybody that I could do it."[12]


The film received negative reviews from critics: Leonard Maltin considered it "wretchedly scripted, with one of the most self-defeating wrap-ups you'll ever see."[13] Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film an average grade of "C+" on an A+ to F scale.[14]

Estevez later said the film "was a very disappointing experience – the outcome of it. I shouldn't say disappointing. I should say devastating – the response, how it was received. I tell you what: It was not a great film, but it was a good film. And I believe that now... I think if I show an area of weakness, it's in the writing and in the structure of my writing. I think I need to get an objective point of view." "[15]

Moore and Estevez broke up not long after the film's release. She later recalled "there was a strong lash-out against Emilio. I can't get in the skins of those people who wrote what they wrote... I thought he did a great job and that his directing was very strong for someone who had never done this before."[9]

"I took a beating from critics and I took it personally", said Estevez later. "I was broken for a period of time. But I've learned you really can't take it personally. . . . Making a film at that age was winning the battle. Having it released was icing on the cake."[16]

Estevez added "I learned that you don't go into a project with a script that's not ready. You've got to have all the bugs worked out before you start... I also learned how to be more economical with my shots and with my time... [I was] like a kid in a candy store. When you're 23 and somebody hands you $4.5 million and tells you to go out and make a film, there will be some excesses."[17]

Home mediaEdit

In 2009, Warner Bros. released Wisdom on DVD through its "Warner Archive" burn-on-demand service.

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ "WISDOM (18)". British Board of Film Classification. December 31, 1986. Retrieved June 29, 2013.
  2. ^ Groen, R. (January 2, 1987). "WISDOM A wise man would have nipped it in the bud". The Globe and Mail. ProQuest 385999023.
  3. ^ a b c d e f Danahy, M. (October 31, 1986). "Emilio estevez is running with a new crowd these days young actor leaves brat pack behind". The Globe and Mail. ProQuest 386337836.
  4. ^ Wisdom at Box Office Mojo Retrieved June 29, 2013
  5. ^ Thompson, Anne. "The 12th Annual Grosses Gloss". Film Comment. Vol. 23, no. 2 (Mar 1987). New York. pp. 62–64, 66–69.
  6. ^ Mathews, J. (October 16, 1985). "A 'BIG BRASS RING' THAT ELUDED WELLES' GRASP". Los Angeles Times. ProQuest 292159612.
  7. ^ "Hollywood "brat' scores movie hat trick". Toronto Star. October 16, 1985. ProQuest 435352337.
  8. ^ a b Blau, R. (October 31, 1985). "Tempo". Chicago Tribune. ProQuest 176407418.
  9. ^ a b Portman, J. (March 31, 1988). "Ex-brat packer has new life and new film". The Ottawa Citizen. ProQuest 239127412.
  10. ^ Gelder, L. V. (May 16, 1986). "AT THE MOVIES". New York Times. ProQuest 425876216.
  11. ^ Lewis, R. (October 31, 1986). "OINGO BOINGO TO ENERGIZE MEADOWS". Los Angeles Times. ProQuest 292415513.
  12. ^ Haithamn, D. (January 7, 1987). "Young actor-director prepared to take a beating on new film". The Ottawa Citizen. ProQuest 238997561.
  13. ^ Maltin's TV, Movie, & Video Guide
  14. ^ "CinemaScore". Archived from the original on December 20, 2018. Retrieved March 22, 2019.
  15. ^ WILLISTEIN, P. (August 8, 1987). "EMILIO ESTEVEZ GROWS UP". Morning Call. ProQuest 392248663.
  16. ^ Heller, M. (August 26, 1988). "BILLY THE KID ROLE IS WELL SUITED TO HOLLYWOOD YOUNG GUN ESTEVEZ". Orlando Sentinel. ProQuest 277447365.
  17. ^ Barry Koltnow (August 1, 1990). "A break from the pack while many of his peers struggle with negative publicity, emilio estevez forges ahead with 'Young guns II' and his second outing as a director". Orange County Register. ProQuest 272479838.

External linksEdit