That Moment In ‘The Bodyguard’ (1992): The Meaning of Sword and Silk
A closer look at a crucial moment in this classic romantic thriller.
The Bodyguard is a 1992 action thriller about a former Secret Service agent who takes on the job of bodyguard to a pop singer, whose lifestyle is most unlike a President’s.
By 1992, Kevin Costner was riding a huge wave of success, just off his multi-Academy Award-winning Dances With Wolves, so teaming up with the phenomenon that was Whitney Houston to make a romantic action thriller seemed like a recipe for a monster hit, and indeed, while critics were less willing to jump on board, audiences ate it up, making it a huge international hit along with a soundtrack that would become the biggest seller in history. You’ve probably seen it a few times already (don’t lie), but did you catch that moment in the movie with a samurai sword? Know what it means? Let’s take a look.
Frank Farmer (Costner) is a former Secret Service agent who now works as an independent bodyguard protecting corporate types and VIPs. When mega-pop entertainer Rachel Marron (Houston) begins getting death threats, her manager Bill Devaney (Bill Cobbs) decides she needs the best and calls upon Farmer to take the case, which he eventually does, revamping her entire security detail. While those she works with initially resent his sweeping changes, things ramp up and his service becomes invaluable. All that danger though has some effect and the two find themselves drawn to each other, kindling some romantic sparks. Now all he has to do is save her from a maniac who wants her dead.
THAT MOMENT IN
The Bodyguard was the late Whitney Houston’s film debut and while she kinda sorta plays herself, she’s pretty convincing, even if the movie is a little unstable in places (why is it she is mobbed out of control when she goes to club but no one seems to know who she is when she goes to the country bar?). Either way, Houston is full of energy and is the heart of the movie, even if Costner does well as the stoic agent.
In the story, naturally, Rachel is not so quick to think she needs any real security, Devaney and her press agent lying to her at first about the threat. She doesn’t really see the need for Farmer and isn’t too keen on the imposition he represents. But, when she does a small show at a dance hall to promote a new video, and earn more press for her Academy Award nomination, things get out of a hand when another note shows up. It spooks her – and Farmer – and after the crowd moves in and rushes the stage, they topple her to the ground. Farmer pulls her to safety.
It’s a close call and it gets Rachel on Farmer’s side, but moreso, she begins to see in him something special, a commitment to her that none have ever showed her. She warms up to him and tempts him for a date, and seeing as he won’t let her do anything without him anyway, seems like an obvious choice. He agrees and the two head out.
After watching the Akira Kurosawa classic Yojimbo (1961), the two have dinner and a little dancing before heading to his place, and it’s here where a short but significant moment occurs, one that is metaphorical of the two and their relationship.
What we know of Farmer is that of course, he is a thick wall, impenetrable, and with Rachel, to this point, he has been distant and professional though there are hints he is a bit swayed by her beauty. There was that one time he sat up all night watching her videos, something Rachel saw through a window, so maybe she suspects he has some feelings already. Either way, during their date, she probes him for more, to get his shields down and allow her some discovery. He smiles for the first time and it’s clear, well, the guy has a thing for her.
At his place, she finds a samurai sword displayed in one room and she removes it from its stand. Watching, he tells her to be careful as she unsheathes the majestic weapon. Inspired by the samurai movie she just saw, she flails the blade about in mock battle as she approaches; Farmer simply watching. She then ever so gently presses the tip to his chest as she admits that he is a hard one to figure out, adding that a bodyguard must know very little peace. He stands, with the sword still at his heart and reaches for her silk scarf, instructing her to watch. He then tosses it in the air and lets it drift back atop the blade, its sharp end up. As the scarf meets steel, it slices in two and drifts, separated, to the ground. She stares in surprise as he then pulls her closer. They kiss.
So what is the purpose of this little demonstration? It seems a simple trick to impress the lady but in truth there is much we can learn. Let’s consider what’s at play. First off, the sword is Farmer, the finely honed and expertly-crafted blade representing him, his past, his training, his skills, his finesse, and his immense power. The silk is Rachel, a fragile yet beautiful work that symbolizes great virtue and delicate wonder.
The moment puts the sword in Rachel’s hand, the tip pressed to his heart, the visual clear. He is a man of great strength but is, now, under the control of a woman he has come to care for. She has power herself, and no matter his skills, it takes only a nudge from her and his heart dies. Farmer needs to show her this and more so that he is indeed a man with little peace. He knows that a relationship with her is dangerous. This is why he tosses the scarf over the blade, showing her that, his protection, the power he embodies, will be what divides her. He is telling her that no matter their feelings, he will be responsible for hurting her. That is the price he has paid before, the blade eternal.
It’s a sensational metaphor for what’s happening between them and a great visual for the audience if they are paying attention. This is why, moments later, when we see the two in bed after having sex, the blade is now on the dresser at the foot, gleaming in the moonlight as Farmer eyes it from afar, Rachel nestled in his chest. Atop the blade is a piece of her lace underwear, draped uncut upon the blade. That’s important. She has in effect, weakened its power, and by extension, Farmer himself, something he understands all too well.
The Bodyguard is a flawed movie, one that follows a very predictable pattern, but it is nonetheless, hugely entertaining simply because everything we want to happen does, making it incredibly satisfying. Packed with great songs and some good performances, this is a guilty pleasure that continues to work decades after release, and a powerful sequences with a sword and silk make for a great cinematic moment.