This post examines the relationship of Kurt Sutter’s series Sons of Anarchy (SOA) to the film Lonely are the Brave (LATB) starring and produced by Kirk Douglas, written for the screen by Dalton Trumbo, and directed by David Miller), including ideological, narrative, and visual parallels. It supplements my earlier discussion of SOA, but without direct attention to Greek and Roman elements.
[To read about the use of Latin in SOA‘s spinoff series Mayans, MC, click here]
LATB tells the story of John ‘Jack’ Burns, a complicated loner, a modern cowboy, who returns from the wilderness. He does this in order to break his friend Paul Bondi (Michael Kane) out of jail, where he is serving a two-year sentence for refusing to register for the draft. SOA‘s John Teller, though given to bouts of isolation, wants love, family, and community. Burns too hopes to bring not only Paul, but his wife and son to Mexico where they can enjoy a life of freedom together. Neither man is able to achieve his aim, though each makes his own remarkable attempt.
The Deaths 1 (Jax and John Teller):
The series finale of SOA depicts the death of Jax Teller (Charlie Hunnam), president of SAMCRO (Sons of Anarchy Motorcycle Club Redwood Original). He deliberately provokes a police chase, then deliberately steers his bike into an oncoming truck. He does this, however, because he has been sentenced to death by the council of SOA presidents for the unauthorized killing of another club president. Jax persuades his club members to accept this judgment. Instead of carrying out the sentence by shooting him as is custom, they allow him to escape so that he die in a manner of his choosing. His choice is to recreate his father’s death. His father John Teller died in a crash involving a collision with a semi-truck. For much of the series, viewers are under the impression that he was murdered by his stepfather Clay Morrow (Ron Perlman) in conspiracy with his mother Gemma Teller-Morrow (Katey Sagal), who were having an affair. Morrow sabotaged Teller’s bike, causing it to crash. Jury White (Michael Shamus Wiles), the SOA president that Jax kills in ‘The Separation of Crows’ (S7 E9), insists before his death that whatever anyone had done to the bike could not have deceived Teller for whom it was like an extension of his body. This suggests that John Teller may have committed suicide by acceding to his own murder. However winding and obscure the paths that bring father and son to their deaths, though, the dynamics are similar.
The Deaths 2 (John ‘Jack’ Burns):
Burns whose given name and nick name link him both to John and Jax Teller does not die in the movie. He may well be about to die, though. He attempts to ride across a freeway, something he did at the beginning of the film. It is a boundary dividing civilization from the desert wilderness that he prefers and, at this moment in the film, it constitutes the path to Mexico where he can life freely and safe from U.S. law enforcement. The police are chasing him because he broke out of jail. Although on horseback he has successfully evaded them thus far and seems on the cusp of escaping completely. The horse is understandably skittish about crossing a freeway. She almost doesn’t make it at the beginning of the film. The horse panics again, this time with tragic consequences. Burns is definitely not committing suicide, however risky his actions. Like John Teller, however, his mode of transportation rebels against him. The horse panics, the motorcycle malfunctions.
The Truck Drivers:
The drivers of the trucks that inadvertently claim the lives of Burns and Jax respectively both feature as characters in their respective stories. Both drivers are introduced in a truck stop scene. LATB’s necessarily briefer scene has a random stranger accost Carrol O’Connor’s character, hoping that he can deliver a package for him to Coffeeville, Kansas. He cannot, but the audience learns from the exchange that he is driving to Duke City, NM at 70 mph carrying a freight of 150 toilets.
Carroll O’Connor as the truck driver in Lonely Are the Brave.
He has no connections to the other characters or the plot in general until final moments of the film, when he collides with Burns (Kirk Douglas) who is attempting to flee the law on horseback across a freeway. The viewer with a keen eye on dramatic conventions might guess what purpose O’Connor’s driver would eventually serve in LATB, especially since Burns just barely survives crossing a freeway in the previous scene, but either way this dramatic structure makes the truck into a force akin to fate. SOA’s elaborate mystical ornamentation sets this dynamic in relief. Its corresponding character is likewise introduced in a truck stop scene in ‘Red Rose’, the next to last episode of season 7 (S7 E12).
Gemma en route to visit her senile father (Hal Holbrook), sleeps overnight in her car at a truck stop. A truck driver (Michael Chiklis) taps on her car window, waking her up to ask her to move her vehicle. Later on, they have a relatively relaxed conversation in which, among other things, the audience learns that he is driving north to collect produce and return with it. He has none of the banal mystery of O’Connor’s driver. Chiklis played the main character in The Shield (2002-2008), a series on which SOA creator Kurt Sutter served as a writer. His sudden appearance in the next to last episode of Sutter’s series immediately suggests some further significance to his character.
Michael Chiklis as Milo, the truck driver in Sons of Anarchy, S7 E12-13
When he reappears later that morning waiting in line for a vending machine, he enters the scene just as a startled Gemma recognizes the mysterious homeless woman (Olivia Burnette) who has appeared to both her and Jax at various times throughout the series. This character resembles a woman killed in John Teller’s crash with the semi-truck and adds a supernatural dimension to the series at significant moments. Milo’s first words in this scene compare the homeless woman checking a vending machine’s coin return for change to his ex-wife’s pursuit of their money, thus confirming that he too sees her. Whether her invisibility is literal or that of the homeless generally, no one notices her, apart from Jax and Gemma — and now Milo. In sum, the truck stop scene gathers together in a single shot a truck driver, the character who evokes both a sense of fate in motion as well as the unintended victim of John Teller’s collision with a truck, and Gemma, who is partly responsible for both deaths.  The homeless woman’s appearance adds to the audience’s awareness that Milo has a role to play in the events to come. It may also do the same for Gemma at that moment.
The SOA first season moment (S1E4 ‘Patchover’) in which Jax finds the words of Emma Goldman written beneath a bridge evokes the LATB moment when Paul refuses to leave his cell, after Burns has broken through the bar. As Burns tries to convince his friend to breakout with him, he describes an idyllic scenario where he, Paul, his wife Jerry (Gena Rowlands) and son Sid all live together in Mexico:
[John Burns: ] Listen, amigo. I know a place in Sinaloa just aching to hide us. Good cabin. Lots of rain. You’d write your book. I’d run a cow or two. Jerry could paint. And Sid, he’d learn — like we used to talk about — natural man.
Jax describes the concept for the Sons of Anarchy MC that he encounters in his father’s journals as follows: “Seems like his original idea for the MC was something simpler. You know, social rebellion. He called it a ‘Harley Commune’. It wasn’t outlaw. It was real hippie shit.” Burns slightly predates the hippies, as he does John Teller, but his scenario of friends and family living together in Sinaloa could be characterized in the same way.
In the LATB jail scene, Paul turns away from Burns’ portrait of a new life together in Mexico and refuses to leave jail. Burns questions him: does Paul agree with the sentence that he received? No. Doesn’t Paul realize that Jerry and Sid are paying for his idealism too? Yes. This jail confrontation between the two friends resonates with a key SOA first season moment (S1E4, ‘Patchover’), in which viewers learn, via passages read from John Teller’s memoir about the Sons of Anarchy club, that its name derives in part from the words of anarchist Emma Goldman (the link is here). Jax visits the spot where his father mentions first reading them. 
[John Teller:] The first time I read Emma Goldman wasn’t in a book. I was sixteen, hiking near the Nevada border. The quote was painted on a wall in red. When I saw those words it was like someone ripped them from the inside of my head.
[Jax Teller reading from the wall:] “Anarchism… stands for liberation of the human mind from the dominion of religion; the liberation of the human body from the dominion of property; liberation from the shackles and restraint of government. It stands for social order based on the free grouping of individuals.”
[John Teller:] “The concept was pure, simple, true. It inspired me. Lit a rebellious fire, but ultimately I learned the lesson that Goldman, Proudhon and the others learned. That true freedom requires sacrifice and pain. Most human beings only think they want freedom. In truth they yearn for the bondage of social order, rigid laws, materialism. The only freedom man really wants, is the freedom to become comfortable.”
The extract from Goldman and, in particular, the senior Teller’s reflections on it describe what happens in the cell confrontation between Burns and Paul. ‘Natural man’, an Enlightenment concept invokes indirectly the philosophical content that SOA approaches explicitly through the quotation of particular post-Enlightenment philosophers. The rural mountain Nevada/California border context of the SOA scene deepens its resonance with the New Mexico setting of LATB. Teller’s declaration about what most people want speaks directly to the disagreement between Burns and Paul. Paul Bondi lives up (or down) to one resonance of his name insofar as he quite literally chooses the “bondage of social order [and] rigid laws” and rejecting just as literally Burns’ offer of “liberation from the shackles and restraint of government” and a new, anarchic “social order based on the free grouping of individuals” in Sinaloa. While some — and presumably he in particular — may find his commitment to principle noble, he arguably finds greater comfort in enduring society’s imposition of unfreedom than satisfaction in the possibility of freedom and free association. This perspective, applied to SOA‘s own conclusion, raises the question of whether Jax’s ultimate decision to accept the sentence of death from the SOA presidents and to protect the Club from the law enforcement is noble or a decision, like that of Bondi, to endure a harsh penalty because it is more psychologically comfortable to do that than seek a more uncertain form of freedom.
Symbols in Collision, and Fate (for lack of a better word):
In addition to the above ideological connections, we can point to thematic similarities in the closing scenes of SOA and LATB. In the last scene, LATB focuses on Burns’ cowboy hat lying on the freeway. SOA‘s series finale ends with a shot of crows pecking at a hunk of bread on the road, while Jax’s blood streams toward it. The technique of transitioning from a scene by focusing on an inanimate object is a standard cinematographic device. Symbolically the hat on the road (1:47:00) points to the brokenness of Burns’ chosen identity. His horse is dead, his life hangs in the balance, and the signifier of the cowboy, his hat lies on the road, separated from its owner, soon to be crushed by traffic. SOA invests this transitional device with Christ symbolism (see Jax’s pose below, as he approaches the truck). The shot following the collision replicates the opening shot of episode one of the first season (S1 E1, Pilot), but for the addition of the blood and wine in the finale’s closing shot. 
The crows eating bread and wine, as Jax’s blood flows into the frame, his final encounter with the homeless woman earlier in the same episode, where he finds her sitting with bread and a bottle of wine at her feet. 
In LATB, the truck embodies a fate consisting of the depersonalized and unintentional violence in U.S. society that simply eliminates what resists it, including noble, iconic characters. It is therefore essential that a hapless, well-meaning driver trying to deliver 150 toilets on schedule destroys Burns. The fact that we follow the driver from early in the film creates the impression that the moment of collision is a feature of a the driver’s schedule more than the act or failing of the driver. This in turn creates a sort of fate, which deliberately offends the viewer. But it does so possibly less with its meaninglessness than with the impoverished meaning that it imposes on the terrible outcome: schedules have to be kept, individuals need to stay in their lanes (or out of them altogether), and everyone must pay what they are told that they owe. So, an exhausted truck driver continues his route through conditions unsafe to himself and others with lethal results. So, Paul Bondi chooses to serve two years in prison for conscientious objection. As the film presents it through Burns’ perspective, there is a maddening paradox in this. Bondi refuses to do military service, because he thinks that the state cannot ethically or constitutionally require him to do it. Yet, he insists that he must remain in prison because he does accept that the state can ethically and constitutionally impose that on him for refusing to do what — he believes — it has no right to ask him to do in the first place.
SOA‘s crime drama brand of American violence, on the other hand, is very much on its surface. Violence is deeply personal to the characters. It gives them structure and direction, even though the forces that drive it derive from larger systems of profit and ideology that they do not fully comprehend, cannot control, and by which almost all of them are ultimately consumed. Furthermore, the capacity of these characters and their loved ones to suffer violence is a principal means of securing sympathy for them. The elaborate supernatural apparatus haunting the show, however, insists on a level of respect viewers might not otherwise think to give. We may feel for these characters or be impressed or distressed by their deeds, but the supernatural dimension also demands that we accept that they matter to God or gods, to ghosts, or that they have fates which great and terrible.
Accordingly, the perfusion of symbols woven through the show elevates and isolates certain characters much as the Weird Sisters do Macbeth and of course the ghost of Hamlet’s father does his son. All this makes a wide range of viewers reluctant to discount the passions and ambitions of characters they may otherwise find repugnant. Therefore, even though Milo and Carroll O’Connor’s driver are both solidly built, middle-aged men as unremarkable as the hats they wear, the former, for all his decent simplicity, walks into a role laden with symbols of terrible forces drawing near to their deadly conclusion. In a truck with the words ‘Papa’s Goods’ painted on its side, Milo gives Gemma a ride to the place where, unbeknownst to him, her son will find and kill her. Then, on his return, he will unwillingly serve as the son’s instrument of suicide.
 Series producer Paris Barclay discuss her briefly in this post-finale interview. For a complete list of the homeless woman’s appearances in the series, see the SAMCROpedia entry. Her character is a reminder that, however much Teller may have rejected the Club’s violence by the end of his life, if he did indeed accede to his own murder, his debt is not simply that of abandoning the living and failing to stop an evil that others wove around him, he also took the life of an innocent.
 The following paragraphs, including quotations and screen caps are drawn from my post on SOA and Sophocles’ Ajax.
 The image of the opening and closing shots of the series are taken from Sons of Anarchy on Pinterest. The image compilation of Jax’s suicide is from Project Fandom.
 The SAMCROpedia entry in note 1 documents the multiple convergences of symbolism in these shots.