October Sky

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EFL Movie Study Guide for: October Sky

from www.krigline.com   www.krigline.com.cn


Story: As Sputnik (the world's first man-made satellite) crosses the 1957 October sky, a boy in a poor West Virginia family begins to dream of going into space. However, his father runs a mine far underground and believes that his son's destiny lies closer to home. His high school teacher encourages him to participate in a science fair, but no one from this little town ever wins—so why bother? Based on a true story (the boy grew up to become a NASA engineer), this movie shows the power of friendship and encouragement, the important role teachers play, and the challenge of how to show love for one's family while chasing a different dream. (1999; Laura Dern, J Gyllenhaal, Chris Cooper; Universal Pictures; drama/history; 108 minutes)

Setting: West Virginia, USA; late 1950s

People and proper nouns:
Homer Hickam: the high school kid at the center of this story
Miss Riley: Homer's teacher
John and Elsie Hickam: Homer's father and mother
Quentin, Roy Lee, O'Dell: Homer's friends/partners in the science project

Synopsis (adapted from an essay by my former student Whan Ik, May 2002)

Homer Hickam was a teen-ager who lived in Coalwood, where almost all of the boys “grew up to work in the mine.” Very few could go to college, especially if they didn’t earn a football/sports scholarship. One day, Homer saw Sputnik (a Russian satellite) fly through the night’s sky, and it inspired him to start learning about rockets (and eventually become a Nasa engineer). With his friends (Quentin, Roy Lee, and O'Dell), he started building rockets. Their first experiment just broke his mother’s fence; but they kept working, in spite of many failures and challenges. Finally, they built a successful rocket and (encouraged by their teacher) they decided to enter the Science Fair; if they won, perhaps they could earn a college scholarship. Along the way, they encountered many problems, including disagreements between Homer and his father, who thought that being a coal miner is better than becoming a rocket engineer. At one point, Homer’s dad was injured in an accident, and Homer had to drop out of school to work in the mine (to pay family bills). In the film, we learn how difficult it is to follow your dreams, and how important it is to help your friends, students and family members.


(1) What are your dreams, and what is standing between you (now) and reaching them? How will you overcome those obstacles?

(2) Who, in your life, is "Quentin/Roy Lee/O'Dell" or "Miss Riley"?

(3) Do you think it is important for you to help other people achieve their dreams, or should you only be concerned with reaching your own dream? Explain.

(4) Tell your partner some practical things that people (teachers, officials, parents, friends…) can do to help others achieve their dreams.



Sorry...I haven't had time to work on vocabulary for this film!


Sentences from the movie:

from memory and from http://www.imdb.com

Note: These may not be in the correct chronological order.


1. Homer: [jumps into Roy Lee's car to go to football tryouts] Let's go, Roy Lee! It's almost nine.

     Roy Lee: You sure are in a hurry to get yourself killed, huh, kid?

     O'Dell: There are easier ways to commit suicide, Homer.

     Homer: Would you just step on it, Roy Lee?

     Roy Lee: [frustrated with his old car] I am stepping on it.

2. Jim Hickam: [at football practice] Hey, Lenny; take it easy on my kid brother, but make it look good, all right? [Then Homer is tackled hard.] I thought I told you to take it easy on him!

     Lenny: I did take it easy on him

     Homer: [playing against Lenny] I'm gonna run right over you, you son of a bitch! You hear me?

     [Homer is tackled several times more]

     Coach Gainer: [helping Homer up] Well, Homer, you've sure got guts; but ya gotta [you’ve got to] know when to quit.

3. Homer: Why are the jocks the only ones who get to go to college?

     Roy Lee: What burns my ass is that they're also the only ones who get the girls.

4. John: [after a cave in] Come on. Come on, Jensen. Come on back.

     Jensen: What happened?

     Jake Mosby: Whole damn mountain about fell on your head. And John here, he saved your life.

     Homer [proudly]: That's my dad.

     John [angry]: I want you out of this mine, and don't you ever come back, you stupid son of a bitch. Didn't I tell you to watch those pillars? Now we could’ve all been killed today, because you didn't have the sense to look up!

     Homer [ashamed]: That's my dad.

5. [A visiting coach gives Homer’s brother Jim a football scholarship; then he tells Homer that if he studies hard he might get to go to college too someday]

     Jim Hickam [sarcastically]: Yeah, on a science fiction scholarship, maybe.

6. Jake Mosby: Buck up, Homer. You're a Coalwood boy! You get down there, get that shovel in your hands, coal dust on your neck, feel just as natural as a tick on a dog.

7. [Someone says that the government needs to pay more attention to Russian activity in space, or ‘they’ll soon be dropping bombs on us from space’]

     Roy Lee: I don't know why they'd drop a bomb on this place, be a heck of a waste of a bomb. …Let them have outer space. We got rock-n-roll.

8. Quentin: What do you want to know about rockets?

     Homer: Everything.

     Quentin: Well, actually, they were invented by the Chinese ...

9. Homer: [gunshot in background] Hey Quentin! [another gunshot] That rocket had to have gone up at least 100 feet didn't it?

     Quentin: More like two hundred. [another gunshot]

     Homer: [another gunshot] Will you cut it out, Roy Lee?

     Roy Lee: Die you son of a bitch! [fires another round into the grill of his broken down car]

     Homer: Man, we should be trying to get into that science fair instead of sitting around here like a bunch of hillbillies.

     Roy Lee: Well, I got some real sad news for you Homer. We are a bunch of hillbillies .

10. O'Dell: Besides, didn't your dad say no more rockets?

     Homer: No, he said no more rockets on company property.

     O'Dell: Do you realize how far we'd have to go to be off company property?

     Homer: Yeah, we'd have to go to Snakeroot.

     Quentin: Snakeroot? That's eight miles!

     Homer: It's not that far. I mean we could walk if we had to...

     O'Dell [sarcastically]: Hey! Walk! That's a great idea!

     Homer: Come on let's go!

     Roy Lee: Wake the hell up, will you Homer? Now, I got about as much chance of winning that science fair as you do winning a football scholarship. I know I'm gonna be a miner. I've known my entire life. What the hell's so bad about mining coal anyway?

     Homer: Nothing Roy Lee. It's great. That's why your step-daddy is the biggest drunk in West Virginia! I mean, come on guys! You know the mine will kill you! [to Quentin] (Did) You ever hear the story about how O'Dell's dad died?

     Roy Lee: Homer. .. will you forget it, man?

     O'Dell: Shut up Homer.

     Homer: Piece of slate caught him right in the neck ...and it cut his head clear off.

     O'Dell: [tackles Homer] You son of a bitch!

11. O'Dell: (Tell us the) God's honest truth, Homer. What are the chances ... a bunch of kids from Coalwood ... actually winning the national science fair?

     Homer: A million to one, O'Dell.

     O'Dell: (The odds are) That good? Well, why didn't you say so? Here, let me help you ...

12. Roy Lee: Are you sure we need this nozzle thing?
Quentin: Are you kidding? The nozzle is the most important part - it directs the flow of the hot gases!

     Roy Lee: Hey, cool it, Quentin! Man, talk about your 'hot gases' ...

13. O'Dell: [after hearing train whistle coming towards wrecked track] It’s…It's abandoned. Uh, look at the rust. Caretta number two shut down in '51. [whistle blows again]

14. [Homer names his rocket “Auk”, which Quentin calls “a stroke of genius”]

     Roy Lee: What's an auk?

     O'Dell: It's a bird that don't fly.

     Roy Lee: You mean like a parakeet?

     15. O'Dell [sarcastically]: Gasoline? That's a good idea. [Sarcastically, to himself, as if reading a newspaper headline] “Four unidentifiable high school students lost their lives early this morning when their toy rocket exploded.

(continued in other column)


16. Principal Turner: Miss Riley, our job is to give these kids an education. Not false hopes.

     Miss Riley: False hopes? Do you want me to sit quiet, and let ‘em breathe in coal dust the rest of their lives?

     Principal Turner: Miss Riley, once in a while ... a lucky one ... will get out on a football scholarship. The rest of them work in the mines.

     Miss Riley: How about, I believe in the unlucky ones? Hmm? I have to, Mr Turner, or I'd go out of my mind.

17. [a mine worker, formerly one of the Tuskegee Airmen, almost gets hit when he watches Homer launch a rocket]

     Leon Bolden: Homer, I flew with the Red Tails in World War II. And seein' that rocket come at me ... it almost took me back there.

     18. Roy Lee: I'll tell you what's unbelievable ... captain of the football team being jealous of you.

19. John: Vernon! [slams Vernon against the wail]

     Vernon: We ain't at the mine now Hickam! This ain't your business!

     John: [to Roy Lee] You wait in the car with Homer, son. [to Vernon] Now you listen to me you drunken son of a bitch. If that boy's father were still alive, he'd kick your ass. So I'm going to have to do it for him. If I see him with a bruise ... you get a scar. If I see him with a limp ... you get crutches! Do you hear me? Do you hear me? [lets Vernon go]

     Vernon: I'm reporting you to the union!

     John: Screw you and your damn union.

20. Quentin: They watched us get arrested. We're practically ex-convicts. They'll never dance with us.

     O'Dell: Jeez, Quentin, you don't know anything about women.

21. Elsie: Your father always has to be the big hero. I swear if he dies I won't shed a tear. [Homer’s dad is badly hurt in the accident, and can’t go back to work for a while. So, Homer starts working in the mine to help pay his family’s bills.]

22. [Homer needs Quentin to check some complicated math, which proved that their rocket could not have started a fire like the authorities said when they arrested them. So, Homer goes to Quentin’s house late one night, and discovers that he live in a tiny shack with a large, poor family.]

     Quentin [as Homer leaves]: You're not going to tell the guys where I live, are you?

     Homer: It wouldn’t matter if you lived in the governor’s mansion. They’d still think you are weird.

23. [Homer’s dad tells Homer that he shouldn’t have missed work in the mine to shoot off another rocket, and says “to go back early tomorrow…”]

     Homer: No. Coal mining may be your life, but it's not mine. I'm never going down there again. I want to go into space. [Homer then tells his dad that he decided to go back to high school instead of continuing to work in the mine.]

24. Homer: Listen, I'm sorry about what's going on around here, but it isn't my fault! What do you want from me anyway?

     John: You better watch yourself, Homer.

     Homer: If I go on to win at Indianapolis, I can go to college, maybe even get a job at Cape Canaveral. There's nothing here for me. The town is dying! The mine is dying! Everybody here knows that but you!

     John: You want to get out so bad, then go. Go!

     Homer: Yeah, I'll go! Yeah, I'll go!

     John: GO! GO!

     Homer: And I'll be gone forever! I won't even look back!

25. John: Elsie, I don't have the power to settle this strike.

     Elsie: The bosses listen to you. They'll do what you tell them.

     John: I'm not gonna crawl on my belly in front of those miserable union rats.

     Elsie: Is that what this is about? Is this about your pride?

     John: It's about what's best for Coalwood. If this mine doesn't produce, then the town dies. (Do you) Think the union gives a damn about that? They're nothing but a bunch of greedy sons of bitches ...

     Elsie: Shut up. Just shut up. [John is silent] Homer once said you love the mine more than your own family. I stood up for you because I didn't want to believe it. Homer has gotten a lot of help from the people in this town. They've helped him build his rockets. They've watched him fly them. But not you. You never showed up, not even once. I'm not asking you to believe in it, but he's your son, for God's sake, and I am asking you to help him. If you don't, I'll leave you. I'll do whatever it takes to get away from here. I will work, if that's what it takes. I'll live in a tree to get away from you. Don't think I won't.

     John: Where would you go?

     Elsie: [after a pause, starting to cry] Myrtle Beach. [she walks away]

26. John: I heard you met your hero and didn't even know it.

     Homer: Dad, I may not be the best, but I come to believe that I've got it in me to be somebody in this world. And it's not because I'm so different: from you either, it's because I'm the same. I mean, I can be just as hard-headed, and just as tough. I only hope I can be as good a man as you. Sure, Dr. Werner von Braun is a great scientist. But he isn't my hero.

27. Quentin: [shooting off their last rocket] Look at it go, Homer! This one's gonna go for miles.



October Sky Quiz

Read this before you watch, and then see if you can get all of them correct after the show.

1. Homer’s dream was to
a. go into space.
b. move to Myrtle Beach.
c. work in the coal mine like his father.

2. Homer’s first rocket
a. flew dangerously toward his father’s coal mine.
b. blew up his mother’s fence.
c. won a prize at his high school’s science fair.

3. Most of his classmates thought Quentin was strange because he
a. had freckles and glasses.
b. was from a poor family.
c. enjoyed studying, and therefore knew a lot.

4. Homer’s brother, Jim,
a. dropped out of high school to work in the mine when his father was injured.
b. received a football scholarship to go to college.
c. used all the family savings to go to college.

5. Why were the boys shooting their car in the woods?
a. Because they had just had a fight and were angry at each other.
b. They were practicing to earn money in a shooting competition.
c. They were unable to repair the car.

6. The boys had been accused of starting a fire. They got their good reputation back by
a. finding all their missing rockets.
b. using a math equation to prove they could not have started the fire.
c. finding the person that really started the fire.

7. Homer’s father didn’t support the science fair project because he
a. was afraid that his son would become a German scientist.
b. was concerned about the boys’ future and didn’t want them to chase a hopeless dream.
c. wanted his son to work in the mine, since almost all Coalwood boys were destined to work in the mine.

8. The boy’s teacher, Miss Riley, was important to the story because she
a. encouraged the boys to enter the science fair.
b. was the county science expert.
c. ended up in the hospital with pneumonia.

9. By the end of the story, most of the people in the community thought the boy’s project was
a. a waste of time and money.
b. unrealistic because they were destined to be coal miners.
c. worthy of their support.

10. The real Homer Hickam probably wrote this story about his youth because he
a. had become a famous astronaut.
b. wanted to be a rich and famous author.
c. wanted to encourage people to follow their dreams.


Answers: 1a, 2b, 3c, 4b, 5c, 6b, 7b, 8a, 9c, 10c

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