Taking a Break from Politics…

Master and Commander

As long as we’ve been discussing the lesser of two evils, and even whether we may so choose if forced with no other real option, I thought I’d write an article on something to which I hope we can all agree. Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World is an excellent guy movie. There are no female characters in Master and Commander, which is probably part of the reason there was no sequel despite a great set-up for one at the end of the film. Kind of hard from a sales perspective when you eliminate half your potential audience right off the bat.

Like a men’s retreat, Master and Commander forces its male audience to look within themselves, and ask “Do I have virtue, and if not, how must I live differently to attain it?” Could I have endured such trials as these men did? My buds and I in college loved and still love this movie. I try to see it at least once a year. It is an excellent film about masculinity, coming of age, sacrifice and patriotism. And lots of things explode. The film also raises questions about justice and right action. But before I get into that, the parental points…

Parental Points:

Sex Scenes: None. There are no female characters in the whole film. It’s set on a British ship in one of the Napoleonic Wars.

Sexual References: A few. At one point, one of the sailors tries to bring aboard a native South American girl, and his superior is heard to say, “Put that woman down! This isn’t a floating bordello!” At another point, Captain Jack makes an entertaining but off-color toast: “To our wives and sweethearts: May they never meet!”

Vulgarity: I honestly didn’t remember and had to look it up: There is at least 1 ‘F’ word, with only a handful of other expletives and colorful phrases.

Violence and Gore: There is a lot of it. People die in violent ways. There are surgery scenes. There is a flogging of a disrespectful crew-member. I think it’s important to emphasize, though, that none of it is senseless violence. There is an important difference between the violence in this film and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, for example. In that film, men die for no particular reason, just because they happened to be in the way of a madman. In this masterpiece, real characters that we love and become invested in, exemplars of masculine virtue, die for love of country and in the performance of their naval duties.

The Plot

At the dawn of the Nineteenth Century, Napoleon has conquered continental Europe, but England still rules the waves, but for how long?… The dauntless Captain Jack Aubrey (Russell Crowe) of the H.M.S. Surprise, has received a secret mandate from the Admiralty to eliminate a mysterious French ship wreaking havoc with British shipping off the South American coast—to either destroy her, or take her as a prize! The ship, it turns out, is superior to and outclasses Surprise in almost every respect, except perhaps for the most important one: Can Captain “Lucky Jack” Aubrey prove his leadership and nautical prowess by defeating his French adversary?

Patriotism

In our age and place, when men question whether the United States of America is worth saving or not, so riddled are its institutions with corruption, this movie inspires hope. In one stirring scene, in between rounds of intense naval exercises in preparation for combat against their French adversary, Captain Jack says to his crew profoundly, “This ship is England.” He reminds the crew that England itself while not perfect, is better than the tyranny they would live under if they did not enjoy the parliamentary system, and lived under a dictator. One of my favorite lines: “Do you want to see a guillotine in Picadilly?!” “No!” responds the crew in earnest. The movie is full of powerful scenes, and it is a powerful reminder of the responsibility of each man to do his best, even in difficult situations when it would be easy to buckle under pressure, to do his duty for his nation, even when it may not be perfect.

Courage

Several times, the bravery of one man allows the entire ship to prevail. Men are set tasks of  great difficulty and asked to make sacrifices for others. While not explicitly Christian, the film shows men putting on Christ through self denial in the service of the greater good.

Honor

Conditions were cramped and harsh aboard a British vessel in the early Nineteenth Century. The movie shows this well, and demonstrates the strict discipline and sense of honor that made possible the circumnavigation of the globe without GPS, with mere compass, sextant, navigational charts and canvass sails. There is also mutinous talk among the men, which is put down not only by the Captain’s skillful leadership, but also by the integrity of most of the crew.

Piety

The entire Lord’s Prayer is recited in one scene, the funeral of a fallen comrade. Captain Aubrey faces many moral dilemmas but proves his manly mettle and resolve to act in the best interests of his country, even while staying true to his own moral principles. Great respect is shown for the dead, showing in their grief the bond of fellowship that unites the crew in service of their nation. This is a must-see film, and one that shows us a protagonist who is not only strong in body, but also in mind, in determination, and in personal integrity and loyalty.

If you haven’t yet seen Master and Commander, I highly recommend you rectify the situation immediately.

My theology blog is Defense for the Hope, in which I discuss God, and things relating to Him.