Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World
—About the Cast
—About the Crew
—About this Film
Master and Commander dealt with several themes that I haven’t seen on screen in a while, especially when it comes to war movies. Most war movies of late seem to deal with the same question over and over again. “Is war right?” They always show the same two sides of the story-- young soldiers barely out of high school give their lives for the protection of their country, while the enemy is sadly forced to do the same thing. Quite frankly, I have almost stopped watching war movies because of this clichéd propaganda. I’ve been ready for a new approach for about 4 years, with the only exception being Tigerland, which at least had a unique treatment of the same concept. Master and Commander finally provides some new food for thought, rejecting the bleeding heart treatment of war and exploring several other aspects which can offer valuable lessons in our daily grind.
Perhaps foremost, the story deals with the plight of the leader who must weigh loyalty, duty, and pride against the loss of his crew members who trust him. With every complication to completing his orders to stop the ship Acheron, comes the loss of life or vitality of one or more of his crew members. After the initial battle scene, the “butcher’s bill” is 27 wounded and nine dead. Commander Jack Aubrey goes to visit them, but chooses to press on. They repair the ship just in time to be surprised again by the Acheron. After a narrow escape, the mast breaks in the pursuit of the Acheron and they must cut loose a shipmate. Soon, the midshipman Hollum is tagged the Jonah of the ship, and the run of bad luck is only resolved by his suicide. When Commander Aubrey’s best friend Steven is wounded, he must stop long enough to consider whether to continue his mission. The movie shows how the temptation to win (even for one’s country) often comes with the requirement to sacrifice those who support your endeavor. Isn’t this the nature of success? What high ranking individual in business, government or the military hasn’t been faced with self-promotion at the expense of a lower man or woman (often a friend)? At every point, it is a good idea to assess the value of those who support us, and to reward and protect them as much as we can. Duty, loyalty and pride often get in the way of this, but we must remember that we are all in this battle together.
An interesting sub-theme is that of disguise. Again, I was glad for the refreshing perspective. There is an advantage in disguise, whether the disguise of a bug like a walking stick, or the disguise of a battle ship as a whaler. The concept is discussed several times before Commander Aubrey comes upon it as a tactic for attack. The doctor makes an interesting distinction that what an animal is using for defense, the Commander is using for attack. This has a huge spiritual application. The Bible says, “And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light. It is not surprising, then, if his servants masquerade as servants of righteousness.” (2 Corinthians 11:14-15). I heard in an interesting thought the other day--that the devil has had thousands of years to perfect his strategies to cripple, condemn and corrupt the human race. What better way than to use disguise? Many things that were clearly wrong and evil to a generation 100 years ago have become questionable and acceptable to our generation. And the general feeling about our generation is that we are enlightened, open and accepting of all things and all decisions regardless of consequence. Interesting disguise.
This leads me to another profound and realistic point of the movie—the battle never ends. Every time Lucky Jack Aubrey’s crew gets a break, the next battle is just beyond the horizon. This is literally true when Steven sees the Acheron just as the ship is about to turn back home. And the ending…I loved it! But, the principal is true of life. Even when we are resting from the last battle in our lives, there is another one headed our way. It is important to not give up the fight. The rest stops will be there when the fight is over, and no struggle lasts indefinitely. But the fighting does continue until death, when at last many will find peace (Malachai 5:1-5). Regardless of our spiritual inclination, this life is not marked for continual peace for any of us. To quote The Princess Bride, “Life is pain, Highness, anyone who tells you differently is selling something.” Pain and suffering are inevitable for all. Christ, however, can offer answers and a reprieve from life’s pain, a peace that passes all understanding (Philippians 4:7). In the meantime, we are to consider that the battle wages on… The tenacity of Aubrey’s predecessor, Lord Nelson, is rightly praised in this story.
Lastly, although the movie had many more wonderful themes and fine points to explore, I will wrap up with the strong idea of providence. While some things seem to occur by accident, several others suggest that God is directing the path and fate of the ship and crew. The scripture-spouting crewman who had brain surgery often gives warnings as a prophet might. He also starts the idea that Hollom is a “Jonah” who is bringing bad luck onto the boat. As the scientific Steven and the faith-based Jack argue about this, Jack blatantly states, “Not everything is in your book, Steven.” His point is that science doesn’t explain every event in life, and that some things happen as a result of God’s hand. Sure enough, after Hollom jumps overboard, the good fortune returns to the boat. Now, of course, this is not the greatest reflection of the Biblical story of Jonah, because Jonah did not commit suicide. He simply turned his life and will over to God as God intended. Nevertheless, the idea of providence is there. Also, when Steven stops to look at the beetle on the Galapagos Islands, he sees the ship Acheron across the way. While this could be accident, it could also be the miraculous placement of one man in the right spot at the right time. Incidentally, the scripture-spouting crewman also states, “The Devil’s in the wheel of that fathom ship.” But that fathom ship (the Acheron) never sinks the H.M.S. Surprise. Talk about providence!
Overall, I really enjoyed the movie, not only for the great spin on war movies, but also for the historical accuracy of the movie. Someone obviously did their homework, and it was interesting to see even the technical details of a war at sea in that period of time. If you haven’t seen it, also look for these great themes: courage, loyalty, tyranny, surprise, and leadership. Great flick!