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Movie Recommendation: Master and Commander

I want to admit the following before recommending Master and Commander, newly released on DVD and video: Do not watch the advertisements. Those advertisements got me to see the movie and I hated it at first. They mislead as to what this movie is actually about. (I think I disliked the movie at first because Dominique De'Villipin was speaking on TV and the Matrix creators were citing Simulcra and Simulation as the primary influence behind that thing they called a movie trilogy. In other words, Russell Crowe sceaming "DO YOU WANT NAPOLEAN TO BE YOUR KING????" leads one to believe there is going to be lots of French bashing and there wasn't much French bashing)


Master and Commander is much more than that. First, it is an excellent depiction of naval life in the early 18th century, the time of the Napoleonic wars. Second, the movie is about friendship and specifically about the relationship between the Naval Captain and his naturalist friend. Third, the movie is a philosophical reflection on the nature of politics and raises serious questions about enlightenment assumptions that were started by a favorite frenchman, Descarte.

Enlightenwha Festa? What are you talking about?

As a Captain, Russell Crowe is the "master and commander" of this ship. His people idolize him and do anything he says. Crowe encounters a French naval ship that is both stronger and faster than his ship and Crowe is determined to destroy it. Yet his very desire to "master and command" is called into question by his naturalist friend, who begs him to follow the rules of society and not get too over-confident. Yet our naturalist friend, though only a surgeon, is not himself devoid of the same conquering tendencies that Crowe is. The naturalist is man of science and he wants to use science to advance mankind. He too, if the situation were a laboratory instead of a naval ship, would possess the same determination that Crowe does.

Yet although the movie acknowledges (and even in some respect symphatizes with) Descarte's programmatic aim to "master and vex nature," it displays some fundamental ambiguities with the project...ie, it does not agree that we should lose our humanity in the process. There are two scenes that challenge the main characters to choose between their friendship with eachother or their desire for conquest. The reactions show a fundamental tension with the desire to "master and vex".

If you are looking for a forgettable movie with lot's of French bashing, this movie is not for you (take the money you would have spent on the movie and buy a nerf gun to shoot at the TV everytime Jacques Chirac says "peace.") But if you are looking for an intelligent movie with a good story then Master and Commander is for you.