Monday, November 17, 2003

Master and Commander

Martha and I went to see Master and Commander: the Far Side of the World yesterday. A deeply disappointing movie. Oh, it was fun enough to watch -- extraordinary effects, fine acting, nice cinematography. And blessedly historical. These folk acted and spoke pretty plausibly as Englishmen of Napoleonic times, except for one painful moment when Aubrey advised an officer to "find his strength within himself." But that's the only time I remember my historical sensibilities wincing. (As compared with, say, The Knight's Tale, during the viewing of which video I groaned so much -- the Black Prince, proto-democrat? -- that wife and daughter eventually exiled me from the bedroom.) It really was disappointing only because they almost made it. They almost put O'Brian on the screen. But the heart of the Aubrey-Maturin books is the play of the two characters: and Aubrey has been changed, changed utterly. Maturin is recognizably Maturin, but Aubrey -- where did Aubrey go? Where is the childlike simplicity, the man who can lead the lower deck because he's really one of them? Russell Crowe's Aubrey is calculating, full of self-knowledge and emotional self-control, a deliberate manipulator of his men, with an eye always to the effect he's making -- in effect, he out-Maturin's Maturin. In the books, when Aubrey tells the story (more than once) of his dinner with Nelson, in which Nelson asked him to pass the salt, the joke is on Aubrey: he's sublimely unconscious of the fact that intense admiration of the way a man asks for the salt is silly. But in the movie it's turned into a joke which Aubrey tells on himself. He's well aware that it's silly, and he plays it for laughs. O'Brian's Aubrey could not possibly do such a thing.

If it weren't for that, I could forgive the other minor faults -- the odd collage of plots, the occasional sentimentality, the fact that Crowe seems to have watched too much Star Trek in his youth, and is haunted by the ghost of William Shatner throughout the movie -- but a sophisticated Aubrey? No. It just won't do.

Remember, only YOU can prevent sanctimoniousness (sanctimony?)

Let me beg my friends and fellow blogophiles: if I get too preachy, please let me know. On for_sv's blog today was a quotation from Churchill: "A fanatic is one who can't change his mind and won't change the subject." Made me very uneasy. It struck me as quite a good description of me on my Buddhist rants. What I hate most about them is the way I pretend to be way up on higher ground, utterly free of doubts and second thoughts, and -- to judge by the way I talk -- meditating twelve hours a day. So please, thump me when I get to be too much.

No comments: