Saturday, August 11, 2007

White feather

We rarely know or understand ourselves until we face what we fear the most and realize it wasn't as bad as we though it would be.

The Four Feathers is a remake (again) of the earlier 1939 and 1977 versions that were remakes of the same movie in 1915, 1921, and 1922 with the same characters and the same premise. A young man, Harry, resigns his commission on the eve of being sent to the Sudan to fight the Mahdi, a piece of history that was made into a movie with Charlton Heston and Laurence Olivier: Khartoum. The British do love their military history even when history remembers them as complete colonial failures, but they never flinch, keep a stiff upper lip, and Hollywood continues to recycle their history over and over and over.

That being said, The Four Feathers is a very good remake and less maudlin and stiff upper lip than the previous versions and it still says the same thing: what you fear may not be the worst in store for you. In this case, Harry travels to Egypt and bribes an unsavory character to take him to the Sudan to give the four white feathers his friends gave him as a token of their belief in Harry's cowardice. Harry ends up nearly dead in the desert when About Fatma, this time played by the wonderful DJimon Hounsou, picks him up and takes him to a British encampment, brings him back to life and spends the rest of the movie helping Harry to save his friends and return their white feathers. The fourth white feather came from his fiancee, Ethne, who also believed Harry to be a coward. It's a story about friendships and love and courage and determination in the face of terrific odds. Harry realizes he doesn't want to live life with the knowledge that everyone thinks him a coward. In a very noble way, the movie is a long, involved and grand dramatic interpretation of playing chicken.

We all have our moments of fear and sometimes back away from what we face in an effort to save ourselves, often putting our foot into something far worse. What we really fear is the unknown. Those of us who ran from our fears into the dark and shadowy realms of drugs or prejudice or any number of ways look back and see mistakes and feel ashamed. It is needless. We cannot change the past and when all is said and done we shouldn't change the past. I've said it many times before and I'll doubtless say it again. Change one moment, one heartbeat, one single hair, and you change who you have become. Like tempering metal in a forge and added coal and heat and force, a smith takes a lesser metal and creates a new and stronger metal able to withstand the shuddering shock of blade against blade or blade cleaving bone in battle or even in a dark alley. It is that same metal put to another use that took chariots and carts into the age of automobiles and airplanes and the same support that puts marble, glass, and concrete onto the strong skeletal framework of skyscrapers and buildings that soar into the clouds again and again when they have been struck down. Change the mix of coal to metal and heat and force or the amount of gravel and water and sand in concrete and the structure falls. We are the sum total of our experiences, the simple metal that has been forged into stronger stuff. Sometimes we learn from our mistakes and sometimes we repeat them over and over (like remaking a bad movie) but even our mistakes help forge our character and our presence in this time and place. Nothing bad that happens is without its good, and so with life.

That is all. Disperse.

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