Four Feathers

Friends joined Netflix recently. So they always have two or three DVDs on hand. Sunday we watched ¡°Four Feathers¡±, directed by the same Indian born director Shekhar Kapur, who directed The Elizabeth.

I was a little surprised by this little movie that I have never heard of before this night. Despite its many flaws and the obviously lacking of a focus point, it is not a bad movie. After watching the special features and learning the director¡¯s intention and his many opinions that were obviously not in harmony with the original novel, one could understand why it is the way it is.

As a result, the special feature seemed a much more interesting part of the movie than the movie itself. Kapur was trying to take the movie somewhere it has never been before despite its being made twice already, in 1939 and 1977.

Kapur explained his intention on showing the conflict between a nation that¡¯s devoted to empire building and its absolute devotion to structure and control versus a land and people that had lived in chaos and uncontrollable natural elements for generations. ‘The Brits and Western Europe at the time considered 80% of the earth population heathens. They were determined to teach their way of life to these barbarians, to civilize them. That arrogance was astonishing.” Hearing that, I turned to my friends, “Isn’t that what is happening today, still?” Gui nodded, smiled knowingly.

But that is the way of history, the way of conqueror and the conquered. Let it be the Ottomans, the Romans, Genghis Khan¡¯s Mongols, the British, and now the American. Culture sensitivity and politically correctness were only introduced in recent years. I appreciate Kapur¡¯s attempt at giving the old story a more modern and more sensitive face. His attempt to paint a more complete picture of the colonization versus anti-colonization and his determination to produce a movie that wants to portrait a young man¡¯s self-discovery journey gave this little movie a voice, however weak it may be, however bewildered and unsure of itself the final product is. He tried his best given the limited resource and time he had. He didn¡¯t take the easy way out. Hats off to Kapur. 🙂

A few interesting observations that have amused us:

1. ¡°The Royal Cambrians¡± uniforms were so strikingly assembled today¡¯s doorman uniform, it was hilarious. It is understood that in the real chronological of events, ¡°The Royal Cambrians¡± came first. But, still, in the life story of myself, I saw those doormen first. Sorry chaps.

2. The British military¡¯s fighting ¡°Square¡± is fascinating. ¡°Like a moving tank made of highly disciplined British soldiers, aided by the superior technology (raffles) it was almost unbreakable, until 1880¡¯s in the Sudan.¡±

3. The whole idea of sending a feather to say ¡°you are a coward¡± is rather interesting. It reminded me of a Chinese saying that one could die an admirable death as heavy as the Mountain Tai, or one could die an insignificant death as light as a feather. Similar concept? Similar expressions. In the same movie, we were shown that African tribal warriors use feather to symbolize their ferocity: ¡°it symbolized the first man I killed.¡± Another subtle point planned by the director, maybe, to indicate the cultural difference between the conqueror and the conquered?

4. The main puzzle of the movie was why he had refused his assignment to begin with. The movie was caught in between of two rather polarized ideals. The original book gave him a reason that he was afraid, in a way, a coward and he knows it. The movie however wants to give him a more culture sensitive and somewhat loftier excuse that is actually rather acceptable in today¡¯s world. ¡°I wouldn¡¯t want to fight a war for anyone or any thing!¡± At the end, the movie couldn¡¯t make up its mind which way to go. So us viewers were left wondering forever what the movie was about since the very beginning.

5. My theory was he really just didn¡¯t want to wear that doorman uniform and he is really not afraid. He just prefers to go to that god forsaken desert on his own terms. 🙂 Bravo to him! I say.

One thought on “Four Feathers

  1. I like the movie. I think the actors did a wonderful job. The last scene is very moving. There are so many different versions of the same movie and I think this is by far the best. BTW, you did not go to Mr. Hvorostovky’s recital, did you? I heard that the SF audience behaved badly. I was at his LA recital and it had the best program: he sang Verdi. Of course, he was simply FANTASTIC.

    Jean’s Reply:
    I must admit that i don’t remember which one was the last scene, was it the military funeral? I find the dialogues between the young actors are a bit pretentious. For example when Ethne and Harry got back together at the end, she said, please forgive me [giving you the feather], i didn’t understand then. I couldn’t help laughing, who did? Even Harry himself didn’t, did he? So what was the point of this dialog? Was he or was he not a coward when he resigned his commission? Even he himself admit to his “guardian angel” that he was afraid. Anyways, i think it is not a bad movie, but certainly not great.
    I agree with you that i wouldn’t want to see any other version. They sound very single-minded based on the director’s explaination.
    No, I didn’t go to the opera since i was way too busy with the move to the city. How did SF audience “behave badly”? I haven’t heard and now i’m curious. 🙂
    Glad you had a good time in LA.

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