Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World

When battling a ship your crew calls “The Phantom” for its ability to simply appear and disappear at a whim not to mention it carrying a much stronger hull and wielding much more devastating guns, how do you defeat it? When unable to chase a dream specimen, a flightless bird no one else knows exists, how can you wait without being able to capture it? When trapped on a boat indefinitely with a crew that believes you are cursed and causing a drought, how do you live? How does man overcome myth?

As the enemy ship, the Acheron, floats in the ghostly fog just out of sight, the sounds of Bach can be heard consistently through Jack Aubrey and longtime friend Stephen Maturin’s cabin on Aubrey’s vessel, the Surprise. Their musical duet is a symbol of their friendship, for neither can play the piece alone.

Lord Nelson, a man now myth, is someone everyone on the ship looks up to. He is the hero Captain Aubrey always strives to be. Lord Nelson said once, when asked on a night watch if he wanted a blanket. He replied  “No, he didn’t need it. That he was quite warm. His zeal for his king and country kept him warm.” Captain Aubrey bases all his decisions on this man’s strategy and duty to country, but to a fault as his determination to duty threatens his humanity, ie his friendship with Stephen. Aubrey at this point is torn, he would rather follow myth than be man.

Meanwhile, Midshipman Hollom is facing his own myth. A curse, as it is believed by the crew, that is causing drought is brought unto their ship by Hollom. With no friends aboard the ship to defend him, Hollom succumbs to this myth and drowns himself. That scene is shot brilliantly for it portrays how Hollom is consumed by the blackness of the ocean as he descends. This consuming blackness is a metaphor for how he is consumed by both myth and loneliness. Hollom ceased to be a man at this point. From that point on people would only speak of the myth of the curse of Hollom.

Aubrey learns as the movie progresses that a balance of his friendship with Stephen and the taking of the “Phantom” Acheron is needed if he is to survive. So he retreats to the Galapagos where Stephen spotted his bird in an attempt to mend their friendship. Then, although Stephen never does find his mythical bird, what he does salvage from his trip to the Galapagos is a phasmid, stick bug. Aubrey then makes use of this balances as he incorporates Stephen’s phasmid specimin as a reference for battle strategy by cloaking themselves as whalers, which due to another newfound friendship with a shipwrecked bunch, he learns The Acheron has a penchant for. Aubrey replaces the strategy of the mythical Lord Nelson with strategy learned from his friendship his friend and doctor.

So what is the lesson here? These myths are extremely daunting on these men’s lives, so much so that by the end of the film none of them actually do overcome any of the myths domineering their lives. Stephen never finds his bird, Hollom obviously succumbs to his myth and Aubrey never rightly captures the Acheron nor does he ever use Lord Nelson’s strategy or live up to his dutifulness. But the end of the film leaves our heroes on a musical note of hope (beautiful piece btw ‘La Musica Notturna Delle Strade Di Madrid’ No. 6, Op. 30) as together as friends Stephen and Aubrey play their music, on their way to recapturing the Acheron and, a bit later, Stephen’s bird. Friendship is what Hollom lacked and that was his downfall. Without friendship man can never overcome myth.

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