Saturday, February 12, 2011

The Eagle

MPAA (PG-13) CNS/USCCB (A-III) Roger Ebert (3 stars) Fr. Dennis (3 stars)

IMDb listing -
CNS/USCCB review -
Roger Ebert's Review -

The Eagle is a movie that probably everyone who’s ever been a Scout or played the game “capture the flag” would appreciate. Yet as simple in concept as it may be, the story offers the audience to reflect on a whole host of fairly profound questions about honor, valor, patriotism, civilization and freedom.

Set in Roman-era Britain, it plays out on both sides of Hadrian’s Wall, which came to divide the Roman dominated South which later came to be England from the unconquered North which eventually came to be Scotland. The story is built around a pre-wall attempt by Rome to conquer the whole of Britain outright. The 9th Roman legion marched into the unconquered northern territory only to be never heard from again. Presumably it was decimated and symbolically the 9th Legion’s Eagle standard never returned from the northern wilds.

At the beginning of the movie, we are introduced to a young Roman officer Marcus Flavius Aquila (played by Channing Tatum) from Gaul who volunteers to take an assignment along the fortifications of Hadrian’s wall. His father had led the 9th Roman Legion and its loss had brought dishonor to the whole family.

After proving his worth as a commander in battle at the cost of an injury that ended his military career, Marcus Aquila finds out that the 9th Legion’s Eagle standard may still exist, being kept as a war trophy and used in ceremonies by one of the northern tribes. No longer in command of a garrison, he sets out with Eska (played by Jamie Bell), a British slave of his, to take back the Eagle standard.

At this point the movie begins to resemble other stories built around a “frontier mission” theme – Black Robe, Apocalypse Now, and even Alien / Avatar and Dances with Wolves -- come to mind. Out in the northern wilds of Scotland, the purpose of Rome’s past attempt to conquer this territory comes into question even if Rome would have brought far greater Order to such wild territory. The natives, as vicious as they appeared, did have a point. They were just defending their land and their freedom if doing so in very brutal ways. The two find “survivors” of the 9th Legion out there in the wilds (Roman-era “MIAs”) who after having lost (and perhaps cowered) in battle seem to have preferred to “go Native” to returning back to civilization. Eska is also given repeatedly the opportunity to reassert his freedom among his still unconquered and free cousins.

The movie, appropriately rated PG-13 (no sex, no _gratuitous_ violence and no gore), filmed beautifully in both the Scottish Highlands as well as in Hungary, gives the audience much to think about. What would you do if you found yourself born or stationed at the edge of the world that you knew? Would you have the courage to “boldly go where no one (that you knew) had gone before?” Are you able to accept anything at all (even good things) from The Other, if that Other came to you in a dominating/condescending way? Are you able to appreciate/respect the native desire for freedom even if it's demanded by a people/group that's poorer economically and even culturally than you?

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