It’s unusual when a film keeps up the momentum from its opening and continues that momentum into the third week of release. Usually this is an indication of either we are at the time of year where the blockbuster is not being released, or a movie is getting good word of mouth. A combination of the two is the likely reason The Eagle is still maintaining its average box office take, thus doing better than most movies in this regard.
The Eagle is the story of young Roman Commander Marcus Aquila who takes over the command of the Ninth Legion in the mountains of Scotland during the year 140 AD. Aquila is an unusual choice in that his father, the former commander of the Ninth disappeared with 5,000 men and had the sacred symbol for the Roman Empire, The Golden Eagle, lost on a journey north. Rome has built a great wall to separate their kingdom from the Northern territories where Aquila’s father had disappeared some twenty years earlier.
While protecting his command fort by an attack of locals, young Marcus Aquila, played by Channing Tatum is seriously injured. During his recovery some miles away at the oversight of his uncle, Aquila, played by Donald Sutherland he starts to realize the role of politics in the system, the disdain his father received for losing The Eagle, a literal gold eagle carried into battle on a staff symbolic like a flag, and more. We see a side of Marcus Aquila that makes it easy for his men to lead them when he is in charge. He is a person of faith who will pray to his Gods for their safety and their souls. He will see to it that they are taken care of and Marcus won’t have his men do anything he isn’t willing to do himself. He is in many ways, a caring servant leader. We also see compassion in Marcus during a game of gladiators when a gladiator is set to kill a slave from the northern territories. During the event the slave refuses to fight back, and after a beating by the gladiator, Aquila seeks to save the slave by turning the crowd from the position of having the slave killed, to letting the slave live. He accomplishes his purpose and his Uncle Aquila acquires the slave for Marcus. It is here we see a relationship start to develop between the two. In the meantime, Marcus is still upset over having his command taken from him due to his injury. While a decorated soldier, he believes his whole purpose is to avenge his fathers’ image, and to reclaim the eagle which was lost. After some confrontation, much thought, and the disagreement of Roman Senators, Marcus Aquila decides that he and his slave will travel north to try and recover The Eagle some twenty years earlier.
The Eagle does a very nice job of brining the era it is portraying to the screen. From the costuming to the dreary nature of the world portrayed. While there is a dreary, even at times, dirty nature to the environment shown on screen, there is also a beauty portrayed and shown in the cinematography. Director Kevin Macdonald also does a nice job of weaving the story and characters together into a nice, contemplative story that moves quickly over the two hour presentation.
The Eagle is in many ways a story about friendship and love vs. symbolism. At the risk of offending some, one of the constant themes I couldn’t help but think of was the respect given to a symbol over and beyond the importance of friendship, humanity, and ultimately life. We see these images driven into the minds of the two primary characters, Marcus Aquila and his slave, Esca played by Jamie Bell. Both characters have their own stories, their own history, that involves their past and symbols that are promoted within their cultures. As these two characters develop their relationship with each other we see questions come about. They ultimately see something more important than the symbols promoted from their childhoods.
The Eagle had me reflecting on various points throughout the movie, two in particular; one, the imagery presented in a political environment that transcends countries. The one I related to is from the perspective of an American, the flag. I have literally lost friends over this one, and so it hit home in a particular way. In the eagle, carried by the Roman Empire, it is as a flag carried by countries into battle. Of course the characters, as should we understand that what the eagle, what the flag represents, (not specific just to Americans) is about more than the cloth it is on or the material the eagle is made of. There is a respect, a tribute given to objects that represent more than that material. In the case of the eagle, one can’t help but think of the lives lost.
The other imagery that I thought about as a person of faith is the cross or any other number of images or beliefs that take on significant importance where that image or that belief is more important than humanity. When the Pledge of Allegiance, or a flag, are more important than people to speak out against policies which the government those images represent support, how appropriate and important are those symbols? When a cross can give justification to start a crusade where multitudes of people are killed, how important is the image of that cross?
My faith tells me that when asked as to his purpose, Jesus stated that his reason for being here was to seek and save the lost. While there are certainly religious connotations there, there is far more, a salvation not just of a spiritual nature is presented, but a salvation from difficulty, a salvation of circumstance, if not in a literal way, certainly in a spiritual, contemplative way. It is in that freedom that one comes to the understanding, that true freedom is not in a government, but in a state of mind, a point of acceptance of ones self. That freedom transcends political boundaries and nationalistic concepts. Ultimately in The Eagle, we see the realization that humanity is more important than the symbols. It is a concept taught in many religions, certainly in Christianity where we see the freedoms Jesus sought to set people free from were beyond citizenship issues, but inner peace and the hope of an eternity. We also see this in part in the characters on screen in The Eagle as they give up what they had come to cherish since their childhoods in recognition of the respect they have for each other. We see this especially in a prayer where the prayer of gratitude and respect is offered for the lives that have been lost on the battlefield of both groups of people. This comes about when one sees their enemy as human, with feelings, reason, and purpose. In essence when the enemy can become a friend closer than a brother, then we can find a place to live at peace, not just with each other, but with our inner conflicts. We also see this in The Eagle with the willingness of one to stand up to a young politician who has little or no respect for an entire group of people. Just like in real life, the career politician is putting lives at risk in things they know nothing about, not with the understanding and appreciation for human life, but with the worship of the symbol, whether a flag, or a eagle, the thing that represents that country, that people, but in reality, is not the people.
The Eagle is not a great movie, but it is a rather good, better than expected movie that had me thinking. I don’t know if the intent was intended by the director and story itself, but it was evident to me as I watched the movie. It was good enough to have me looking for the book which the story is based on, The Eagle of the Ninth by Rosemary Sutcliff. It was good enough to have me thinking of concepts much deeper than images of battle portrayed on screen, but of the battle that rages in the souls of all men and women, the desire to be free, and of more importance than the things that supposedly represent me. I am more than an American; I am a human being who loves a God who has told me to love my fellow human being as I love myself. Not just the human I agree with, but with the one I disagree with. Love is more than a symbol, and in that regard, The Eagle is more than just entertainment.
On a scale of 1 – 10 for the 5 letters in slave which we all represent, and the two characters who helped me contemplate more on the 7 letters in freedom, I give a worth seeing and reflective 7.
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