There are two things President Barack Obama has done that I have given my unequivocal praise, and they were both martial. The second time, it was about unleashing the Stuxnet virus on Iran's Natanz nuke plant, the first time it was about deploying forces to the Gulf of Aden. This movie, Captain Phillips is about the first thing.
It's already an old cliche that the future is already hear it's just unevenly distributed. I know that to be a fact because I'm part of that future. I work from home in an economy that simply didn't exist when I was born. This is a good thing, that I expect more people will come to understand, appreciate, learn and live. That's how we think of the future in my generation - as the gradual deployment of good things invented to improve the quality of life. I think of that, even in my Peasant Theory; the premise of liberty is that peasants can eventually live like kings. There is always room for merit in this world, so one should undertake the opportunity to achieve something human nature rewards. Move to the head of the class and then graduate to the next class. But make no mistake, classes are unequal and they are unevenly distributed. Class is just as real as it ever was, its differences are stark, clear and present. So you can expect that there are dislocations of skill and culture that keep your future at bay, even though you can see it luxuriating in a sidewalk cafe across the street you are sweeping.
When I realized that I wanted to live like a king, I raised my children like little princes and princesses. I took the risk because I wanted to be a free man. I realized that when you are a king, you have nobody but God to turn to when you need to defend yourself from rebellious knights or revolting peasants. God helps those who help themselves. So fortunately in the land of the free, that means you have a Second Amendment right. You can call the cops but they're not going to get to you on time when you're facing Edward III. That's when you would have your kingdom teeter for the lack of a horse, or semi-automatic pistol.
Watching Captain Phillips was an enjoyable experience for what it was. It was pleasing to see some good acting. Nobody seemed to be anything other than who they were portraying, and nobody was played for odious type. Yet the entire film hinged something which for me was an anachronism. You know like 80s movies whose whole plot drama could have been obviated by the use of a cell phone. Teenagers, don't go into that man with the chainsaw's house, but if you need help just get out your iPhone and call 911, OK? So you know what I'm talking about right? Captain Phillips, the lamer, should have had a sidearm. Dude has 2000 tons of freight and 27 souls on board and not one bullet to defend them. That's a very uneven distribution indeed. So I'm sitting in this movie wondering how many people live in the past and when the hell are they going to wake up.
I enjoyed reading Michael Crichton's 'Pirate Latitudes' for reminding me that the punishment for piracy was not just death but a fairly grisly execution and public display of your mangled corpse. The jolly roger flag was the appropriate symbol. Piracy was about death. Sure it was business, but everybody understood that it was a deadly business. Yet somehow in our time it has become a very complicated and expensive business as well. Lest I take back my praise of Obama can we acknowledge somehow that it shouldn't take much more than 25 men with guns to fight off four men with guns? In this case, the cops were an entire missile destroyer ship, the USS Bainbridge with a crew of 270 officers and enlisted men, choppers, radar... Well, people have learned their lesson, but the danger remains.
I should emphasize that the lesson remains, same as it ever was. To survive against pirates requires the will and the means to send their dead bodies down to Davy Jone's Locker. So how did our fair captain, lording over the coffe breaks of his unionized crew of merchant marines get so far afield of the lessons of history? Why did he need to put so much faith in the American Navy overkill? What combination of factors left him wheezing like a gordita in his own emergency lifeboat? Did he and his company forget about human nature? I will leave that speculation to you.
There is some part of me that finds the angle of big bad United States vs poverty stricken tiny African country interesting, but not compelling. Yet I suspect that in others, there is want to make points about the poor black man vs the rich white man. Who was a better captain is one aspect of that personal drama, whose bosses are more capable might be another. Let me not put stupid concepts in straw heads but consider what has really been alleged:
That’s the movie. Who green-lighted this? Why are we supposed to care about this story, again? And is it just me, or did Tom Hanks sound defensive when hetold the Wall Street Journal , “This underlying hopelessness because of the geopolitics of what a disaster Somalia has become … just adds to the fabric of the movie that makes it rise above the concept of ‘scary aliens have invaded us and we have to make it home.’ ”
Spare me. “Captain Phillips” is a crass money-maker based on Hollywood’s formula and America’s insatiable appetite for easily digested good guys versus bad guys, white versus black. And while we’re at it, here are a few potential questions for the gathered actors and filmmakers that would’ve been good for a panel discussion, were it a real movie event:
• Is there any part of you that feels exploited by the Hollywood system?
• Did you know that the real Richard Phillips is being sued by his entire crew over the incident and over statements he made in his book, “A Captain’s Duty: Somali Pirates, Navy SEALS, and Dangerous Days at Sea,” upon which the film is based on?
• Did the pirates really call Captain Phillips “Irish,” or was that a convenient trumping-up of the good captain’s Caucasianness versus the dark-skinned devil boys of the Somali coast?
• Did the pirates really curse America and the USA (in English, no less) throughout the ordeal?
Ick. I'm almost sorry for making you read that. But if this film can be taken as a crass recruitment propaganda for the Navy, well the good captain wasn't the only person out of touch with reality. Nevertheless, you can't control how people interpret art, although that's rather the point when critics are in thrall to the narrative of white supremacy.
'Hopeless geopolitics' is more passive-speak in the vein of peasants who wish to remain peasants and never pick up the swords and skills of knighthood. It doesn't seem out of place for a crew to sue their captain over what he says in a book in the world of unevenly distributed courage where men take broken bottles to a gunfight. More's the pity we have institutionalized courts that play venue to such petty vengeances.
I can't deny my interest in shooting and sheepdogging kept my attention through watching the film. There is that part of me that felt that if I were there I could have made a difference even though the events in the film took place far in advance of my serious consideration of arming myself on the daily. But I cannot much imagine myself an adventurer on the high seas without any token of a sailor's dirk or cutlass. Who knows, perhaps container ships were 'gun free zones'.
Justice is already here, but like the future, like common sense, like the wisdom of kings and the cowardice of crowds, it is unevenly distributed. Like films from Hollywood that hint at the dynamics of the wider world, you take what you can get and run with it.