Archive for Aeneas

Point Break: Revisiting an Old Debate

Posted in Movies with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 6, 2016 by timtrue

Saw a movie with my daughter this weekend.  She picked it out, rented it from Redbox, otherwise I probably wouldn’t have watched it.  It’s called Point Break, apparently a remake of a 1991 movie by the same name starring Keanu Reeves and Patrick Swayze, one I really will probably never see.

Point_Break_poster

I remember seeing the trailer several months ago and thinking, “Looks like one big adrenaline rush.”  And that’s about what it was.

Without spoiling much, a villain and hero unite over a common goal.  They’re both poly-extreme-sports practitioners, both very good at all things extreme-sports: surfing 50-foot waves; motorcycling across razor-edged ridges; snowboarding avalanche chutes; free-climbing El-Capitan-like cliffs; etc.

So, yeah, one big adrenaline rush.

It was fun, sure.  But, better, because it kept me interested, it delved some into philosophical motivations for why adrenaline junkies do what they do.  Definitely worth the $1.63 we paid.

Yet it occurred to me some two days later that here was a modern-day take on a debate that has been with us since classical times.  Here was Aeneas versus Odysseus.

Odysseus, recall, was the wily mind that schemed up the whole wooden horse idea.  He was only one of many players in The Iliad; but, arguably, with his gift-horse brainstorm, can be credited with the Greek victory over the Trojans.

What comes next is The Odyssey, the story of Odysseus’ adventures as he returns from Troy to his beloved Ithaca and his wife Penelope.  He leaves the shores of Troy with a whole crew of companions.  But along the way, what with Polyphemus the Cyclops and the Sirens and Scylla and Charybdis and Circe and ten years, he loses all his crew and arrives home alone.

In this painting, Odysseus passes between the monster and the whirlpool.  Notice the artist’s depiction of Odysseus’ companions, eaten by the monster so that Odysseus can pass through alive.

Odysseus

So, was Odysseus selfish?

Some say so.  Or at least some say Vergil wanted us to think so.

Yeah, Vergil.  You know, the author of The Aeneid, the story that tells of Aeneas’ adventures from the shores of Troy to the shores of Italy.

Aeneas was one of only a few Trojan survivors after Troy’s legendary razing.  Soon after Odysseus set out on his quest, Aeneas sets out on a similar one.  But unlike Odysseus, he arrives at his new destination–after similarly grueling, poly-extreme-sports-like adventures–because he has been called there by the gods, not by his selfish desire to regain his own kingdom; and most of his crew arrives with him, for he, unlike wily Odysseus, would rather have died himself than let his crewmembers perish.

Aeneas’ selflessness is captured well in this painting, where he is carrying his aged father and leading his young son from razed Troy to their escape vessel.  Hardly the every-man-for-himself attitude of Odysseus!

Aeneas'_Flight_from_Troy_by_Federico_Barocci

Villain and hero.  Similar goals.  Very different motivations.  Retold in Point Break.

The villain commits crimes; the hero tries to prevent crimes.  Over the course of the movie the audience becomes endeared to both villain and hero.

Both anti- and protagonist are charming, after all.  But the villain–more than the hero–on top of his charismatic charm seems highly educated!  Despite the fact that he’s had to spend countless hours as an extreme athlete, honing his skills in multiple disciplines (not to mention his Greek-like physique)–an extreme sports Renaissance Man, as it were–nevertheless he has found time, somehow, to become well read, especially with respect to metaphysics.

In the end, I found the villain more endearing than the hero; and perhaps even no less realistic.  Maybe that was intentional on the part of the movie makers; or maybe it was just me.  I don’t know.

At any rate, this adrenaline-rush flick was definitely worth the $1.63 (and quality time with my daughter).

But I’m kind of tired of the same old thing.  Maybe you are too.  Can’t we turn the tables?  Can’t we get out of our pragmatic Roman mindsets for a while–at least for ninety minutes!–and sympathize with the more artistic Greeks for once?  Show me a compelling movie with a modern Odysseus as hero and that other guy, that guy who is all things Roman-virtue, as villain!

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