Episode Two Hundred Twenty Four: Morphological.
In which we form.

1 comment:

  1. Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World (2013, Weir). It's been decades since I read the book, and I know less about potential historical inaccuracies, but taking the online pedantry surrounding it, there's a clearly a history-nerd following for this specific genre.

    One of the threads in the film is the ship's doctor's balancing act involved in performing his military duty in exchange for the opportunity to indulge his naturalist inclinations. This is in 1805, and I have no idea if it is accurate to imply the Galapagos Islands had an air of scientific mystery for the educated elite (doc is salivating at the opportunity to inspect a newt at that location some forty years pre-Darwin), or whether that focus here is to guide the audience. In any event, the musings "on form and how a creature's form came about" were surely entering the Zeitgeist at the time, so it's not a preposterous idea.

    A related subplot is that of the young Midshipman Lord William Blakeney, a ruling-class Tween who is part of a contingent of (I assume) officer-tracking career men. Early in the film we are subjected to the wincing amputation Blakeney's right arm (an event that does not take place in the novel, I gather), and, although it is never dwelt on, that is an event that would surely impact anyone deeply, and all the more for someone looking toward a Naval career at that time. Complementing this is the fact that Lord Nelson, perhaps the most towering of English naval figures, similarly lost his right arm in battle. This association is subtly referenced when Captain Aubrey gives the recouping young Blakeney a book of Nelson's exploits, and Blakeney expresses his awe.

    And so, on the one hand, losing one's arm must surely be a devastating challenge that significantly alters one's dependency on society (however more common amputations must have been two hundred years ago). On the other hand (so to speak), by referencing Nelson this subplot also points to an historical figure of courage who hardly let the event affect his performance of duty in the slightest.

    Still, being a young man on the brink of puberty stuck on a ship full of conscripts and Marines, far away from your land of birth, and now, suddenly, one limb down? This would be the cause for melancholy among the best of us.

    And the subtle trick in Weir's film here is that this kid doesn't let misfortune stop him. I’m guessing, but I suppose his amputation gives him more bookish-naturalist-reading time, and less ordering-the-deck-to-be-swabbed time, and so I see his character turning inward, which strengthens his relationship with the naturally introverted doctor. In one scene, he reaches out to the doctor when the doctor is himself bereft, offering a gesture of kindness. And, as he considers the miracle of the variety found in the natural world, I would expect these musings might intersect with those of his circumstance, and of his own place in the world. In this way, we could argue that his disfigurement gave him the opportunity to discover his true form.

    If God made him one-armed, what does that mean? And the doctor answers back, if God made us, in what way do we make ourselves?

    So, here we have the dangerous question of how nature forms, the theory of Natural Selection, which suggests that God may not have a finite hand in all events, and it also suggests that 'made in His image' might not be indicated as literally as we'd prefer. Which brings with it the question of our own agency in the cosmos, and, indeed, the legitimacy of the idea of God Himself.

    And, parallel, the questions of how did we become who we are now, and how do we determine where we might go?

    It's a lot to pack in in such a short, almost throwaway, moment.



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