Monday, September 18, 2017

'The Eagle' - movie review

The Eagle (2011 film)

The Eagle is a 2011 epic historical drama film set in Roman Britain directed by Kevin Macdonald, and starring Channing Tatum, Jamie Bell and Donald Sutherland. Adapted by Jeremy Brock from Rosemary Sutcliff's historical adventure novel The Eagle of the Ninth (1954), the film tells the story of a young Roman officer searching to recover the lost Roman eagle standard of his father's legion in the northern part of Great Britain. The story is based on the Ninth Spanish Legion's supposed disappearance in Britain.

The film was an Anglo-American co-production. It was released in the U.S. and Canada on February 11, 2011, and in the United Kingdom and Ireland on March 25, 2011.

The Eagle is effectively a sequel to the film Centurion, written and directed by Neil Marshall, because Channing Tatum's character in The Eagle is Marcus Flavius Aquila, the son of Titus Flavius Virilus who led the Ninth Legion that was lost in the far north of Britannia, and who was therefore the same person as Dominic West's character Titus Flavius Virilus in Centurion: it continues the story of the disappearance of the Ninth Legion fighting the Picts in what is now northern Scotland, north of Hadrian's Wall by following the leader's son's search to solve the mystery of what happened to his father, and the Legion, and the golden eagle standard that they carried everywhere with them, and to restore his family's honor.

As a historical matter, the purported disappearance of the Ninth Legion in Northern Britain is a subject of debate and dispute (see Legio_IX_Hispana § Theories about the Ninth's disappearance for details.)


Partial spoiler alert! This review perhaps spoils the first 1/3 of the film....

The premise of the entire movie was the desire of one man, Marcus Flavius Aquila, to put himself at great risk to recapture the lost honor of both the Roman Empire and that of his own family. Since we no longer live in an honor-bound society, this becomes something to really ponder. The symbol of this endeavor was the lost Roman golden eagle standard; a golden Roman eagle which was attached to a pole such as a national flag; a vexillum. Of course, since his own father commanded the 9th Legion, it was both patriotic and personal. The legion contained 5,000 soldiers, a great loss and embarrassment to the empire; similar to the great Roman defeat in the Teutoburg Forest about 130 years earlier.

The 9th Legion was to have disappeared in what was called Caledonia by the Romans, or what is now Scotland. The Picts were not Gaels, but usually thought of as being a Celtic people, although may have been a particular Atlanto-Mediterranean people. The strange sounding language used by the Picts in the film was not the lost and unknown Pictish language, but Scottish Gaelic. In any case, the tribes of Caledonia were so fierce that the Romans constructed a great fortified wall to seal them off, called Hadian's Wall.

The film opens with a Roman military unit traveling through Briton by boat via a river system with heavy foliage and trees. Suddenly a small herd of large steers splashed across in front of them, showing a certain backwardness to this society; although it was under Roman rule for about a century at that point. The boat carried Marcus who was to be the new commander of a certain Roman fortification and territory in northern Briton. As he arrives, there's a certain ominous feeling. There are still strong unconquered elements about them.

There were a few references to "the gods." Marcus prayed to one of the Roman gods, possibly Mithras, on a couple of occasions. He was a man on a mission. There were rumors of Druids about as well, although the Druids were thought to have been long ago defeated. Apparently, though not militaristic, the Druids had organized resistance to Rome in the past in both Briton and Gaul. Soon after assuming command, on a gloomy night, Marcus awoke with a feeling of danger. He got up and went along the outer walls, and heard a certain noise. They tried to figure out if it was a noise from cattle or not.

Marcus made a decision to waken all of the soldiers. They dressed and manned the walls, and waited. It could have ended up as a somewhat embarrassing error by the new commander. However, an army of Britons did attack, and the attack was repelled. For this, the young Marcus gained respect from all. The next morning, the army of Britons showed themselves beyond the walls again. As they started a ritual execution of two Roman soldiers, Marcus ordered a preemptive attack. Again, a great battle ensued.

As Marcus fought, visions of his father fighting some unknown enemy was shown; hinting at a psycho-spiritual connection with something which had occurred years earlier. Although the Romans were victorious, it came at a greater loss than the night prior. Marcus was seriously injured in the battle, and was soon taken away to a different part of Briton. I assume that he was relocated to a more southern location of which the Romans had a better grip on things. There he meets his uncle, who is in some form of command, and begins his rehabilitation. At this point there is a reference to an old Roman proverb, cited in the book 'The Eagle of the Ninth':

Eagle lost, honor lost;
Honor lost, all lost.

During some type of life-and-death battle "games," a young Briton named Esca is about to be put to death with the apparent approval of the crowd. Marcus rises and objects, successfully. Esca is allowed to live, and is given to Marcus as a slave. At one point Esca pulls a small dagger on Marcus and tells him that he hates him and everything he stands for; however, due to the fact that Marcus saved his life, swears eternal loyalty to him and puts the dagger down.

When Marcus finally heals, he begins his quest to find the golden eagle beyond Hadrian's Wall. This is beyond Roman Briton, dark harsh highlands and weather, populated by savage tribes, the unknown, more dangerous than northern Briton, the top of the world. He sets out on horseback with only his slave Esca; and that's where the film really realizes it's aim.

There's a parallel to the movie 'Braveheart', however the film takes no pro or anti Roman slant. Much of the rest of the film is about redemption of Marcus, Esca, and others. Somewhat ironically, "Roman Briton" at a much later point became a new Roman Empire itself. I reviewed 'Centurion' (2010), of which 'The Eagle' was the sequel to, on the other blog... Centurion (movie review).

In ancient legends, the eagle was the symbol of oppression; perhaps more to the point... of a hording of power and knowledge. The serpent was the symbol of liberation and freedom; more to the point... of an opening up of forbidden knowledge and truth. However, it's also been challenged that the eagle is really the liberator and that it symbolizes safety and the rule of law... while the serpent is an anarchist.


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