THE FOUR FEATHERS

THREE STARS – THOUGHT PROVOKING

It is difficult to fault a person who does not want to fight for the British Empire during its colonial dominion over one fourth of the world.  Representative of the change in spiritual sensitivity within the Christian faith as well as the growing respect for other cultures within the global community, Shekhar Kapur’s “The Four Feathers” is a remake of a novel that no longer speaks to us.

The most obvious moment of this disconnect with current Christian and social sensitivities is the charge given by the Anglican priest as he is speaks to the troops who are about to be sent to the Sudan.  Representing the church-state arrogance and expansionistic goals, he commissions the young officers to fight both for the glory of England and for God as they defeat the “heathens.”

Although this fourth remake of A.E.W. Mason’s novel hints at the fact that Lt. Harry Faversham (Heath Ledger) may have a moral struggle with British arrogance, it never fully presents this as the reason for his resignation.  Therefore, we never fully understand whether it is cowardice or conviction that propels Harry to resign his commission on the eve of their deployment.  When his four friends hear of his decision, three of them give him the white feather of cowardice.  In addition, his beautiful fiancée, Ethne Eustace (Kate Hudson) also presents him with a feather.  The only friend who stands by him is Lt. Jack Durrance (Wes Bentley).

Rejected by his decorated father, his fiancée and his best friends, Harry retreats into a time of soul-searching as his regiment goes off to war.  For reasons that are not made clear, Harry decides to follow his friends to the Sudan as a civilian and ends up in the middle of their battles and lives.

Though the film does not present Harry’s motivation clearly, the consequence of his decision has a dramatic impact upon the lives of his friends.  He saves two of their lives and demonstrates a courage that is unequaled in both its compassion and its willingness to put himself at risk for his friends.  This reality is not missed on his friend Jack whose speech at the end of the film clearly states that they did not fight for the glory of England but for their friends who stand beside them.  This changes the nature of the motivation from empire expansion to faithfulness to friends.  Though this seems to be a higher moral value, it falls short of not fighting at all when the state is unjustly using force to expand its territory and control.

The presence of God within Harry’s life is seen in the providential care of an English-speaking African named Abou Fatma (Djimon Hounsou).  Like a guardian angel watching over him, Abou comes in his moment of need, assists him to accomplish impossible feats, and then leaves again when Harry no longer needs him.  It is clear both to Harry and to us that without Abou there would have been no chance Harry would have succeeded in expressing his love and loyalty to his friends or regaining his self-respect.

The struggle of war is more than the loss of life and property.  It is a struggle of the soul that reaches deep within our ability to both love and respect others and ourselves.  The sensitivity to this fact is only partially presented in this remake of a moral struggle of colonial days.

 

Discussion:

  1. The colonial expansion of past centuries was made possible, in part, by the joining of soldiers and priests.  This was true not only of the British empire but of the Spanish as well.  Consider how different the world may have been had the Christians not joined in the conquests.  What does this imply for our involvement in current decisions by the state and its wars?
  2. The struggle to stand against family, friends and culture takes a courage few people can muster.  Consider the possible sources of Harry’s courage in taking the stand he did.  Why did he, and his fellow officers and fiancée confuse it with cowardice? 
  3. The questions of war are often expressed in simplistic terms.  Consider the complexity of why any international conflict is actually waged.  This complexity could include as its impetus such forces as:  economic, social, political, religious, racial, etc.  What do you think is the major force behind a drive toward war?