Theme: Hold Fast
There are two pieces of information given in the opening scenes of Master & Commander that are essential for an understanding of the deeper truths revealed in this film. First, we are told that Napoleon is Master of Europe, and that the oceans have become the battlefields. This movie will be about battle; about warfare against an all-consuming power. Second, we are given the facts about the HMS Surprise. She carries 28 guns and 197 souls. It does not say men, nor does it say lives; it says souls. This places the movie in the context of the supernatural or spiritual realm. This film is mythical1 in nature, and to understand it, one must look through it, not at it. There is a much larger story being told here; one that is eternal as well as historical.
Historical: Lord Nelson and Napoleon
Eternal: The Lord Jesus Christ and the anti-christ
Notice the awe and reverence the men have for Lord Nelson. Jack Aubrey is the one who has served under him. He has actually heard his words. Jack relates the anecdote and says, "With any other man absurd, but with Nelson, you felt your heart glow." (Luke 24:32).
Historical: The oceans
Eternal: The far side of the world.
Beyond Cape Horn to the Pacific and the Enchanted Isles is as far from England as Earth is from Heaven.
Historical: HMS Surprise - a fine sea bird with a female figurehead. The Acheron -- a frigate with an impenetrable hull and a dragon for a figurehead.
Eternal: The dragon is out to destroy the woman and her offspring (Revelation 12:1-4).
Historical: The Master/Commander of the Surprise, Jack Aubrey and his crew
Eternal: A true faith community; the very picture of what a fellowship ought to be. The Surprise is female in gender (as is the Church) with each member of her crew essential for the functioning of the ship (Body) as a whole.
There are many examples of moral excellence in this film. Indeed what places it in historical context more than the date, 1805, or the costumes and ship design (pre-modern) are the virtues demonstrated by the Captain and crew. The Post-modern world is on "the far side of the world", having passed through the Modern Era, ending up in the uncharted waters of moral relativism. In such a place the following virtues seem foreign and archaic.
||Captain to crew: "Hold position, courage now, pull together men."|
||Doctor to Lord Blakeney: "Never have I seen a braver patient."|
||A crew that is well trained and well prepared for sailing and warfare.|
||To those in authority over them, including a thirteen year-old Lord, any insubordination is swiftly dealt with, "For without respect, discipline goes by the board."|
||Around the Captain's table: A great picture of what fellowship means.|
||At the heart of the movie are the friendships between the Captain, the Doctor, Lord Blakeney, and Peter Calamy.|
||The crew follows the Captain anywhere. Having faith in him, they will all fight, "For England, for Home, and for the Prize".|
||W. Warley: A life sacrificed, so that others might live.|
||The Captain's repentance for himself and the crew over the suicide of Mr. Hollom is what brings the fresh wind and the words, "God be praised".|
A grizzled, old tar with "Hold Fast" tattooed on his hands functions like an Old Testament prophet, quoting the Scripture from the books of Job and Jonah. The words "Hold Fast" are the main theme of the movie, and they are Biblical words as well (Deuteronomy 11:22; Isaiah 42:1; I Corinthians 15:2).
In the Bible, the Prophet Jonah disobeyed God's command to go to Nineveh. It is Mr. Hollom's fear and disobedience that causes the crew to label him a Jonah. Notice he is never part of the crew or part of the fellowship. It is this separation that leads to the ultimate separation called death.
The movie begins with battle and souls and ends with a service for the souls who have died in battle. After reciting the Lord's Prayer, the bodies are committed to the sea to await the Resurrection when the sea will give up the dead through the Lord Jesus Christ (Revelation 20:13). He is the true Master and Commander.
The word "mythical" is used here in the sense of giving us a glimpse of something eternal. "Myths are first of all stories; stories which confront us with something transcendent and eternal...a means by which the eternal expresses itself in time." Rolland Hein, Waking The Dead by John Eldridge
Waking the Dead by John Eldredge is an excellent book for a discussion of mythic reality.