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Theme:  Turning the "System" Upside Down


To the casual moviegoer, the Last Castle, K-PAX, and Monsters, Inc. would appear to be a strange combination for a movie review.  How do you compare an R-rated film about a military prison with Pixar's latest children's' hit?  And what could a movie about a man from outer space in a mental hospital have to do with either of these?  Though outwardly these three films appear to be very different, they all share the same heart story.

Turning the System Upside Down

There exists a "closed system" which is hierarchical in nature1.

There is a proud taskmaster over the system.

The system creates an atmosphere of fear which breeds anger, strife, competition, corruption, disunity, hatred, and chaos.

Someone comes from the outside (another world/dimension) into the closed system and takes on the appearance of those at the bottom.

Even though they are in the system, their heart remains free.  They are fearless and do not operate by the rules of the closed system.

They possess clear insight into the heart of those in the system.

The presence of this "outsider" effects the entire system turning it literally upside down.

The power of fear is broken by the power of love released through the outsider.

The outsider leaves, but lives on in the hearts of those who have been transformed rather than conformed.


The Closed System

The metaphor used for the closed system in The Last Castle is a castle.  The adjective "last" is significant because it suggests not only finality, but also the lowest place in prestige and importance.  As the narrator explains, this castle has all the key elements of a true castle with one important difference.  A true castle was built to keep people out (protecting those within);  this castle exists to keep people in.2

The Taskmaster

Colonel Winter is the commander of this military prison. Like his name, he personifies the season of coldness, hibernation, and death.  We learn early in the film that he has never experienced battle, and yet he glories in the artifacts of war.   He is a proud Black Knight who takes pleasure in manipulating men from his tower window.

The Atmosphere

The first scene of the prison yard reveals this to be a foul place.  The color is drab and lifeless. The men are foul mouthed and hostile to one another.  There is competition, strife, disorder, and chaos until the sound of the horn.......when it blows, all that exists is fear.  Colonel Winter rules with an iron fist and is not afraid to use the "accidental" death of  an inmate to keep his command.

The Outsider

Into this closed system comes a living legend, Three Star General Eugene R. Irwin.  He is the greatest general; however, it is insinuated that he chose to take this punishment, to be stripped of all his military honors, and to put on the garment of a lowly prison inmate.The contrast with Colonel Winter is immediate and profound.  While the Colonel stands above manipulating the men, the General is down among them gaining their respect.  As the jealous Colonel tries to break the great General, Irwin demonstrates that his strength comes now as it did in Viet Nam - from the voices of his men.


The rules of this system are the rules established by Colonel Winter.  General Irwin operates under a different set of rules - the Military Code of Justice.  Everything he does is according to this legal and higher code of conduct.


General Irwin sees this system and the people in it for what they truly are.  He sees Colonel Winter as a man who has never seen war just by the things he collects.  He looks at Captain Peretz and says, 
"You're better than this."  Whereas Colonel Winter sees a stuttering monkey when he looks at Aguilar; Irwin sees a Marine, a Lance Corporal4 a man worthy of a salute because a salute is about respect.  Colonel Winter looks in the men's files and sees the worst in them.  General Irwin looks in their hearts and see the best.

Upside Down

Like his favorite game, chess, General Irwin studies the strategic moves necessary to remove Colonel Winter from his command.  Knowing Winter has been investigated from the outside three times and exonerated, Irwin must find a way to remove him from the inside.  He finds exactly what he needs in the Military Code of Justice, and then he turns the prison upside down.

Power of Love

One may say where is love in this movie?  It is  there in many ways:

    • The love of Aguilar for the wall the men build; a love so great that he lays his life down for it.

    • The love the men have for Aguilar as they take their formation and sing the Marine Corps Hymn.

    • A new found love among the brothers as they work together to overcome the King of Darkness.

    • The love General Irwin demonstrates by giving his life in order to set the men free.


The film ends where it began, in the prison yard.  What a change has occurred!  Externally, it is a picture of chaos and disorder from the inmate uprising.  Internally in the hearts of the men, there is order, dignity, love, and respect as evidenced by their obedience, formation, and salute.  It is not Colonel Winter's flag; it is theirs, and there is no need for it to hang upside down as a call of distress.  The sacrifice of General Irwin has been the strategic move to checkmate Colonel Winter.  The battle is over; the men's hearts have been set free from the power of fear.  The movie concludes with the rebuilding of the wall.  It is no longer a prison wall; it is a castle.

Scripture:  Hebrews 2: 9-19
                   I John 4: 7-21

The Real Story:

A castle or a "city set on a hill" is a metaphor for Eden, The Glorified Zion, and the New Jerusalem.  Castles were designed to protect those within and to keep evil out. The "fallen world" is a prison; a closed system designed to keep people in under the power of the prince of darkness (Ephesians 2:1-2). Into this closed system, the Lord Jesus Christ came to set the hearts of men free (Galatians 5:1).  Making Himself a humble servant , the greatest King of all came to those at the very bottom.  He proclaimed release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind (Luke 4:18).  When He overturned the tables of the moneychangers, it signified the overturning of the entire system (John 2:13-17).  The Kingdom of Heaven had come; and for all those who accepted His Gospel of love and forgiveness of sin, the entrance was provided by His substitutionary death on the cross.  It was and is the greatest checkmate of all time.  This invitation still holds..........


1.  The cellblock is called "The Tiers", with Colonel Winter's office high above.

2.  Castle:  This is a complex symbol, derived at once from that of the house and the enclosure or walled city.  Walled cities figure in medieval art as a symbol of the transcendent soul and of the heavenly Jerusalem.  Generally speaking, the castle is located on the top of a mountain or hill, which suggests an additional and important meaning derived from the symbolism of level.  Its shape, form, and color, its dark and light shades all play an important part in defining the symbolic meaning of the castle as a whole; which in the broadest sense, is an embattled, spiritual power ever on the watch.  The "black castle" has been interpreted as the alchemist's lair, as well as a rain cloud poised above a mountaintop.  Its significance as the Mansion of the Beyond or as the castle of Darkness inhabited by a "Black Knight" is symbolic of the abode of is very possible that the  underlying symbolism of all medieval tales and legends about a castle owned by a "Wicked Knight" who hold captive all who approach his domain may well be that of the sinister castle of the Lord of the Underworld.  A Dictionary of Symbols by J. E. Cirlot

3.  Irwin's conversation with General Wheeler makes this clear.

4.  Lance Corporal:  n. an enlisted person in the US, Marine Corps ranking above a private first class. (It. lancia spezzata superior solider, lit. broken lance [from having shivered many lances, i.e. fought in many battles])

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