So, I just rewatched Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World. I loved Russell Crowe as Jack Aubrey, of course. Russell Crowe = yum yum! The Jack/Stephen subtext was more textual than sub-textual. Great acting with lots of emotion and passion.
But what I liked most about this movie was the close attention to detail and the effort put into portraying the life of a sailor in a realistic manner.
The Age of Sail has so often been romanticized in both writing and movies that it is no surprise that most of us don’t realize just how awful it could be. This movie showed it to us utterly stripped of its romanticism. Some of the things I realized:
- Ship life was generally disgusting, especially by modern standards.
- It probably reeked to high heavens. Not only was the socially expected level of cleanliness low by our standards, but level of cleanliness that could be practically achieved onboard was even lower than the societal standards of the time.
- Any ship was probably a hotbed of disease.
- There was no true privacy for anyone, not even the Captain himself. He may have had the illusion of privacy, but it was only an illusion. Slashers, forget about secret affairs – a secret like that would have been impossible to keep on board a ship. At the most, everyone would have known about it, but looked the other way and kept their mouths shut.
- It was cramped. Forget about elegant cabins with grand beds – there was no room and the idea of an actual bed at sea was ridiculous and impractical. Even the captain slept in a hammock. Romance books have been lying to us since the beginning.
- For most of the crew, life was perilous and unpleasant. Even the officers weren’t living anywhere near the proverbial lap of luxury.
- Food was awful, no matter what your rank or position. Another thing that romance books have been lying to us about.
- A surprising number of children held positions of relative power.
- It took a lot of people to actually run the ship, and most of them were completely necessary. Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl lied to us. Remember that scene where Will and Jack Sparrow steal a ship, just the two of them? Realistically impossible. Just taking in or letting out the sails would have required several men.
- Life aboard a battleship was nasty, brutish, and short.
- I won’t be signing up to be an Age of Sail sailor anytime soon. In fact, you couldn’t pay me enough.
In summary, movies and romance books are lying liars that lie.
Truthfully, this movie has helped me to appreciate other ship-related literature, giving me a more realistic mental image of shipboard life during the Age of Sail.