The Four Feathers (2002)

Some might wonder, why would anyone re-make a film from 1939? Or why would anyone care about British colonialism in the Middle East? Is every 1800’s British story only for the Jane Eyre and Virginia Wolf romantics?

Actually alot past issues, themes, or ideas can be re-interpreted today, to symbolize our feelings about current events. For example, the British desire to conquer parts of Arabia and trade with the East- is alot like the American desire to conquer the Middle East today.

So an 1800’s movie that seems to be about British love, like the “Four Feathers” really isn’t about  love at all. It’s themes are about courage, and identity despite adversity. Young Harry, a man who is born into a bloodline of former soldiers, is destined for war. A once naive rugby player, Harry must mature quickly when he realizes war is not a game. It is going into a foreign land and losing means death. The reality of leaving home scares him into giving up his duty as a soldier completely. But later on, at the risk of his best friend dying, he travels to save his life. 

The theme here about courage creates a pretty picture about what a dignified man should do.  However, in the film, it also reveals soldier’s inability to fight for their nation. Although they are patriotic, they dont know the importance or te reason for their mission. As Harry asks, “What does the Queen have to do with Arabia?”.

Therefore, the film suggests that courage does not usually stem from patriotism, but from comraderie. (In extreme cases, we can see the importance of masculine comraderie in “Brokeback Mountain” 2005). This motive in the film, leads spectators to question their reasons for going into war, which affects so many lives on both sides. One could say that this theme of uncertain patriotism can be applied to the war in Iraq (for WMD) where soldiers fought unknowingly to find oil. 

There is another theme in the film other than courage, comraderie and uncertainty. It is about representation of identity among locals and foreigners. Unfotunately,as a representeative of Britain, Harry looks isolated among Arabs and slaves. The Arabs are representated as rude and cruel, and their lifestyles and beliefs are not explained in details-leaving the enemy with  a simplified identity. The film seems to serve for western audiences who already seem Arabs as exotic and antagonistic. The film also  painted a nicer picture of the African american slave as if to suggest that the west has moved on from one enemy to  another.

There is more to say about this film, but these are the simplest and most relevant themes pertaining to issues today.

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One thought on “The Four Feathers (2002)

  1. Great review on Four Feathers. I’ve seen three of the versions and the ’39 vintage is the best I think. Right on with the camaraderie aspect. Unfortunately this is also a way that regular people are convinced to keep fighting in wars they have no interest fighting, “for the man next to them.”

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