I headed out to the Dryden Theatre at George Eastman House (900 East Ave.) to see The Man Who Would Be King. Despite the snowstorm, there were quite a few people in attendance â€” the movie was excellent and well worth the risk. Basically it tells the tale of a couple con-men. They head to a country called Kafiristan (which is a fictional place north of Afghanistan) where they intend to become kings. The plan is simple: based on the notion that the warring tribes are largely without solid leadership, bringing a bit of British army leadership would make it easy to take over tribe-by-tribe and eventually take over the country.
Well, they almost die on their treacherous crossing of the high mountains. [In fact, I wondered if they did indeed die at that point and the rest of the film is just fantasy â€” something to think about.] Once in Kafiristan, they get into one of the first tribes they find, get a translator, and succeed in defeating the neighboring tribe. In the battle, Danny is struck by an arrow that â€” by luck â€” doesn't even scratch him yet stays in place as he rides around, continuing to fight. The people start rumors that he's some kind of god and he quickly ascends to the status of the second-coming of Alexander the Great â€” Alexander's son, to be exact.
So now Danny is king and god, ruling with a commoner's wisdom and absolute authority. Danny's Earthly-anchored partner Peachy notes that they should cut-and-run: they made it to the top, and the best thing they could do is to pack up a lot of riches and quietly slide out of the country. Danny has other plans â€” he's realistically gripped by power. He is believing what his followers are telling him: that he actually is the son of Alexander.
I'll leave it at that in case you want to find out for yourselves how things resolve.
But the thing about the whole movie is that it's so solidly realistic. It's not like Danny becomes evil through his power â€” he is overcome by the power. The pragmatic man he was is swept away in the current of illusion. He becomes falsely anchored in "the now" because he's averaging between an infinite past and an infinite future. His delusion comes from his followers elevating him ever higher: an equally destructive position as to being thrown down a deep chasm. It is a lucky man indeed who can survive either fate. Very lucky.
I greatly enjoy pondering the significance of the movie. It's good and sticky … something that will continue to haunt my personal philosophy.
But then on the way out of the theater, I come upon a most peculiar scene. A man is lying on the ground on the side of the driveway with another one on a cell phone summoning help. It turns out the guy was walking home and slipped on the ice. He said he heard something pop in both his legs â€” a police officer with medical training suggested he probably dislocated his hip. After a few minutes an ambulance arrived and took him to the hospital. The small crowd that had formed â€” thankfully a few people were his friends that he asked me to try and locate â€” stood around impotently while experts treated him. I felt bad that I couldn't do anything to help him. It looked to hurt like hell, but rolling him around to make him more comfortable would have only made things worse.
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