The 1995 action/adventure film Cutthroat Island directed by Renny Harlin and starring Geena Davis is best remembered for two things. One, that it was the biggest box office flop of its time with over $100 million lost. Two, for having one of the best movie soundtracks of all time. The film was released during the Christmas Holiday Break and thus faced several hurdles; the James Bond franchise roared back to life only a month before with the hugely successful Goldeneye and also pirate movies tend to be summer themed thus Cutthroat Island probably didn’t fit too well as a movie people wanted to see during a winter holiday season. Added is the fact that around 1995 computer effects were becoming increasingly spectacular with films like Twister and in summer of 1996 Independence Day was released, both huge successes at the box office; Cutthroat Island had virtually no CGI and was a classic style rousing adventure like Indiana Jones, which itself was inspired by adventure films from the 1930s. Now Cutthroat Island is a sort of cult film with a small, but dedicated, fan base.
However the film isn’t just straight-forward action adventure with heroes taking out bad guys, there is a more sophisticated and deeper aspect to the film; one where themes of Aryanism are present.
THE GOOD CHARACTERS:
Captain Morgan Adams, a woman whose father was Black Harry, a pirate captain, and her gave her 1/3 of a treasure map right before he died. She takes the map from her dying father and goes to fufill his wish in seeking out the fortune. She is not over-sexualized as women in action adventure films often are. While the film takes place in 1668, the fact remains that is was made in the 1990s and many period films now tend to unrealistically and artificially beautify both male and female characters to make the heroes seem more likable and this often means the character’s sex appeal is inflated.
Black Harry, Morgan’s father, who only makes a small appearance in the movie. He chooses to drown himself, after being cornered by Dawg, so as not to give away or lose his piece of the map to an enemy.
Morgan’s Crew, as their former captain’s daughter and holder of the piece of treasure map, they accept Morgan as their new captain over Scully, a man wanting to negotiate or even ally with Dawg Brown, Black Harry’s brother who was ready to kill him for his part of the map. The Crew know that their quest has dire odds but they decide on the militarist route; to pursue their goal in spite of these dire odds in order not to remain apathetic to their former captain’s wishes and to directly deal with their enemy. Note that the crew is a diverse bunch.
Morgan’s Ship is called Morning Star, an obvious reference to the sun, which is symbolized in Aryanism by the swastika. This represents their noble intentions and unwillingness to accept apathy or allegiance with an ignoble captain of another ship, Dawg Brown.
Douglas “Dawg” Brown is uncle to Morgan and clearly shows willingness to murder his family members and crew as a means of getting what he wants most, material gain or means of getting to that gain. He accepts being the subordinate and privateer for Gov. Ainslee, a corrupt official, thus becomes a “lap dawg” to an equally ignoble master. However, as soon as he accepts this arrangement he begins to think of how to break it so that he himself can become governor.
Dawg’s Crew have very little characterization on screen because they have very little character to begin with. They are quite simply a pack of dogs or brawler slaves who serve an Alpha “Dawg” who himself willingly submits to a corrupt power. They are the lowest kind of gentile and, like their captain, almost purely preservationist.
Dawg’s Ship is called the “Reaper” which symbolizes his love of violence and death; a love that he demonstrates many times throughout the film. “Reaper” also shows Dawg’s main motivating factor, the desire to reap material reward. The ship also ironically plays out a role of the Grim Reaper who takes peoples’ souls once they die – this is the most obvious reference the ship’s name makes – but the irony is that the only souls that have been reaped are that of the ship’s crew who blindly submit to ignoble powers.
Governor Ainslee is the Royal Governor of the Jamaica Colony thus already a slave, he serves the King of England. His corruption runs so deep that he breaks his own anti-piracy laws by accepting Dawg Brown as his personal privateer instead of having him arrested. That way his colony can have an off-the-books income and Ainslee’s intake of material goods will be taken to new, higher levels. The fact that he is effectively betraying his master, the King, doesn’t seem to bother him in the least as this man has no real allegiance, just a love of his own material gain. His colony also has a slave market, thus he perpatuates the ignoble day to day. Ainslee is the film’s most indulgent preservationist character.
The Army unit stationed in Port Royale is much like Dawg’s Crew, but better kept. They have cleaner clothes and are more civilized and orderly, however, they’re still total subordinates and their service protects Ainslee’s corrupt methods.
THE CONVERTS, characters whose allegiance shifts:
Lieutenant Trotter, an officer in the British Royal Army. He is first loyal to Ainslee, but realizes the deep corruption at hand and turns to the Noble by saving one of Morgan’s Crew and then joining the ship. Note that even well before actually making the conscious decision to turn to the Noble, Trotter is somewhat of the black sheep of the Governor’s men; he doesn’t yet know that his destiniy lies elsewhere, but on some level he feels that he is out of place.
John Reed is a writer and chronicler of pirates and is working on a book about them. This has allowed him access to various ships and captains. He remains largely apathetic to what is going on and even encourgages Morgan to abandon her father’s ship and crew to live a life of hedonism in London, the capital of a slave-running empire. This offer is denied by Morgan. Soon after Reed accepts a bribe from Ainslee and goes on to give the Governor information that allows him to locate and arrest Morgan’s Crew on a beach on Cutthroat Island. He succumbs to pure material gain.
Scully, originally member of the Morning Star’s crew and passed over for the position captain, which goes to Morgan. His resentment bred out of selfishness leads to accepting allegiance with Dawg Brown as well as taking bribes from Ainslee thus betraying his shipmates.
Shaw, is a major character, but too a convert. He starts out as a petty thief snatching braclets from rich women and is imprisoned for it; the still loyal to slavery Trotter even makes the arrest. Shaw’s knowledge of Latin leads Morgan to him as she needs part of her father’s treasure map translated. This results in him tagging along on the quest and Shaw’s allegiance turns noble when he starts to work for the good of the Morning Star’s crew and not just for himself.
SOME KEY SCENES:
The Slave Auction — This is where Morgan tries to buy Shaw. Note the people being sold here are of many racial and cultural backgrounds. They are prevented from seeking Arya due to imprisonment by an ignoble and corrupt governor who is really just a more powerful slave. Morgan competes with another buyer to apprehend Shaw and this other man, a pompous aristocrat, suggests to Morgan that if she is buying Shaw, a good looking young man, purely for pleasure, that she should just pass as the aristocrat offers to pleasure her for free. Morgan takes insult to this bribe and puts her knife where the man’s mind is, down in his crotch, to scare him off. Thus she secures the purchase of Shaw.
Interestingly she is not shown paying and since Shaw still has his shackles on when a riot starts, Morgan didn’t really buy him; she did not feed an ignoble system, slavery, with money. The riot starts when some soldiers recognize Morgan from a “wanted” poster and she and her men fight back. The other captured men in the prison see their chance and too fight despite being unarmed and still in shackles; dire odds, but the noble choose to fight out of slavery over preserving their life within such a system. The resulting escape begins Shaw’s transformation from petty crook to a more noble stature.
The escape scene concludes with Morgan and Shaw riding away and Ainslee looking on. He offers Lieutenant Trotter double the announced reward for Morgan’s capture as well as a promotion to captain. Trotter, still unaware of life beyond slavery, accepts.
The Betrayal on the Beach — This scene shows the final alignments of alliegiances in the film. Scully, a traitor; Reed, traitor; Ainslee, furthered his corruption by hiring Dawg. Trotter, still in his Army uniform but increasingly discontent which sets up his next key action, and first radical action, of the film, during the final battle. Note that Trotter’s actions are not guided by selfishness and his transition leads to a certain sacrfice and actually away from the material gain of the reward and promotion he was offered earlier. The beach scene also shows captured loot from the island; various caged animals and fruits and not just the treasure. The ignoble pirates and Ainslee’s men seem to take whatever they want have virtually no respect for other life.
The Final Battle — This epic action sequence wraps up the film’s symbolism. The first key event here is actually right before the battle as Morgan and her crew dump Scully and his pack of traitors into the sea just off of the coast of Cutthroat Island; Scully wanted the island’s treasure to himself, now he has none of the treasure, but the whole island – a bit of irony there. Lt Trotter saves the Morning Star’s QuarterMaster and completes his shift over to the Noble; he does this by shooting another British Army soldier thus he “kills” that side of himself and is no longer seen in full red uniform. Reed, who has been swaying back and forth with unclear goals hesitates in the middle of the battle just as a cannon shell tears that part of the deck up; his unassured nature gets him killed. Ainslee meets a similar fate as he stands tall watching his troops (slaves) do his bidding, but a cannon blast from the Morning Star blows him to bits.
Dawg’s double-crossing nature also turns on him; after the beach betrayal he humors killing Ainslee at some point so he can become governor – these man have no honor even amongst themselves, just to their own material gain. Well, as it turns out Dawg’s own ship turns on him in a way, he is blown away by Morgan who fires of one of the Reaper’s cannons right in his face; he is ejected out the back, through the captain’s quarters (his former office) and out to sea.
The film ends with the Morning Star’s crew looking over their treasure, stolen from a slavery perpetuating empire, and decide what to do next, with the pretty obvious answer being “sail the course.” They continue along their path now a cohesive group and with a new goal.
BITS AND PIECES:
The film also has many little details that demonstrate these themes. First, Morgan’s pet monkey is named “King Charles” which is a humorous jab at Royalty. The joke is that Aristocrats, no matter how high, are in effect slaves, since their actions are determined by the Noble people who resist them and the Royalty must spend their time an energy maintaining their own system without any real progress.
During the final battle Dawg yells out “I love this! I love it!” showing his love of violence, while real noble people and militarists despise violence, but are just not afraid of it.
Before Trotter shoots his “former self” and starts life anew aboard the Morning Star he is punched by Morgan in a quick shot at the start of the final battle. Morgan doesn’t yet recognize him as an ally and he hasn’t yet proven himself to be one. In the final scene he is in the tattered remains of this former clothes, and his unascetic body is much more visible. However since his heart is in the right place, he is accepted as a crew member and prompty given a task: manning the crow’s nest for 12 hours… the crow’s nest is the point on the ship closest to the sun, he could be symbolically learning about the truth of “the morning star.”
There are no true Aryans in the film, but the Good characters show a desire to pursue Arya. For instance, at the start of the film, Morgan clearly has an alcohol problem and many of her men are tattoed and unkempt. The latter is likely as a result of their living conditions, which greatly improve by the end. The former are because of a lack of transformation or as of yet incomplete inner revolution within each of Morgan’s Crew. They are much closer to this at the film’s conclusion and Morgan’s QuarterMaster considers taking his share of the gold to “do a bit of farming.” Farming is the original Aryan lifestyle.
In the final scene Morgan suggests drinking to the crew, but drinking chamomille tea, not alcohol. Excessive and addictive consumption is un-Aryan.
In the end scene King Charles, the funny little monkey, attempts to put on a jeweled crown that’s too big for him, a comic effect and another jab at elitist aristocracy.
This is by no means an exhaustive look at the film’s Aryan themes and it really wasn’t meant to be. I hoped to show the reader the film from a certain vantage point and they are likely to see and notice many other things in this film and hopefuly in others as well. The Lord of the Rings trilogy is a good film to look at, however due to the incredible length of the three films (and books off which they are based), an exhaustive study of Noble themes there is grounds for a whole book of itself or a film documentary. Also, LOTR is quite upfront with its Noble themes, but in many films these themes are not so obvious – sometimes it could be just one key scene in a movie – so for a pursuer of Arya, a closer inspection of their favorite films might reveal a deeper reason why they like them. Or might bring to light the fact that a certain film is actually devoid of Aryanism.
While Cutthroat Island was a flop at the box office, it was with the 2003 release of Pirates of the Carribbean that pirate movies became popular and the success of that film spawed a trilogy. For readers who have seen both Cutthroat Island and PotC some key differeces become obvious and it is not just that one has fantasy and overt meta-physical elements. The Disney distributed and Jerry Bruckheimer produced pirate trilogy is simply lacking in Aryanism.
Cutthroat Island IMDb page