Aeschylus Comes to Hollywood

PLEASE NOTE: This script reveals plot elements from the feature film The Perfect Storm. Have you heard the story about the sailor who leads his crew on a sea voyage, undaunted by storm or sea, only to end up in disaster? Sounds like the hugely successful film, The Perfect Storm.But the story I have in mind is thousands of years older -- the Oresteia by the Greek playwright Aeschylus. The Perfect Storm may be the hottest film of the summer, but the Oresteia is among the greatest plays of Western civilization. Both teach poignant lessons about the dangers of pride. And although The Perfect Storm's filmmakers may not have had that in mind, Aeschylus certainly did. The stories both tell of men of astounding determination. In the Oresteia, King Agamemnon leads a confederation of Greeks on a voyage to besiege Troy and recover his brother's wife, Helen. But the gods raise up a massive storm that threatens to end the war before it begins. Well, Agamemnon refuses to be stopped. And rather than risk his fragile coalition, he makes the fateful decision to sacrifice his daughter to appease the gods. The Greeks cross the Aegean Sea and ultimately defeat the Trojans. But their success is mixed -- particularly for Agamemnon, who returns home only to be murdered by his vengeful wife. It may seem difficult to relate to this classic figure, but the Greeks surely recognized the king's tension, between his family and his job. And how many of us today face the same dilemma? It's easier, perhaps, to relate to the fishermen on the Andrea Gail -- they needed money. A run of bad luck prompts the captain to make one last trip for the season. But he finds little success, and the fishermen plead with him to turn back. Yet he presses on, far out to sea. Finally, they fill the hold of the ship with fish, only to find their path home blocked by a storm of incredible power. Waiting out the storm's fury would cost them their catch, so they sail on, into disaster. We can't help but be sympathetic -- relating to such a fateful choice is, of course, the point of tragedy. But tragedy also helps us recognize error, and how to avoid it. Agamemnon's refusal to take no for an answer led to his tragic fate -- the deaths of his daughter and himself. Similarly, the Andrea Gail's captain wouldn't listen to reason. It cost him not only his fishermen's lives, but that of an Air Force Pararescueman attempting rescue as well. We often hear words like "gumption" or "chutzpah" used to describe this kind of thinking. But the Greeks called it hubris -- a better word, one which means excessive pride -- an unwillingness to admit limitations. And this is why, in the Christian view of things, pride is a deadly sin, for it is often self-destructive. We may be created in God's image, but we are not "the measure of all things." If anything can bring that point home, it may be a movie with the special effects of The Perfect Storm. It's emotionally harrowing, but this movie gives an insight into the excess of pride -- and perhaps gives you an opportunity to discuss this with your neighbors. Or, if you don't like movies, you can read Aeschylus' classic play, the Oresteia. A Hollywood film and an ancient Greek play can help us see ourselves in new ways, and teach a distinctly Christian lesson in the process.


Chuck Colson


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