For this first installment of Family Movie Night we take a ride aboard Captain Nemo’s submarine, the Nautilus, and journey through Disney’s 1954 adventure 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea.
If you have listened to the Finding Christ In Cinema podcast you may have heard me say that we are cord cutters. That means my family has no television service. No Cable. No Satellite. No traditional over-the-air broadcasts of any kind find their way into our home. Instead we watch DVDs, Blu-Ray discs, and even the occasional VHS (look it up, youngsters) tape. We also stream video content via the Internet using our Roku box and Wii console. Services like Netflix and Amazon Instant Video are our Cable/Satellite plan – at a fraction of the cost!
Family Movie Night
We have a long-standing tradition called Family Movie Night (Henceforth known as FMN) where we gather around the big screen and enjoy a movie together. We take it in turn to pick the movie. So far we have a nearly 99% success rate as far as enjoyment goes. Remind me later to tell you about the time that my kids literally begged us to turn off Babe: Pig In The City halfway through it!
It is this fine family tradition that lends its name to our new blog series. For FMN (Family Movie Night, remember?) we’ll recruit the whole family. Except our 2 year old. She refuses to give opinions without compensation, so we’ll skip her for a couple more years.
After a short introduction and synopsis I’ll provide
- Genuine teenage perspective (2 of them!)
- Bonafide “tween” perspective
- Parental warnings
- Suggested topics for family discussions from a Christian perspective
And that’s it. Pretty simple. So after nearly 300 words lets get started.
20,000 Leagues Under The Sea
Walt Disney’s 1954 sci-fi/fantasy adventure 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea is, of course, based on the Jules Verne novel of the same name. First published in 1870, it tells the story of a tortured genius named Captain Nemo and his incredible submarine called the Nautilus – which is discovered to be the “sea monster” behind a mysterious series of ship sinkings.
Trivia: 20,000 leagues refers to the distance travelled, not the depth achieved. I’ve read that this is the equivalent of 6 times the diameter of the Earth.
The cast is fantastic. One of the great movie stars of all time, Kirk Douglas, stars as Ned Land; Paul Lukas as Professor Aronnax; and the wonderful Peter Lorre as Conseil. My favorite was James Mason as Captain Nemo. Great acting by all. And the special effects are strikingly superb for a movie released 60 years ago. Then again this is Disney we’re talking about.
Our Children Have Read The Book
We’re a homeschooling family and our kids read a lot. My wife requires that they alternate free-time/fun reading between a book of their choice and a classic. All three of our school-age kids have read Jules Verne’s 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea, so It was interesting to hear their thoughts on the film and the differences between it and the book.
You Could Tell That He Wasn’t Right
Our 15 year old daughter read 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea a couple of years ago. At the time she had aspirations of being a Marine Biologist and enjoyed it from that perspective. Particular differences that she found between the book and movie were
- The shark fight was much better in the book
- The Nautilus seemed smaller in the movie, e.g. the great dining hall
She, like me, felt that James Mason did an excellent job portraying Captain Nemo. Noting that you could “see that he was disturbed.” A great actor doesn’t even have to utter a word to convey what is going on inside the character. She was also impressed with the special effects available at the time.
The take-away lesson for her was loyalty. Professor Aronnax chose to drift at sea with his companions – facing certain death – rather than to remain with Nemo and pursue his intellectual dreams in comfort.
The Original Steampunk
Next up our 14 year old son. It’s also been a couple of trips around the sun since he has read the book. He says that he loved it. It was, in fact, a “fascinating” read. He believes that the Nautilus was probably the first example of Steampunk (I put a link there so you can read up on it yourself, parents) – which he thinks is pretty neat. And he especially enjoyed exploring the mysteries of the ocean. Also drawn to the equally mysterious Captain Nemo, he found the character compelling. Incredibly intelligent, yet unknowable. A couple things that stood out to him about the movie:
- The Nautilus was very close to the book
- Special effects were really good
- Ending was wrong
The take-away lesson for our son also involved Professor Aronnax. Except that he learned about the consequences of obsession from the Professor. His obsessive pursuit of Nemo’s secrets cost him the trust of his companions. I find that thought to be pretty profound, and worth meditating on.
Practically Perfect In Every Way
Our 10 year old daughter just finished reading the book. In fact, that is why we watched the movie. The rule is: read the book, then watch the movie. And to borrow a line from Mary Poppins (we will get to that movie soon), she says of Walt Disney’s 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea, it was practically perfect in every way.
But she is given to hyperbole, so let’s dig a little deeper. First she loved the book. Called it a “page turner”. And like our son she enjoyed the secrets of the ocean. She too was drawn to Professor Aronnax. Particularly his seeking for knowledge and concern for others. However, she was especially taken by Captain Nemo. And when pressed says she was struck by his:
- Steadfastness; unwavering in his decisions
- Calm under pressure, e.g. during the cannibal attack
- Mysterious nature
- Concern for his crew
- The actors and their portrayals were perfect
- The Nautilus was perfect – especially the lounge
- The seal, though not in the book, was – you guessed it – perfect
And a big, honking SPOILER ALERT (well, Spoiler light):
- The end of the movie is not what happens in the book. At all.
When asked what lesson she learned from the movie she immediately answered, “Don’t take revenge.” I’m proud of her because that is exactly what I want to suggest as a topic of discussion after your family views 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea.
Vengeance Is Mine, I Will Repay
At the heart of it I believe that my daughter is correct: the most powerful message in this movie is don’t take revenge.
While watching the film (for the 1st time in over 2 decades) I was impressed by one scene above all others. An exchange that not only reveled the heart of Captain Nemo, but perfectly illuminated the moral of the story –
Captain Nemo: Do you know the meaning of love, professor?
Professor Aronnax: I believe I do.
Captain Nemo: What you fail to understand is the power of hate. It can fill the heart as surely as love can.
Professor Aronnax: I’m sorry for you. That’s a bitter substitute.
Nemo is driven by pain, and sorrow, and anger, and bitterness. And in this dialogue we can almost hear him utter the words, “vengeance is mine, I will repay.” His vessel, the Nautilus, is the power of hate. It is his implement of vengeance; the means by which he deals out punishment for the injury he has suffered. And he has suffered greatly.
Human wisdom agrees with Captain Nemo. Injury for injury. Hurt for hurt. An eye for an eye. But “vengeance is mine” are not Nemo’s words; they are God’s words.
Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” – Romans 12:17 [ESV]
One good discussion topic that your family can have after watching Walt Disney’s 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea is Captain Nemo’s vengeful heart and where it ultimately led him. Read Romans 12:9-21 together. A couple questions you may wish to explore are:
- Why does Paul tell us to do good to our enemies?
- Why doesn’t God want us to avenge ourselves?
Those are two loaded questions, aren’t they? Use films like this as an opportunity to nurture faith within your family by opening up dialog. Make a habit of finding spiritual themes in the movies, music, and books that you are surrounded by. And as Brenden often says on our Finding Christ In Cinema podcast – be a filter, not a sponge.
First let me say that parents should always pre-screen any movies that we discuss. I don’t know what your family finds offensive and so I’ll probably miss something that you may deem unacceptable for your own children. In the Parental Warning section I’ll list everything I can recall that might cause concern. Its just a list of facts, not opinions.
- Kirk Douglas outside with two women in reveling attire
- Intense scenes – cannibal attack; shark fight; giant squid attack; men fighting
- Blood – during the shark attack
And what I found the most bothersome – in an underwater scene where the crew is harvesting for food there are several adorable sea turtles being lead away to (by implication) the dinner table. Poor things.
Simply put, when our own children were younger this movie might have been a little too intense for them. However, they love it now. And they learned some great lessons!
For more listen to our Finding Christ In Cinema podcast where we find Christian themes in your favorite movies. Its a really fun show.
QUESTION: What did your family discuss after watching 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea? Let us know in the comments.