Films have a way of speaking to us in a way that no one else can. One such example is the film “The Last Samurai.” One might not realize it, but the film presents to us a compelling vision of where we might find ourselves if we had lost our way as a human being: in a sense of chaos. It also shows us a way back from that place. When we lose the foundations that we have built our life upon, it is very hard to find a way back to who we want to be.
In the summer of 1876, Captain Nathan Algren (Tom Cruise) is a man in the midst of chaos. It is not the chaos that occurs in fantasy films. There are no giant aliens attacking the earth or vampires attacking a small town in the film “The Last Samurai.” This is an internal chaos. This is the type of chaos that we all have felt before. He is facing a moral dilemma that has robbed him of stability.
In the beginning of the film, we are introduced to Algren as a drunkard peddling guns by telling war stories. He is highly unstable and battling inner conflict due to choices that he had to make while fighting in the Civil War and the Indian Wars. His Colonel had given an order for him to massacre an Indian village containing pregnant women and small children. He lives with the chaos of what he had done on that day and it is destroying him.
The Colonel shows up with an offer to eliminate another threat to modernization on the other side of the world in Japan. He will be helping the emperor train a new Western-style Japanese Army to eliminate an insurrection of samurais who are against modernization. Algren has come to the conclusion that his purpose in life is to be a murderer. He tells the Colonel “You want me to kill the enemies of “Jappos”; I’ll kill the enemies of “Jappos”… “Rebs”, or Sioux, or Cheyenne… For 500 bucks a month I’ll kill whoever you want, but keep one thing in mind. I’d happily kill you for free” (Cruise & Zwick, 2003).
Upon his first battle with the samurai, Algren is taken captive. This is done because the leader, Katsumoto, believes that he has witnessed an omen as Algren kills another samurai wearing red armor. He brings him to the village where he is guarded and nursed back to health by the wife and children of the red samurai. As Algren lives in the unmodern village, he comes to appreciate its simple way of life. He is moved by the red samurai’s families’ sense of honor that allows them to minister to him.
By living among the samurai, Algren decides that he will fight for them. His chaos has been eliminated by learning their simple ways of honor and community. He sees a purpose in being a warrior. It is not for money or prestige. He will protect this way of life. When asked why he will battle his own people he replies “Because they come to destroy what I have come to love” (Cruise & Zwick, 2003). Algren discovered his true identity and it ended the chaos in his soul.
I came through a time when I did not know my true identity. In the summer of 1991, I graduated high school with the idea that my parents’ simple Christian ways were foolish. I began a life that attempted to go against everything that they felt was wrong. I was involved in many sins, but the only one that I will name here will be the sin of drunkenness.
I was battling with God about who I really was. I always had a love for Christ, but came to think of it as weird and keeping me from what modern society said would make me happy. I felt much like Algren, because, as I drifted further from Christ, I found myself in a personal chaos. I was not acknowledging who I really was and it was destroying me.
I was caught for DUI and forced to stay at home for one year without a license. I had to go to church on Sundays with my parents and spend time with them. I was reminded of the joys of a simple Christian life. I was forced to examine what I really wanted in life. I came to understand who I was and my chaos ended.
Chaos in a person’s soul can end. In the film, Algren came to the conclusion that, even if the samurai way of life was about to end, he would be the last samurai. In reality, I came to the conclusion that, even if the world had turned away from the simple Christian life, I would be the last Christian. We do not have to live in chaos. We simply need to accept who we were truly meant to be.
Cruise, T. (Producer), & Zwick, E. (Director). (2003). The last samurai [Motion picture]. United States: Warner Bros.