My parents sent me to boarding school to learn the value of parental rejection at an early age. The lessons were profound, but one of the fun things we did there was periodically watch recently released movies. This treat was reserved for the few boys that couldn’t be with their families on secondary holidays. Thus, through some combination of parental dysfunction and financial inconvenience, I got to spend holidays like Easter in Toronto instead of Chicago.
A couple of the films made an impression. THX 1138, George Lucas’ first movie about a dystopian future, was simultaneously weird and thoroughly riveting. It was released in 1971 and we saw it projected on one of the dormitory walls in 1972. That tells you something about the cost of second run rentals back then, or of my school’s entertainment budget.
My 13-year-old self found it engaging for a couple of reasons. The first was the vision of learning by intravenous injection. How it made me wish I could avoid my losing struggle with studying and just absorb esoterica like organic chemistry through my veins. The second was the promise of escaping from the underworld. Breaking out of oppression, climbing free of controls and into the clear – after a really badass car chase, of course.
Ra Ra Rah
On another occasion we watched Thor Heyerdahl’s documentary, The Ra Expeditions. This was high adventure and perfect fodder for 12- and 13-year-old boys. It was also Heyerdahl’s rear-guard action against middle age, and his proof that Columbus “discovering the Americas” was and remains one of the most persistent populist myths.
Heyerdahl theorised people crossed the Atlantic in ships built of Mesopotamian reeds and seeded the Americas with goods and genetics a couple thousand years before Queen Isabella commissioned the Nina, the Pinta, and the Santa Maria. The movie carried another message, one about the fragility of Planet Earth.
And while I haven’t seen the movie since, I remember the scenes of the Ra I nearly sinking only 100 miles from Barbados. The crew was rescued and immediately set about making another ship. The second time around Heyerdahl enlisted the help of four Aymara from Lake Titicaca who were skilled in building reed boats. Boats very like the ancient Mesopotamian prototypes Heyerdahl had based Ra I on. Ra II was a rousing success, but perhaps one of my clearest memories was of the crew’s surprise at finding clumps of oil in the middle of the ocean. I remember being concerned and surprised they hadn’t anticipated the long arms of humankind’s destructive reach, even then.
Both films reinforced my desire for adventure by feeding different aspects of it. One fuelled my imagination, the other showed how dreams can be made practical. Neither seemed out of reach.
As a footnote to Columbus’ trip to the new world, we recently stopped in Baiona, a port in Galicia, northwestern Spain. It is the place where the Pinta returned from Columbus’ first voyage and brought news of the ‘discovery’. Every year the town celebrates the event with a big festival. Tourists flock in. A full scale replica of the Pinta sits in the harbour. A nearby monument subtly shows the subjugation of the new world under the hands of the old.