Disney’s “John Carter” delighted me by reuniting Julius Caesar with Mark Antony. Or at least it reunited Ciaran Hinds and James Purefoy, who played the two great historical figures in the HBO series “Rome.” While I typically identify more with the screenwriters or the directors, sometimes an actor seems to really rise above his material and become the character he plays. Previous to watching the show, Julius Caesar and Mark Antony had been little more than names from the history books: my initial attraction to the series came from the gladiatorial action and world-building of Ridley Scott in his movie “Gladiator.” But these two actors portrayed their characters so vividly that I wanted to know more about these long-dead heroes that Hinds and Purefoy resurrected on my TV screen. I especially fell under the allure of Julius Caesar. As mentioned earlier, I read more about his life, and Rome in general, educating myself about the man who used any and all means at his disposal until he turned Roman society and tradition on its head, with him resting comfortably atop the transformed government.
Screenwriters often compress stories, bringing certain characters to the forefront while eliminating others. In Disney’s new film “John Carter,” Ciaran Hinds plays Tardos Mors, the Jeddak or ruler of Helium, and the father of Dejah Thoris. (In Edgar Rice Burrough’s novel, A Princess of Mars, Tardos Mors is her grandfather). While his role is important, we only meet him at the end of the novel, after John Carter and his forces have destroyed the forces of Zodanga. In the movie, Tardos Mors (Ciaran Hinds) rises to the forefront as a major character, and in a relationship eerily similar to Rome, is ably assisted by his right-hand man, Kantos Kan (James Purefoy), a Padwar (or Lieutenant) in Helium’s Navy. In the novel, Kantos Kan plays a much larger role. When John Carter is captured by a rival group of Tharks, he meets Kantos Kan in prison, and the two become friends. They fight together in the arena, and after a long day of battle in which they kill off all their attackers, the two concoct a subterfuge so that one is released, while the other feigns death, and escapes the Tharks during the night. Later, John meets Kantos Kan in Zodanga, where the Padwar has talked his way an important position in order to find and free Dejah Thoris, who has been captured by the city’s leader. Without Kantos Kan’s help, John Carter would never have rescued Dejah Thoris, united all the rival Thark clans, and freed Helium from Zodangan forces.
Since watching “Rome,” I’ve enjoyed watching Ciaran’s acting in films like “Road to Perdition,” “Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day,” “Miami Vice,” and the last two Harry Potter films. James Purefoy’s work I’ve seen less of: his most memorable role for me came when he played opposite the incomparable Jeremy Brett in the Sherlock Holmes episode “The Boscombe Valley Mystery.” (In a Wikipedia article, it’s suggested that he might have played James Bond in “Goldeneye,” had Pierce Brosnan not won the role). In the second series of “Rome,” Mark Antony takes on more of the limelight after the murder of Julius Caesar. While a great man, it soon becomes obvious that he lacks whatever it was that made Caesar so spectacular. He gradually falls in power and stature as Octavian (later Augustus) rises. I felt at the time that Caesar’s absence left a gap that could not be filled, and consequently didn’t enjoy Season Two as much as the first. But part of what made Caesar so special to me was the fierce loyalty he inspired in his men. Without Mark Antony’s unswerving devotion, would I have fallen so heavily under the spell of Julius Caesar?
My favorite story about Julius Caesar comes not from the TV show, but from the historian Plutarch. Caesar had already accomplished remarkable deeds, had risen to positions of power in Rome, and won the love of the common people. While working in Spain, Caesar was reading a history of Alexander the Great when he broke into tears. His friends asked him what was wrong. “Do you not think it cause for grief that Alexander at my age was already king of so many nations, and I as yet have accomplished nothing remarkable?”
|Dwarfed by other's achievements|
in London's V&A Museum
This is often the way I feel: my accomplishments, what few I can call my own, feel as nothing compared with those of my heroes. Yet perhaps part of the reason for my current lack-of-success is due to how highly I regard authors like Edgar Rice Burroughs, Gregory Benford, Robert Silverberg, and Kevin J. Anderson. I look at what they’ve achieved, and I say, “I could never do all that. If I could only accomplish half of what they’ve done, or even a quarter, I’d be satisfied.” What’s becoming clear to me is that, like Julius Caesar and Mark Antony, my literary heroes have never been satisfied. They work until they drop, always reach for the next rung of the ladder, and always strive to top their previous achievements.
Perhaps, in order to achieve the success I desire, I must adopt such an attitude. Part of me argues that if I do so, I’ll have to give up any sense of satisfaction with what I eventually achieve. I don’t know how to respond to that argument. All I know is that I’m not satisfied with where I’m at now. For too long I’ve aimed to be lesser. Perhaps it’s time to strive to become something infinitely greater.
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