Friday, September 26, 2014

The Journey of August King

“Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou Romeo?”
I can still hear one of my old professors read that line in class on the first day of a Shakespeare course I took way back in the 1980s. I was sitting in Keithly Building room 200 something at Delta State University, Harvard on the Highway as it is sometimes called.
“What does that mean?” John Ford, a Shakespeare scholar, asked us.
Like all the other stupid students, I thought it meant, ‘Where are you, Romeo?’
“Wherefore” is an archaic word. At least it is on this side of the pond. I don’t know it they still use it over there because I have never seen it on the Facebook page Did You Swim Today? my chief current connection to British English. But to us Americans it is a word from the past, so far in the past that it doesn’t even show up the King James Bible, which I am quite familiar with.
I heard it in an old movie I once watched on TCM. One character told another during a phone conversation that his wife had left him.
“Wherefore?” was all the other character answered in return. I felt smug with my newfound knowledge.
Speaking of movies, I thought of this word, which means “Why?”, when I viewed again The Journey of August King in my film class at MDCC this past Wednesday night. In this quest movie, there is a scene where the runaway slave, Annalees, says, “I never knew a man named after a month before.” She then goes on a spoof-binge, playing with August’s name saying things like, “July King, September King, November King.” Unwittingly she is asking the same question Juliet posed in the famous play: Why are you named that? What is the relationship between names and things? After all, Juliet retorts a few lines later: “A rose by any other name would smell just as sweet.”
Besides being a quest movie, which I am a sucker for, this story, starring Jason Patrick as August King, presents the most fully developed Christ-figure I have ever seen on the big screen. Not only that, but the Christ-figure is actually Christ-like, or at least he becomes so on this quest to achieve personal peace for himself and freedom, salvation, for the runaway played by Thandie Newton. On their journey he loses almost everything: his cow, his pig, his coffee pot, his geese, his horse, his house, most of his furniture, even his reputation as a sane man.
What he gains in return can’t be purchased with money. And what he becomes on the trip is summed up when the two climb the mountain through the clouds and to the start of the trail that leads to the North. Before sending her on her way, August gives her several sentences of advice.
She simply answers, “August King.”
She gets it.
It’s worth getting even as a viewer.
Watch this movie.
Several times.