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Film / The Bounty

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"They were friends through hell. They became enemies in Paradise."

The Bounty is a 1984 film directed by Roger Donaldson.

It tells the story of the famous 1789 mutiny on the British ship HMS Bounty, in which many sailors mutinied and cast their commanding officer Lieutenant William Bligh adrift on an open boat. Lt. Bligh and the men who were loyal to him (over half the crew) eventually made it to the Dutch colony on the island of Timor after a harrowing voyage across the ocean. The mutineers, led by first mate Fletcher Christian, made a home for themselves on Pitcairn Island in the south Pacific, where their descendants remain to this day.

The film stars Anthony Hopkins as Captain Bligh and Mel Gibson as head mutineer Fletcher Christian. It is also a notable case of Retroactive Recognition, since it features a young Liam Neeson as a mutinous sailor, a young Daniel Day-Lewis as the most obnoxious of Bligh's officers, Bernard Hill as another officer who remained loyal to Bligh, and a young Dexter Fletcher as another mutinous sailor. It also has Laurence Olivier as Admiral Hood, Edward Fox as Capt. Greetham (Hood and Greetham both being on the Navy's board of inquiry, in the Framing Device) and Wi Kuku Kaa as King Tinah. Vangelis composed the score.

This film was originally supposed to be a pair of films directed by David Lean for Dino De Laurentiis, but after a long production delay, Lean left the project and Donaldson directed.

See also The Bounty Trilogy, the trilogy of novels by Charles Nordhoff and James Norman Hall, or the 1935 film Mutiny on the Bounty or the 1962 film Mutiny on the Bounty, which were both adaptations of the first Nordhoff and Hall novel. Those novels and films were much less historically accurate than this film.

Provides examples of:

  • The Alcoholic / The Drunken Sailor: The ship's doctor, who drinks himself to death before the Bounty leaves Tahiti.
  • Artistic License – History:
    • While this film is much more accurate than other versions and largely avoids Historical Villain Upgrade, presenting Bligh as a man with human flaws but one who didn't really deserve to be mutinied against, it does indulge in this trope when it shows Bligh planning to make another attempt at Cape Horn. This is depicted as the breaking point that triggers the mutiny. In Real Life this did not happen, as the Bounty was sailing west for the Cape of Good Hope when the men mutinied.
    • Christian did not order the burning of the Bounty as depicted in the film. In fact, while they debated whether to burn the ship or not, one of the mutineers, Matthew Quintal (known as a violent and insubordinate bully) took matters into his own hands and burned the ship on his own.
  • The Baby Trap: Averted, naturally, as for Tahitian women, having babies is a priority.
    King Tinah: My daughter... She has something of yours.
    Christian: Of mine?
    King Tinah: [showing her belly] You are here now. Tamari'i. translation 
  • Bad People Abuse Animals: Two of the mutineers amuse themselves by shooting dolphins riding a bow wave after Fletcher Christian takes the Bounty (not for meat, which would be justified given their situation, just for cruel fun). The scene followed shortly after Christian was asked if he could control a rabble of criminal sailors.
  • Based on a True Story: Far more accurate than any other film adaptation of the mutiny.
  • Blind Musician: A blind guy is part of the crew for the sole purpose of playing violin and singing for the sailors.
  • Burial at Sea: Happens aboard the Bounty when one of the sailors dies on the way to Tahiti.
  • Burning the Ships: At the end Fletcher Christian has the Bounty burned, to make sure that the mutineers are committed to living on Pitcairn Island and to prevent anyone from trying to get back to Tahiti or England.
  • Call-Back: Churchill's Establishing Character Moment has him picking a fight in the crew's quarters and establishing himself as an alpha dog. Another sailor tells him not to push things too far, saying "You don't have a lucky face." Much later, when Churchill elects to stay in Tahiti rather than go on the voyage to Pitcairn, he says "Maybe I have a lucky face." (He didn't.)
  • Camera Abuse: Water splatters the camera lens as the Bounty makes landfall in Tahiti.
  • The Captain: Bligh first, and then mutineer Christian. Neither of them actually holds the naval rank of Captain during the events of the film, however.
  • Captain's Log: Bligh keeps one. Towards the end of the film Christian keeps one as well.
  • Character Development: Bligh initially shows disregard for the safety of his sailors in trying to cross Cape Horn (the mere mention of making a second attempt triggers the mutiny). By the time he and his loyalists are floating on their small lifeboat int he middle of the ocean, he gives his food ration to one of the hungry men.
  • Chased by Angry Natives: Bligh and his loyal crew make one attempt at a landing, on the island of Tofoa. They wind up getting chased back to the launch by angry Tofoans, and Nelson the quartermaster is killed. After that they agree that they will have to stay at sea for thousands of miles until they can reach the Dutch settlement of Coupang.
  • The Chief's Daughter: Mauatua, daughter of the king of Tahiti, who falls in love with Fletcher Christian. (Her name in actual history was Maimiti.)
  • Conflicting Loyalty: Well, that's the whole point, isn't it? Choose between friendship, military obedience and love.
  • Deliberate Values Dissonance: Bligh's discipline can seem very harsh to modern eyes, but he was fairly lenient by the standards of the time. Bligh was noted as someone who would yell at crewmen in situations where other Captains would have flogged them, and flogged crew members other Captains would've hanged. Indeed, Bligh's biggest problem was that he was too nice a guy (relatively speaking) to be the captain of a ship in those days. He let discipline go to hell during the months on Tahiti, and when he finally did try to crack down, it was too little, too late.
  • The Determinator: William Bligh, who leads the men who were loyal to him on a three thousand mile voyage in an open boat to safety in the Dutch colony of Timor, after Christian and the other mutineers set them adrift.
  • Downer Ending: While Bligh is exonerated when the court of inquiry rules in his favor, the damage done by the mutiny haunts both Bligh and Christian for the rest of their lives. Especially in Real Life when the bloody fate of the mutineers is discovered years later.
  • Everyone Has Standards: Fletcher Christian insists that neither Bligh nor any of the crew who remain loyal to him are to be killed.
  • Fatal Flaw: Bligh is a superb seaman who came from humble beginnings, but the reason he finds himself on the wrong end of a mutiny is because he doesn't understand that command is all about people. He ultimately alienates everyone because he never considers the human aspect of this equation. After the mutiny, he overcomes his deficiencies as a leader and overcomes great adversity to get himself and his men to safety.
  • A Father to His Men: Christian—too much, as this causes him to lead the mutiny against Bligh.
  • Going Native: Captain Bligh worries that this is happening to Christian and the men in Tahiti, and he is right. Fletcher Christian falls in love with a Tahitian girl, and the rest of the men are in no mood to submit to Royal Navy discipline again after enjoying quite a long vacation on Tahiti, with the surf and sand and sex with the island girls.
  • Happily Ever Before: For multiple parallel storylines.
    • The film ends with the mutineers landing on Pitcairn Island and burning the Bounty. It's rather melancholy, as they realize they are stuck there forever, but they have their home and their women. An on-screen text then alludes to, but does not directly mention, the violence, enslavement and murder that led the mutineers and the Tahitian men that accompanied them to kill each other, leaving only one mutineer alive (along with a bunch of women and children) when an American ship found them on Pitcairn Island in 1818. (Descendants of the mutineers still live there today.)
    • Churchill (Liam Neeson), who stayed behind on Tahiti—"Maybe I have a lucky face"—was murdered by another mutineer, who was in turn killed by the Tahitians. Most of the other sailors who stayed behind on Tahiti either drowned when the ship that eventually fetched them wrecked, or were hanged after returning to England. However, Peter Heywood (in the film, the young officer who lets Churchill and the others desert), was pardoned and returned to a long and successful career in the Royal Navy.
    • Bligh is exonerated and praised for saving the lives of his loyal crew, but some years later as Governor of New South Wales he faced another revolt in the form of the Rum Rebellion and was deposed, arrested and replaced, was court-martialled twice more though acquitted both times, and after that never held an important command again.
  • Harmony Vs Discipline: After all that time enjoying the pleasures of Tahiti, the crew isn't in the mood to submit to Bligh's discipline again.
  • Heroic BSoD: Christian gets very upset during the mutiny. All he can say when Bligh confronts him is "I am in hell!" (a direct quote).
  • Historical Hero Upgrade:
    • The film leaves out the mutineers' disastrous attempt to settle on the island of Tubuai before they returned to Tahiti, which resulted in the deaths of many of the island's inhabitants when the mutineers attempted to steal supplies and force women to be their 'wives'.
    • When the remaining core group of mutineers set off for Pitcairn Island, several Tahitian people willingly choose to accompany them, including Mauatua. In real life, while the latter was possibly willing to accompany Christian, most of the Tahitians who ended up on Pitcairn were tricked into coming aboard the Bounty for a party and were kidnapped; the mutineers even made sure to abduct as many women as possible, and put six elderly women whom they had no use for ashore on nearby Moʻorea.
  • Horny Sailors: The men of the Bounty are very happy when they finally land on Tahiti after a long voyage and discover an island full of gorgeous, topless native women. This is a major cause of the mutiny that follows, after the men have to go back to life at sea.
  • How We Got Here: The film opens with Captain Bligh appearing before a Royal Navy court of inquiry which is investigating the loss of his ship. This serves as exposition, as the officers on the court ask Bligh questions about the mutiny, followed by scenes from the mutiny. Eventually, Bligh is exonerated, and commended for saving the lives of his loyal crew.
  • Hypocrite:
    • The crew mutinies against Bligh for supposedly being an iron-fisted tyrant. This overlooks the months on Tahiti he let them do essentially whatever the hell they wanted as long as they did their jobs competently enough. They just got used to the good life and resented Bligh's attempts to start treating them like the Royal Navy crew that they are. (Although admittedly, Bligh's vindictiveness and inability to read the atmosphere didn't help him out).
    • The crew almost mutiny against Fletcher when he fails to find an island far from Tahiti (so the Navy can't find them); also, in Real Life, Fletcher and many of his fellow mutineers were ultimately killed by the Tahitians because they treated the Tahitians horribly, up to and including enslaving them, meaning they treated the locals even worse than Bligh treated them.
  • I'm a Humanitarian:
    • Briefly discussed and averted when Mr. Nelson offers his flesh to save the weakened people on the boat, but Lieutenant Bligh defies this with the following quote:
    Bligh: We're civilised men, not savages. As civilised men, we shall die. Have no fear.
    • Bligh states his reasons for not making a stop for provisions in Fiji and the surrounding islands where the local population has "perfected cannibalism into a science."
  • Innocent Fanservice Girl / National Geographic Nudity: The Tahitian women generally go topless. Their frank and open sexuality winds up being one of the reasons the Bounty crew mutinies.
  • I Regret Nothing: Inverted. Believing that Bligh and his loyalists would have no choice but to put ashore on a hostile shore and remain there forever, Christian would state he regretted not giving Bligh some muskets to better defend themselves.
  • Jerkass: Bligh isn't portrayed as a villain but he isn't really a people person. He may also have a point about the men having gone soft in Tahiti. After Bligh's attempt at a heart-to-heart with Christian fails, he seems to take it personally, and winds up picking on Christian even more. This turns out to be a big mistake.
  • Jerkass Has a Point: Bligh is legally and probably ethically in the right throughout the film - he's correct that the men are neglecting their duties as sailors and that the junior officers are setting a bad example, and much of his discipline is aimed at ensuring the crew are fit and healthy because he is haunted by his experience on previous voyages of losing men to sickness. It's not his logic that turns everyone against him, it's his manner.
    • Bligh isn't altogether wrong in his assessment of many of the men's characters. Given our introduction to the thuggish Churchill, Bligh's remark is on the mark:
      Bligh: You're a mindless animal, Churchill.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: For all his overbearing manner, Bligh does love his family and cares about the welfare of the men who remained loyal to him on the launch.
  • Maligned Mixed Marriage: Bligh is extremely racist about it, but he isn't wrong when he tells Christian that there's no way that he can possibly take Mauatua back to England. What he fails to consider is what Christian might do about that problem.
  • Manly Tears: A couple instances occur in the film.
    • When his daughter decides to leave Tahiti with the mutineers, King Tynah breaks down sobbing, knowing he will never see her again.
    • Bligh sheds tears upon hearing the verdict of the court that the admiralty has cleared him of blame in the loss of the Bounty and that commended his seamanship in getting his crew to safety in a small launch with only a few days worth of supplies.
  • The Mutiny on the Bounty is one of the most famous examples of this trope.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: As the Bounty burns, Christian and the mutineers that accompanied him experience a moment of this which is clearly visible on their faces. Christian and the mutineers all know they threw away their careers and will never see their homes again.
  • National Geographic Nudity: The film has only a PG-rating despite the countless scenes of topless women and even a simulated sex scene during a fertility ritual. Because the individuals involved were Polynesians (for whom near-nudity was the norm), the scenes didn't get the censorship or R-rating that a similar showing of western people would have had.
  • No Honor Among Thieves: Bligh alludes to this before Christian casts him adrift, asking how Christian can command "this rabble" when Bligh couldn't, even when he had the law behind him. As it happens, the crew nearly mutinies against Christian, who has to keep order with a pistol before the Bounty finally makes landfall at Pitcairn Island.
  • No Party Like a Donner Party: Discussed by one of the sailors on Bligh's open boat, who suggests that the others do that with him after he dies. Bligh refuses, and they make landfall in Timor before it comes to that.
  • Pet the Dog: Both Bligh and Christian are flawed individuals, but both have their moments of decency as well.
    • On the open boat Bligh is doling out the pitiful amount of food they have (the carcass of a bird that got caught in the sails). When asked who gets each piece, he goes through the officers one by one. Purcell angrily shouts that the officers shouldn't be treated special with their limited food and some of the regular men haven't had anything in days. Bligh shows how he's grown-instead of punishing him for his outburst (as he would have before he lost the Bounty), he orders his share of the food given to Purcell, indicating that he's learned that discipline must be tempered with kindness.
    • Christian insists that neither Bligh nor those loyal to him are to be killed or physically harmed, and he gives Bligh just enough provisions to give him a fighting chance of survival at sea (though he assumed Bligh would just wind up stranded on a nearby island, as opposed to sailing nearly 4000 miles to Timor!)
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: Several examples.
    • For Bligh:[Overblown] instances of pettiness and yelling aside, Bligh is really quite lenient with his crew, far more than other British captains. If anything, that's (at least initially) the real problem; he lets them get away with far too much on Tahiti, and when he tries to make them shape up too quickly later on, it starts the chain of events that leads to the mutiny.
    • Boatswain William Cole. It's notable that while the mutineers hate Bligh and Fryer and take pleasure in tormenting some of the junior officers like Nelson, they're matter of fact when dealing with Botswain Cole, even though he was responsible for discipline on board the ship. They probably realized that Cole was just a sailor doing his duty, as opposed to the overbearing, power-hungry Bligh or the smarmy Fryer.
    • Admiral Hood. While Captain Greetham adopts a very hostile and confrontational manner when questioning Bligh, Admiral Hood is very fair and even handed, giving Bligh every opportunity to explain his own account of what happened.
  • Shown Their Work: Christian's "I am in Hell!" is a direct quote.
  • "Shut Up!" Gunshot: A mutinous sailor fires his flintlock pistol into the air when things start getting out of hand on deck, in the immediate aftermath of the mutiny.
  • Someone to Remember Him By: King Tynah treats his daughter's pregnancy like this. When he calls Christian to him to inform him she is pregnant, he thinks he's in trouble. But Tynah tells him that his daughter now has a piece of him that will always remain in Tahiti.
  • A Taste of the Lash: Captain Bligh orders the flogging of three sailors who attempt to jump ship and stay behind in Tahiti. Although he is within his rights to do this as a punishment for desertion, this decision helps lead the crew to mutiny.
  • They Call Me MISTER Tibbs!: The voyage starts off with Christian being on a First-Name Basis with Bligh, calling him "William" in private. However as relations become strained later in the voyage, Bligh objects to Christian calling him by his first name in private:
    Christian: William, about your decision to go around the Horn...
    Bligh: "William"? Not "sir"? Not "captain"? "William".
  • Time-Passage Beard: After weeks at sea most everybody with Bligh on the open boat has long, unkempt beards.
  • To Be Lawful or Good: One of the primary themes of the film is the need to uphold naval discipline as opposed to individual welfare, and the necessity for sacrifice in both cases.
  • Villainous Breakdown: Bligh slowly loses control after they set sail from Tahiti. As he tries to instill discipline in the men (thinking it is what he needs to save the ship) they just see him in a worse and worse light. He finally completely loses it over stolen coconuts-ranting and raving and screaming at the men and ordering them fed half rations in retaliation. His breakdown is the final straw for Fletcher to commit mutiny.
  • We Used to Be Friends: As Bligh puts it, "I hope never to see Fletcher Christian again, unless to see him hang. How could he have betrayed my friendship towards him?"
  • What the Hell, Hero?: The king of Tahiti is horrified and disgusted after Christian returns to the island and tells him what they've done, mostly because he's afraid the British will blame his people for it.
  • Wooden Ships and Iron Men
  • Young Future Famous People: Peter Heywood, as a young and unfit junior officer. And ultimately, years later, one of the best hydrographers of his times.