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Film / The Eagle (2011)

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The Eagle is a 2011 film based upon the Rosemary Sutcliff historical novel The Eagle of the Ninth.

Channing Tatum stars as a young Roman soldier named Marcus Flavius Aquila goes on a quest to find the eagle standard of his father. His father was a member of the Ninth Legion, which disappeared without a trace from northern Britain. The film is loosely based on the mystery of the real Roman Ninth Legion, which disappears from the historical record after having last been mentioned as present in Scotland in the early 2nd century.

This film provides examples of:

  • Adaptational Attractiveness: Marcus, played by Channing Tatum.
  • Adaptation Title Change: The title was shortened from the original title of the book The Eagle of the Ninth.
  • An Aesop: Honor Before Reason is both good and bad, as it's the reason why Esca and Marcus survive through the film, but the things done in the name of avenging honor are shown to be violent and possibly ultimately pointless.
  • Artistic License – History:
    • The Scottish locals, whatever they are trying to represent, borrow more from Native American in prop and costume design than from Celtic people. In particular, as the director admitted, the "Seal People" are downright based upon Inuit people.
    • Roman names were composed of a praenomen or first name, a nomen or surname, and if the person in question was notable, a cognomen or nickname. "Lucius Caius Metellus" could not be a real Roman name, as it is composed of two praenomen and a nomen.
    • Clothing. Marcus has dinner with several important Romans while dressed himself as a Celt, with shirt and bracae pants, in contrast to his colleagues' Roman togas. Showing up to a meeting with high-class Romans dressed like a barbarian would have been considered uncouth. This is particularly odd given that Marcus does wear a toga at several points of the film, including a few scenes before. Although this may actually be less of an inaccuracy than it seems (at least in the British setting) and the scene may be a survivor of screen testing-influenced changes to the film during production. According to the film's historical advisor, originally not all the Roman characters wore togas all the time because, indeed, historically that actually was not the case. But early test audiences found it difficult to differentiate between the Romans and the Britons without the tell-tale togas, so scenes were reshot with togas in them to make the differentiation between characters easier. It's quite possible that originally that scene simply portrayed the same mixture of clothes styles the Romans were intended to wear all throughout the film.
    • The testudo formation was used mainly to protect against ranged attacks while moving slowly, not to charge randomly against enemies who seem to have only swords and axes. This formation was particularly bad for the latter purpose, as it packed the men together so much that they could not engage in hand-to-hand with all the ease required.
  • Bait-and-Switch: When he recovers the Eagle, Marcus engages a masked figure who'd earlier been displaying the Eagle. The man wears the ring of Marcus's father, and Marcus has discovered that some Romans have turned British. He rips off the mask... and sees it's just the Seal King. To finally settle the matter, the Seal King responds to Marcus' demands saying that he took the ring after killing his father, who implored for his life like a coward (he does so in his own language, which Marcus does not understand, and Esca gives a false translation to not hurt his companion).
  • Big Brother Instinct: Esca seems to feel a degree of this towards the Seal Prince's son, probably due to him missing his own younger brothers who were killed by the Romans.
  • Category Traitor: Esca is clearly considered this by the Seal Prince when he helps Marcus escape with the Eagle. Later the Prince significantly kills his son for not waking him (at Esca's request) in front of them, saying it's the punishment for traitors.
  • The Cavalry: The Ninth Legion, coming to Marcus' aid at the end before the Seal warriors attack.
  • Chekhov's Boomerang: The chin-strap scar. First crops up in a blink-and-you'll-miss-it shot, then is repeatedly used as an identifying mark for Roman legionaries.
  • Darker and Edgier: Than the original novel. The film ups the amount of actual fighting considerably from the original novel, nor was there any infanticide originally.
  • Death of a Child: Both the Rogue Warrior's and the Seal Prince's son getting their lives taken on screen.
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?: Tribal warriors with war-paint and suspiciously Mohawk-ish haircuts chasing after someone from another tribe and someone from The Empire across miles and miles of unspoilt wilderness: Last of the Mohicans anyone? The Seal Prince even dies the same way as Magua in the 1936 film adaptation.
  • Gory Discretion Shot: We see the young boy only from behind when he gets his throat slit.
  • Hollywood Tactics:
    • A scythed chariot would not stand a chance in hell against well-formed heavy infantry, let alone legionaries. Marcus letting his troops turn around and run is the worst thing he could have done. Doubly so, seeing as the Romans had developed an extremely effective method of repelling cavalry. Possibly justified because the roman sortie didn't bring along their pila for some reason, so they wouldn't have been able to use this method, though. Also, chariots were intended to scare foot soldiers into running, and Romans were also unfamiliar with them as they had fallen out of use pretty much everywhere else in the known world.
    • The use of the tortoise formation (meant for withstanding ranged attacks) to charge a line of infantry.
  • Honor Before Reason: Pretty much everyone.
    • Marcus undertakes the very dangerous hunt for the eponymous Eagle in hostile territory assisted only by a slave who has a fairly strong incentive to murder him and take off, all in the name of his family's honor.
    • Esca, the slave in question, has no particular incentive not to simply kill Marcus and leave; the only reason he doesn't, despite ample opportunities to do so, is because he gave his word.
  • Human Sacrifice: The Seal People sacrificed the Roman officers they captured in battle.
  • I Owe You My Life: Because Marcus saved Esca, the latter feels duty-bound to serve him. This despite wanting to die.
  • I Will Only Slow You Down: Marcus and Esca have this talk when the former is incapable of moving on.
  • Lost Roman Legion: As noted above, based on the legend of the Ninth Legion, which disappeared from the historical record and has puzzled historians for centuries.
  • Meaningful Funeral: Of the Romans that died during the Final Battle, Guern gets a special burial treatment.
  • Meaningful Name: Marcus's last name Aquila is the Latin word for eagle.
  • Mirroring Factions: The Roman and the Britons; both are quite capable of barbarism and nobility towards themselves and others, both have a thriving slave trade, both factions have some kind of evil aristocrat (Seal King and Placidius), and both 'worship' the Eagle as a symbol of their people and their military prowess. Marcus and the Seal Prince, his Shadow Archetype, have a more personal one: they both treat their peers politely, but have a disdain for slaves, they both set out to avenge the loss of the Eagle (just a hunk of metal) as well as the deaths of their fathers, and when both Kick the Dog, they display some humanity in spite of it (Marcus performing it like a mercy kill, the Prince laying his victim down with dignity.) This is symbolized by the fact that the Prince, who spends most of the movie with war-paint, has it washed off in the end, at which point he kind of resembles Marcus. Also, the music playing when the Druid beheads one of the patrol is the same as when Esca is forced to fight in the arena. The song is called 'Barbarians'.
  • My Sister Is Off-Limits: When Marcus is made a slave he is made to gut fish and sees some pretty young women walk by. They giggle over the attractive slave and Marcus like the attention he gets. Suddenly the Seal Prince shows up and starts to beat up Marcus: one of the women was his sister.
  • Offing the Offspring: The Seal Prince kills his son because the boy lets Esca and Marcus get away instead of waking him.
  • The Queen's Latin: Averted. The Britons speak with British accents, the Romans speak with American accents.
  • Redemption Equals Death: Guern, who abandoned Marcus' father on the battlefield, eventually dies defending Marcus during the final confrontation with the Seal warriors. He gets a deserved Meaningful Funeral.
  • Sacred Hospitality: The native Britons don't - at first - make any serious effort to kill Marcus because Esca is their guest and has claimed Marcus as his property.
  • Scarily Competent Tracker: The Seal Prince is able to hunt Marcus and Esca based on just a few things they left behind, like a strand of cloth on a branch.
  • Shoot the Dog: Or "kill the boy." Notable in that the primary protagonist and the primary antagonist both do this.
    • The chief difference is this, though: when Marcus goes to slit the Rogue Warrior boy's throat, even he, after lecturing Esca, hesitates before eventually going through with it. There was also the risk of the boy running off and coming back with reinforcements, so there was a sense of pragmatism. When the Seal Prince shoots his dog, he's not only doing it for really no reason at all, but he's slitting the throat of his own son!
  • Shown Their Work:
    • Two examples are Marcus's religious beliefs (he's a follower of Mithras, which was an actual god worshiped in the late Roman Empire) and the medal that he gets for his actions in the field (which was an actual medal given for deeds of valor in the field.)
    • One soldier complains about the helmets and is seen with an injury on his chin. There are many accounts of soldiers complaining about the laces from the helmets cutting into their chins.
    • A blink-and-you-miss-it example that probably only true Roman archaeology geeks can appreciate: the film's historical advisor says the tableware is spot on.
  • Soldier vs. Warrior: The Romans, with their highly organized society and military, represent the "soldier", while the Britons, with their comparatively more disorganized society and fighters, represent the "warrior". This is best exemplified during the battle in the first act, where the Romans march out to face them in an ordered formation, while the Britons charge screaming haphazardly into battle.
  • Sympathetic Slave Owner: Marcus and his Briton slave Esca go on an extended quest in which the possibilities of murder and escape come up, and their positions are reversed when they finally meet Esca's tribe. But Marcus' compassionate and trusting treatment of his slave to that point is then rewarded.
  • Translation Convention: Romans speak in American accents, Britons speak in British accents or in Gaelic.
  • Would Hurt a Child: Both Marcus and the Seal Prince kill boys in the film. Marcus to stop him bringing other Rogue Warriors, the Seal Prince as the punishment for betrayal (the boy is his son in fact).