The Legend of 1900–and the legends of our lives

According to Wikipedia, it is inspired by an Italian theater monologue. According to IMDB, it won fourteen awards, including a Golden Globe. However, it will take more than a few lines to accurate reflect a movie which is a symphony in itself. Even those who don’t appreciate the rhythm and chorus of jazz (this reviewer just being one) will be able to appreciate the intensity and vibrancy of the piano scenes.

The story is a simplistic yet intricate tale of a little boy who was found abandoned in the luxury cruise’s drawing room, and his later career as a pianist onboard the ship. Consumed partly by his insecurity, partly by his complacency, he never leaves the ship as he performs legendarily for the ship’s various passengers. The ‘legend’ of the boy who never grew up in his interior is narrated by the ship’s erstwhile trumpeter, Max Tooney, who, like the audience itself, cannot comprehend the pianist.

Misguided, demented or fractured pianists are among the cinematic world’s favorite characters. In Piano, Mute Helen Hunt spoke through the music of her piano, which served as humanity’s gift to compensate for her physical inabilities. It is rhythmic synchrony of another kind that relieved the disturbed mind of David Helfgott (Geoffrey Rush) in Shine. From Adrian Brody in Roman Polanski’s The Pianist, such disturbances come from externally. In the Legend of 1900, however, the mind of the eponymous pianist, 1900 (Tim Roth) is calmer than the oceans the ship, The Virginian, is sailing.
For him, the world is The Virginian and it is at rest. One by one, characters entered and exited his world’s stage, and yet, they leave discernable impacts on him. It is not that his dogmas change, but they only mature, convincing him that the life outside the ship matters but a little to him. His music is not his without his presence and even his life is not his without the ship.

The reviewer may be spoiling the film if he mentions 1900 goes down which the ship when it is finally exploded at sea. However, it is merely predictable and there are many other things to watch out for in this spectacularly entertaining 2-hour epic. Despite our differences in time and medium, the parallels between our lives and that of 1900 are eerily unmistakable. As he clung onto his life and resisted any changes to his routine, we also are clinging onto our own lives and our own little worlds. Love, friendship, success and competition change, define and limit 1900’s world and they do in our ‘wider’ real worlds.

Come to think of it, our worlds may not as wide as we imagine. The legend of the title may not even be about the myth or the story of the pianist. It can also be interpreted as the legend, or inscriptions 1900 imposed on his world, and we love to impose on our worlds. True, our worlds aren’t not ship-shaped, but no doubt defined as narrowly and as rigidly as one. The Legend of 1900 doesn’t tell us to change it. It just tells us why it may be futile to rebel against your world and by analogue, against yourself.


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