Examining the Spiritual Elements #1 – Soldier (1998)

 

Hello and welcome to Episode 2 of Think Spiritual.

My name is Mark and you’ll be listening to me for the next 30 minutes or slightly less depending how long I ramble during this opening segment.

What you are about to listen to, or watch, is the first installment in my Examining the Spiritual Elements of Movies series.

I actually created this talk during the first week of November 2017 and it really began as part of my desire to create an interesting YouTube video series – something I had wanted to do for almost 10 years, but could never find my niche nor subject matter that I truly cared about.

When I finished my video on the movie Soldier, I felt I had created something important. I was proud of doing something a little bit different and something that had some real meaning – at least from my point of view.

I completed 4 videos on various spiritual-based subjects before it hit me…why couldn’t I turn all of these talks and videos into a podcast? I had subject matter I was passionate about, I had material, I had the technical know-how. It all seemed to come together at once and now I’m standing here talking to you unable to figure out why this didn’t happen sooner.

Well, that’s because there is a time for everything. A lot of things in my personal and emotional development had to fall into place before I knew what direction to take these dreams of mine.

Anyway, those original 4 videos are going to be the pilot episodes of the Think Spiritual podcast and I almost can’t wait to get through them because I have some great new material lined up as well. However, there is no rush.

I hope you like this episode. I mostly hope you get something out of it. I really enjoyed making it and I’m extremely proud of the final result. Let’s examine the spiritual elements of the 1998 Paul Anderson film, Soldier, starring Kurt Russell shall we?

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Let me address the obvious question that you are likely asking: “Why in the world would this guy say there is spiritual content in this crap of a blockbuster flop movie?” Well, the answer is this: Soldier is a very deep, very powerful drama masquerading as an action flick. The action serves a purpose, but it is not the focal-point of the movie. The fact is, this movie was too smart for its target audience and therefore was panned as being “routine”, “cliche”, “clanging” and “formulaic”.

When I watch a movie I do not focus on the brilliance or mistakes made by the people who created it. I judge movies based on how they make me feel. If movies make me feel uncomfortable or disturbed or if they make me feel nothing at all, then I tend not to like them. If they make me think and make me run through the gamut of emotions then I tend to love them. If I find that a certain character resonates with me then I really love that movie and that is exactly why Soldier sits within my list of favourites: I completely relate with the main character, Todd, and all of the character growth he experiences throughout this movie.

My opinions about this movie are personally biased and they are simply just that: my opinions. Everything that follows is my interpretation of this film. If the creators of the movie intended any of the material to actually be interpreted in this manner, then my hat is off to them for doing so.

I also realize that any piece of art can be picked to death in attempts to determine what the artist “really meant” when they created it. Again, my intent here is to explain the portions of the film that, for me, have great significance.

Anyway, let me assign an overall theme to this movie and then I will lead you down the garden path and show you all the nuances that led me to this conclusion. There are other themes in this movie that I will briefly touch upon, but the primary one I want to examine is this:

Soldier is about coming to terms with one’s own past. If you do not believe me, follow along and see how you feel by the end of my diatribe.

The movie starts in a maternity ward. Baby boys are being chosen by hard-looking military men for some unknown reason. The next scene reveals that these boys are being raised in what is called the “Adam Project”. They are being indoctrinated with constant audio propaganda and with violence by being forced to watch animals fight to the death. The main character, Todd, is introduced here and it quickly becomes clear that he is the strongest and smartest of all of the boys. He excels at every test and is the perfect model of non-emotion.

This is made especially clear during a target-practice session using dummies. Some of the dummies are “innocents” and some are “the enemy”. When an “innocent” dummy shields an “enemy” the boy beside Todd takes his finger off the gun’s trigger. Todd fires straight through the “innocent” dummy to take out the “enemy” without any hesitation. This is an action he later repeats during a real campaign with real people.

However, before those real campaigns begin, Todd must “graduate”. He is given his rank, insignia and his number, 3465, at the age of seventeen and from that moment on he is nothing more and nothing less than a Soldier.

I will assert here that this entire “training” sequence could be a commentary on how we raise and educate children in Western society today. Not that we are excessively harsh with children, but we do “program” them to become labourers in a free-market society. However, I will leave that point there and not expound upon it.

Twenty-three years go by as Todd and his fellow Soldiers dutifully carry out every order that is given to them. This part of the movie is done rather quickly in order for the viewer to see that time is passing and that the Soldiers are, indeed, getting older.

And the Soldiers getting older becomes the crux of the matter here. There is a new, younger, stronger, faster, more enhanced batch of Soldiers being pitted against the original Adam Project group. They compete in various exercises and Todd 3465 is up against Caine 607 in a 15-mile run. Of course, Todd loses.

Todd and Caine are then sent “up the chains” along with two more of the Old Batch of Soldiers for a 3-on-1 aerial battle. Two of the old Soldiers are killed quickly by Caine, but Todd gains the upper hand for a moment and manages to take out one of Caine’s eyes. Caine does triumph though and sends Todd crashing 30 feet to the ground. Todd and the other two Soldiers are considered as “trash” and are literally thrown out in a garbage heap.

At this point I can finally stop with the opening exposition and get into the meat of this story, because this is where the real movie begins.

Even though Todd is obviously still alive, he did certainly “die” when he hit the ground. The old Todd is dead and a new Todd “awakens” to the reality of life on a garbage planet called Arcadia. Todd is dumped out of the space-going garbage scow and onto a completely foreign environment. He is the “stranger in a strange land” at this point. He is confused and he gets continually more and more injured by this strange new place.

He eventually stumbles his way into a human settlement – the passengers of a colony ship that flew off course and crashed 12 years earlier – but the environment raises its ugly fist again and sends him crashing down some stairs and into their lives.

The people know that Todd is a Soldier and they are afraid of him, but they also feel that accepting him and taking care of him while he is injured is the “right thing to do”.

Enter Sandra. Here is the first soft, caring person that Todd has ever had in his life. Some people may look at this movie and think his glances and interactions with her are sexual in nature, but this is absolutely not the case—except, perhaps, in some Freudian manner. The truth of the matter is that Sandra is the Mother archetype and the only mother-type that Todd has ever had. She talks to Todd gently and treats him gently. She teaches him the very basics of survival on Arcadia: from planting vegetables to cooking meals.

Todd also learns from her that one can be soft as well as strong when he sees Sandra kill one of the venomous serpents in the garden. She does so quickly and efficiently and it should be noted here that the serpents in the film are a very clear metaphor for fear.

Sandra’s husband, Mace, also acts as one of Todd’s teachers, but his role is more understated and he is not a Father to Todd.

Sandra and Mace have one son, Nathan. Nathan’s role is extremely poetic in this movie. Nathan is totally silent. He cannot speak due to a long illness caused by a bite from one of the venomous serpents. However, the role of Nathan here is not to play the son, but to represent Todd’s repressed inner child and Todd’s lost innocence.

I do want to highlight something visually important here: about a half-hour into the movie there is a really lovely montage that has the intent of expressing a lot of what Todd is experiencing and it hints at the first signs of new growth within him.

After the montage we get an extremely powerful moment between Todd and Sandra. Todd is cutting carrots for dinner and he cuts his finger with the knife. After minimal pause he just keeps cutting away – no reaction to the cut, the pain or the blood. Sandra sees this and takes Todd’s hand. This is significant because it is likely the first time he has ever been touched with any kind of tenderness. She bandages his wound and then she asks him what it is like to be a Soldier.

She asks him what he thinks about. She asks him what he feels.

No one has ever asked him these questions before. No one has ever been kind to him. No one has ever bandaged his wounds in care for him as a person. Being patched up after battles was likely more akin to vehicle repair and maintenance rather than any kind of healing act.

This is all new to him and for a brief moment he glances over at Nathan who is sitting and playing in the background: this moment is the inner child being given a voice and being allowed to speak for the first time about what he feels:

 

“Fear,” he answers her.

“Fear?” Sandra questions.

“Fear and discipline,” he responds.

“Now?” Sandra is shocked.

“Always,” says Todd.

 

Sandra is so appalled by this answer that she tries to hug Todd assumingly to bring him some sense of comfort. Todd, though, has never been hugged before. It actually increases his fear to the point that he starts to shake – most likely in an effort not to flee the situation. Sandra releases the hug when she realizes he is uncomfortable with that amount of closeness.

The movie then cuts to a Christmas party and I particularly love this scene because I understand exactly how Todd is feeling in this situation. He sees Sandra and Mace and Nathan sharing the tender moment of opening gifts, he sees people laughing and dancing and having fun. The party is loud and raucous and, for Todd, it is completely overwhelming. There is too much input and the noise starts giving him PTSD-type flashbacks.

Todd disappears from the party. He cannot reconcile this new life he has with his old life. He cannot understand how he could have been the killing Soldier and now he is surrounded by friends and loving people.

But then the scene becomes especially beautiful because we see Todd watching the party through a skylight on the roof. He still wants to participate, but he needs to do it from a distance so it doesn’t overwhelm him. He watches the revelry for a while and then he sits back to think and reflect on everything that he is experiencing and feeling.

The next day reveals the result of Todd’s genuflecting. He has set up a steel fuel-tank as a punching bag and he is tearing into it. Sandra tells others that he is “exercising”, but I think the better word here is “exorcising”—as in casting out demons. For the first time in his life Todd is angry.

As he punches the steel, memories of his life flash through his mind. How he was treated as a child. What he was forced to hear, what he was forced to do, how he was forced to be. And then he is flashing back to battles and things he did simply because he was ordered to do so. He is probably realizing at this point that nobody forced him to do anything, it just seemed that way. So, his anger is focused on the people who made him what he was and on himself for not being different and choosing a better path.

Again, I have personally experienced chains of emotions very similar to these.

Then Todd does what so many of us do when we are absorbed in our misery and when we are angry: he accidentally lashes out at someone he cares about. He nearly kills one of the only friends he has ever had; someone who really looks up to him.

Todd realizes his mistake just in time and releases his friend, but the damage is done in this case and the settlement members begin to question whether Todd is capable of living amongst them for much longer.

The scene of Todd beating the fuel tank continues, but now Todd is exhausted. His hands are bloodied, the rags he was using for gloves are shredded. He is wore out and tired of fighting. Pay attention here to where he drops his hands because it is so noteworthy. Todd surrenders and lets go of his anger. He realizes that his anger is only hurting himself and others close to him now. He realizes that nothing more can be done about the situation. That was then and this is the here and now.

Moving on to the next scene, we see Todd and Nathan together. Nathan shows Todd that he has solved a puzzle game that he has been working on—this is significant imagery of Todd unlocking another emotional puzzle within himself. As Nathan turns around to leave he sees that one of the green, venomous snakes is in the room. As mentioned before, Nathan was almost killed by one of these creatures and he is extremely afraid of them.

Todd reacts instantly, but not in the way you might expect. He throws a heavy boot to Nathan and motions for the child to pick it up. Nathan doesn’t move. Todd then pantomimes clobbering the snake with the boot. Nathan still doesn’t move. Todd smacks the boot on the bed again, but now the snake strikes out at Nathan. Todd, however, is there to save the boy. He catches the snake in mid-air, but then he tosses it back in the corner and nods to the boy to go and kill it with the boot.

Unfortunately, Sandra and Mace only see this last part happen. Mace kills the snake and demands to know what Todd was doing. Todd, of course, makes no response. His training and conditioning really do not allow for him to speak up for himself.

I chose to describe this scene in a little more detail than some others partly because there is a lot going on here within a short span of time and partly because this is a really strong moment between Todd and Nathan.

As I have already pointed out, Nathan represents Todd’s inner child: the child who never got to be. Also remember that Todd said that he always feels afraid when he voiced how the child inside him feels. When Todd tosses the boot to Nathan he is saying, “You don’t have to be afraid anymore. Don’t worry, I am here with you. We are in this together. Kill the snake. Kill your fear.”

The inner child does not understand this quite yet. He has not quite embraced the idea that he is now this big, powerful man. To him the world is still a big, scary place.

With Mace and Sandra now angry with him, Todd has no one to speak for him at  the village council and he is asked to leave the settlement.

This gives us one further significant scene before the bulk of the action comes into play. As Todd sits in a sheltered area alone and lonely and most likely believing that he is incapable of living any type of quote-unquote normal life, he begins to cry. He is actually confused by the tears and touches his face to figure out what this water is.

The beautiful moment is this: he doesn’t try to stop crying. Todd lets the tears flow and actually feels his grief and pain. It is so important to understand that when Todd has emotional reactions that he does not judge them nor try to stop them from happening. Everytime it happens he just feels the emotion and works through it. It is a lesson we all need to embrace and practice.

Back at the settlement, Nathan actually rescues his parents from one of the serpents by pulling it off their bed and killing it with a heavy boot. Sandra and Mace realize that Todd had been trying to teach their son an important lesson, not trying to harm him. Mace runs to find Todd and invite him back to stay.

When Mace finds Todd and apologizes it happens right at as a patrol ship carrying the new batch of Soldiers lands on Arcadia. There were previous scenes explaining how this came to be in more detail, but I skipped over them as they add nothing to the emotional content of the story. Hopefully this does not cause you any confusion.

Todd knows that this arrival is an ominous event. The Soldiers are not there to rescue the people, they are merely there for training exercises and they will exterminate anyone in their path. This is an interesting point in Todd’s new life as this is the first time that he knows what is going on and no one else does, thus we get a bit of a shift in his demeanor.

Todd tells Mace to run and they do, but they are fired upon. Mace is mortally wounded and as he dies, he begs Todd to protect Sandra and Nathan. Todd promises in his usual silent manner, but the look on his face says it all: the Soldiers have killed his friend, now it is personal.

We see a slightly different Todd here as he kills the first three Soldiers that have entered the settlement. He is in his element. He is in command. No one else can do what needs to be done. He is efficient and ruthless. He is exactly what his puppet-masters made him to be, but they no longer control him.

Thinking they are up against a significant amount of resistance, the rest of the Soldiers withdraw in order to make their counter-attack under cover of darkness. Most of the fighting and killing sequences are only here to make this the action movie it is supposed to be, but before that begins we get one more really nice scene between Todd and Sandra and Nathan.

Todd is getting ready to fight the rest of the unit and Nathan finds Todd stockpiling and loading weapons taken off of the dead Soldiers. This is the inner child, without fear, seeing the grown Soldier for the first time. He accepts that this is necessary and that this is what he has become. This is the moment he was trained for. This is the time when all of that pain and suffering can be put to use to fight for something he truly believes in. He’s hasn’t been ordered to go and do this. He is doing it because he wants to. Because it is the right thing to do. Because he is the only one who can do something about it.

There is even a short conversation between Sandra and Todd that could be construed as the man leaving the care of his mother. He claims he has to do this on his own, she cannot coddle him any longer.

Then, as Todd puts on a few streaks of camouflage, we see the Soldier fully formed. He has fully integrated his new life with his old life. It does not mean that he is a Soldier forever and that is all he will ever be. It means that he is a Soldier right now because that is what he needs to be right now.

I must admit here that I do love the line Todd speaks, “I’m going to kill them all, sir.” It appeals to the brute within me.

The fighting commences and I will not bother running through any of the exposition here. Suffice it to say that Todd triumphs over the other Soldiers and there is, of course, one final, epic battle between Todd and his nemesis, Caine 607. I suppose this fight could be viewed as a battle between the Old Todd and the New Todd, but I do not see it that way. Instead, what I see as Todd prevails over Caine is a moment of compassion and mourning. Todd wraps Caine in a headlock and as Caine expresses fear for the first time, Todd expresses sorrow and mourns for Caine’s sad existence and the necessity of killing him. He breaks Caine’s neck and then lowers him so gently to the ground: as if he were his closest friend and not his mortal enemy.

With the enemy vanquished, Todd and the villagers take over the patrol ship, kick out what is left of the bad guys (two of his previous commanding officers and a smarmy colonel) and they head for space and the Trinity Moons – the place the villagers were headed 12 years earlier. A typical, happy, Hollywood ending.

I will not go into the entire metaphor of leaving the planet of garbage where we struggle and wallow and sailing to paradise. That is almost an entirely new video! I will leave that for you to consider on your own.

There is one final salient segment to focus on. Nathan makes his way to the bridge of the ship to find Todd. When he gets there, he raises his arms up in the gesture of asking Todd to pick him up. Here is the inner child finally ready to embrace the Man. Todd picks Nathan up and the two of them look out a window upon the stars.

Todd has come to terms with his past. The Man and the inner child are now at peace; each fully accepting who and what they were and who and what they have become.

What we see happening in Todd’s life throughout this movie is a drastic change in character and personal understanding that can happen to anyone who has an experience that awakens their sleeping consciousness. The person is living their “normal” existence, they have an awakening experience—which tends to be traumatic in nature—and they become something new and different from what they once were. Soldier is the classic Hero’s Journey mythology in every sense, but I believe that the creators of this movie went above and beyond in their attempts to display Todd’s awakening consciousness. Whether that was the intent or not it was beautifully executed.

This is a story we see over and over again and we need to keep seeing it because the majority of people seeing it are still not comprehending it.

Todd is the Hero archetype who takes the left-hand path and becomes something different than what he was before. He did not ask to take this journey—one rarely chooses the difficult road—and he did not know where it was going to lead, but he clearly wound up in a better place in spite of all the pain and suffering he experienced.

And there we have it. My interpretation of the spiritual and deeply emotional elements I see within the movie Soldier and, thus, why I love this movie.

How do you feel about my conclusions. Do you agree? Do you disagree? Let me know in the comments or send me a message. Also, let me know what movies have great significance in your life. I have a lot more on my list and I hope to tell you about them for as long as I am willing to put effort into analyzing them. Thanks for listening. I appreciate the attention.

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