The Brave Coward

Understanding Strength Through Usopp from One Piece

“Romance Dawn” is the title of One Piece’s first chapter published in July 1997. While One Piece tackles many different topics, themes, and ideas, at its core it’s a story about romance. By romance, I refer to the wider notion of romance, the feeling of excitement and mystery beyond everyday life, the longing of following one’s dreams. In its essence, One Piece is the ultimate romanticised pirate adventure. The world of One Piece is inhabited by sea monsters, giants, humans with superpowers, talking animals, angels, and self-proclaimed gods. Amidst all of that, there is also Usopp, the sniper of the Straw Hat Crew. He is a weakling, a coward, a liar and most of the time, a crybaby. The polar opposite of what a great pirate is supposed to be, right? Except that I think, he is one of the bravest and most powerful characters in the entire series.

While the Straw Hat Pirates all travel together, they each have individual dreams they strive for. In Usopp’s case, this entails becoming a brave warrior of the sea, similar to the giants he unwaveringly idolizes. The only problem: he is neither as physically strong as a warrior nor is he brave in the common sense of the word. In fact, he often hides behind his lies and comrades when facing a superior enemy. As their journey progresses, it is only natural for their enemies to get stronger as well. After barely avoiding a near-death situation on Long Ring Long Land trying to protect Robin, he recognises his uselessness. Usopp convinces himself that he, like their ship, won’t reach their final destination. He leaves the crew because he doesn’t want to drag them down. His understanding of strength is ignorant. Strength isn’t limited to physical power. As Sanji points out later, he should focus on what he can do. Through the persona of Sniper King, he uses his lies as a source of internal strength, allowing him to stand at his comrades’ side again. While his strength isn’t remarkable, his reach as a sniper is, allowing him to play a crucial part in Robin’s rescue. The idea of strength gets perfectly contrasted by Spandam, the antagonist of this story arc who fittingly gets defeated by Usopp. Spandam has no power of his own. He only wields power in the form of the buster call and CP9 members, representing everything Usopp doesn´t want to be.  

By understanding his weaknesses, Usopp gains new strength. However, his understanding of Sanji’s words remained incomplete until the Straw Hats reach the island of love and passion, Dressrosa. Once more, he finds himself facing the aftermath of his lies while being the only one who can still complete their mission to knock out Sugar and break the country’s distortion. Overwhelmed by his anxiety and guilt over betraying the Tontatta Tribe’s trust, he realizes the greater meaning behind Sanji’s advice. Not do what only you can do but do everything you can do. He understands that he can’t hide behind his mask forever, dropping it and his lies with it. Through honesty, he pulled off a miracle so great the people who witness it literally titled him God afterwards. This development in character is represented by his bounty poster changing from Sniper King to God Usopp. For him to achieve his dream and become a great warrior of the sea, he must become an honest one.

There are many lessons we can learn by examining the character of Usopp but for me, it is oddly comforting to see a character in this larger-than-life setting struggling with the same mundane things I struggle with on a daily basis: battling with and ultimately overcoming his nature even in the face of great adversity.

Author: Michael Felber

The Lighthouse – a Unique Masterpiece of Modern Cinema

Two lighthouse keepers are losing their sanity while being trapped on a faraway island. This is all I knew about the movie The Lighthouse before watching the actual trailer. Despite thinking I was all set up for watching the teaser, my mind still got blown as director Robert Eggers really takes the cake here! First, all you hear is the sound of a foghorn blaring while staring at a black screen and you get an instant claustrophobic feeling. Then, a black and white vintage shot of a lighthouse; Robert Pattinson and Willem Dafoe, who look like weather-beaten 19th century sailors, are gazing into the camera. I don’t want to reveal too much but what follows is an uproarious roller coaster ride of images as you see an ax-wielding psychopath, tentacles, an eerie mermaid and much more horror madness.  It leaves you puzzled as to what you have just seen and I can promise you one thing: you are hooked and intrigued right away!

They Did it Again: Psychological Horror at its Finest

If you decide to check out this flick, its imagery, setting and symbolism will be stamped in your mind long after you left your TV. Eggers’ psychological horror movie isn’t just more than worth seeing, it also breathes new life into an industry which has left us progressively with trite and dull movies over the past years.

With the film’s release in October 2019, it’s no surprise that no less studio than A24 is behind that project; a company which is well-known for highly renowned and well lauded productions of independent movies such as Midsommar (2019), Hereditary (2018) and Moonlight (2016). Just looking at these films, it’s almost certain that The Lighthouse  delivers what it promises.

“What’s a Timber Man Want with Being a Wickie?”- Disorientation as the Goal

Vaguely based on an unfinished short story by Edgar Allan Poe, the plot is set on a remote, storm-wrecked lighthouse in New England during the 19th century. Ephraim Winslow’s (Robert Pattinson’s)  adventure is to get underway as he decides to quit his job as a timberman and starts his first day working for a contentious, gross and elderly man named Thomas Wake (William Defoe) as he wants to learn the ropes of being a wickie (old term for lighthouse keeper). Wake orders Winslow around with daily annoying duties, while always making clear that he is at the helm. As he heads up to the lantern room, he forbids Winslow to ever go up there.  In the course of time, the audience can see how Winslow evolves, unveils his dark secrets and eventually dips into madness. He becomes obsessed with what happens at the top of the lighthouse and at some point, the viewer asks himself which one of the guys goes crazier and who’s still to trust.

It’s amazing how Robert Eggers has managed to make the film look so authentic. From a technical point of view, it was a brilliant idea to shoot the film in a gray 1.19:1 aspect ratio in order to magnify the dark, gloomy and claustrophobic atmosphere. The old-time sailor’s dialect of the actors is flawless and their sledgehammer performance did leave me speechless, for example, when Thomas spells a biblically, dramatic and few minutes long curse upon Winslow only because he was not fond of his lobster. All this provides an experience unlike anything you have seen before and makes the movie so unique.

What’s the Meaning?

The most enjoyable part for me personally is that there is no fixed interpretation or message behind the story. Intentionally, the gist of the movie remains blurry as there are many hints and signs unpretentiously hidden. One can surely find psychological, sexual and/or homoerotic themes; however, I was mostly amazed by the Greek mythical references as Winslow could be portrayed as Prometheus, the titan who got punished for stealing the fire from Zeus in order for mankind’s benefit. The light is seen as a metaphor for enlightenment such as, on a more straightforward level, the light of the lighthouse illuminates the night and guides the ships through darkness. 

A Timeless Film – Not for Everyone

Even though the movie satisfies my cinematic needs in every way, I do have to admit that it isn’t a film for everyone since some people could perceive it as too brutal or blend in its story. If you’re someone who rather aims for movies which are easier to digest and jollier, The Lighthouse wouldn’t particularly be the right choice for you. However, if you like extraordinary and artistic movies which pluck up the courage to try something new and even write a piece of film history with their exceptional style then go ahead with all sails set and watch the movie. You won’t regret it!

author: Mariana Silva Lindner

“Don’t make me grow up before my time” – The Timelessness of Little Women

„I just feel like, women, they have minds, and they have souls, as well as just hearts. And they’ve got ambition, and they’ve got talent, as well as just beauty. And I’m so sick of people saying that love is just all a woman is fit for. I’m so sick of it!”, Saoirse Ronan says with tears in her eyes, “But I’m so lonely.” Now I’m also crying. In case you’re wondering where this quote is from – it’s Greta Gerwig’s Little Women. The film hit US cinemas on Christmas Day last year, was nominated for seven Oscars and finally came to Germany in late January. Since then I’ve actually watched it twice at the movies, that’s how good it is.

Originally, Little Women is a children’s book by Louisa May Alcott that first came out in 1868 and received a second volume a year later. The book is considered a classic and has been filmed and re-filmed several times. Even though it came out forever ago, I managed to get half the people I know hooked on it. Here’s why you should do the same.

“Just because my dreams are different than yours, it doesn’t mean they’re unimportant.”

Little Women tells the tale of the lower middle-class March family: the father is away fighting in the American Civil War, and mother Marmee takes care of their four daughters by herself. The Little Women couldn’t be any more different in personality and life goals. The second volume Good Wives portrays them as young women who are trying to accomplish said goals.

There is Jo, an aspiring writer who does not want to get married. Yet, she has to come to realize that everyone around her seems to be changing: her family and friends all grow up, think of marriage and children and she keeps clinging to the past.

Her youngest sister Amy was probably the least liked sister to most readers prior to the 2019 movie. She’s an artist-to-be, at times annoying and vain and has her mind set on marrying rich. The movie actually manages to turn her into a fan-favourite.

The oldest sister Meg is more of a romantic – she gets married at a very young age and faces the kind of problems you would expect: child keeping and making jam. The usual.

Last, we have Beth. She is a very shy character and is the kind soul of the family. Luckily for her, she is always supported by her sisters and they would all happily throw a punch for her.

The movie very beautifully combines the stories from their childhood and alternates them with the ones from their adulthood. The flashbacks are tinted in warm, rosy colours, whereas the present ones are rather blueish and cold. This alternation manages to bring together innocence and growth, as well as optimism and reality.

“Girls have to go into the world and make up their own minds about things.”

Little Women in itself is a timeless story, especially regarding its themes and topics. For one, you have a differentiated portrayal of feminism, which is even more amazing considering that the book was written in the 1860s. It will positively break your heart (to quote my brother at the movies, crying: “You should have told me it was going to be so sad! You can’t let me watch this without warning me first!”).

Another theme is the whole growing up business. You know … the one you’re probably also trying really hard to figure out. There’s this movie scene where Amy says “I’m a failure” and Laurie replies “That’s quite a statement to make at twenty.” The story reflects really well the struggles of becoming An AdultTM and figuring out who you are, while also dealing with a constant shortage of money, time and sleep (please tell me it’s not just me).

The film manages to literally convey all of this in two hours. Yet, if you are still doubtful about whether you really need to watch the movie, let me mention the cast – a movie that has Emma Watson, Saoirse Ronan, Florence Pugh, Timothée Chalamet and Meryl Streep should be worth watching regardless of its content. And I stand by that.

author: Lea Metzner