There are many different ways one can interpret or analyze the new Netflix film “King” (2019) with its cornucopia of themes: coming of age, Kingship, duty, honor in combat, court intrigue. This cinematic representation of Shakespeare’s play “Henry V” up to and a bit after the Battle of Agincourt has many coursing streams. The one I found most fascinating to sail down is the topic of understanding one’s own desires and goals against the gnawing interests of other men, as it lead me to introspection about my own means and ends.
The initial stages of the film show Prince Henry, or Hal as he is more routinely referred to as, slumming it with Falstaff. He’s renounced his claim to the throne and his ties to his father (the feeling was mutual), as he has grown disillusioned with petty court politics and instead decided to invest himself into drinking and dancing. However, he feels the tug of duty and drags himself back into the field of battle to help his brother, a boy barely into puberty, defeat Welsh rebels by challenging and defeating their leader Hotspur in one-on-one combat.
Fast forward a bit and Hal finds himself begrudgingly sitting on the throne of England after the death of both his father and younger brother. He states outright that he wishes to differ from his father in rule. Hal wishes to bring peace and stability to the Kingdom. However, King Henry finds himself ensnared in a web of court intrigue, feints, and games of cloak & dagger that leads him to declare war on France and the fighting at Agincourt. If you want to know about the particulars, watch the film. It is a good movie.
One doesn’t need to know about the particulars of anything to understand universals. King Henry states at the onset of his rule he wants peace, so how did he come to wage war on France? How was his initial attitude subverted by others to achieve his own goals? We see it so plainly on the screen. It lead me into questioning the premise of my own beliefs.
I remember when I considered myself a libertarian many years ago. I would take up strongly for many issues that wouldn’t be in direct benefit for me, or often, they would actually be detrimental to me. I argued against universal healthcare, though I had no health insurance. I argued against free college tuition, though I was taking out loans myself. I was arguing on the behalf of a 3,000 foot view of the market coming into some kind of equilibrium in which I would be better off in. Why?
I was arguing for the sake of ideology. I was adhering myself to the contours of this belief system that had no immediate benefit to me. My constant refrain was that it was admirable because I was sticking to the principles of the ideology and being consistent about it. Plus, it was Swiss army knife of easy answers to any kind of problem: let the market solve it.
If King Henry wanted peace, how did he find himself killing the Dauphin, marching to Paris, marrying the French princess and becoming the next in line to the French throne? How did I come to accept many situations that were detrimental to myself? Either my belief systems were perverted or I was lead to believe things that weren’t beneficial to me to begin with.
I stopped asking myself what I believed for the sake of ideology and started asking myself what I wanted. I then started asking why I wanted those things, and down the rabbit hole you go. There are no easy answers, or the answers you find you may detest as cliche universals. You may come to realize that you never really wanted peace to begin with, or at least not peace at the price that your for which opposition is asking. Better yet: why peace, when you can demand so much more?