If you are not familiar with the story, Tom Cruise plays US Army Captain Nathan Algren, who becomes disillusioned by the way the post Civil War army is fighting indians in the American west so he takes a job in Japan to help train Japanese soldiers in modern weapons and tactics. He finds himself in the middle of a rebellion over there and gets captured by the leader of the traditionalist samurai faction that is resisting the changes in technology.
Cruise’s character is definitely a very flawed man. And there are some negative lessens in the movie such as the futility of resisting technological advances.
But I found a couple of positive lessons in the movie that just leaped out at me. The first one was this:
No matter how many times you get knocked down, get back up!
Captain Algren is nothing if not stubborn. Time and time again he simply refuses to stay down. In one scene shortly after he is captured by the samurai band (and while he is still recovering from his battle wounds) he picks up a wooden practice sword and faces off with one of the samurai masters for an impromptu sparing match.
He is obviously no match for the man who has trained with that weapon all his life. And our flawed Captain proceeds to get the ever loving tar beat out of himself. He could have stopped the beating at any time by simply staying down and allowing himself to be beaten.
But he stubbornly refuses and gets back up time and again.
It gets so bad that you can see even the other samurai seem to be hoping that he’ll just stay down to make it stop. But as long as he has the conscious will to press on, he gets back up.
It is this characteristic refusal to quit no matter the odds that eventually earns him the begrudging respect of his captors.
When I was watching this scene again I remember thinking how sometimes it may seem futile to get back up when you’ve been knocked down repeatedly. I chocked it up to a character flaw at first.
But later in the movie the Captain says something that made me realize that this character trait was part of his larger life philosophy and maybe I could learn something from it.
The samurai warlord is talking with our Captain as they are working out the best way to fight against the new weaponry. The leader of the samurai asks Captain Algren if he believes a man can change his destiny. Here is the reply he gives:
I believe a man does what he can until his destiny is revealed.
Think about that statement.
Whether or not things are prearranged by a higher power or not really isn’t our concern so much. If we press on and refuse to stay down, eventually our own destiny will be revealed to us.
Have you been knocked down recently? Get back up.
Are you tired and don’t feel you can go on? Get back up.
Do you feel like you want to scream and quit if you hear the word “No” one more time? Get back up.
Does the future look bleak to you right now with no apparent way to make it through? Get back up.
Press on. The truth is you don’t know what your future holds.
Yours may very well be a destiny of triumph over impossible odds. But the only way to meet that destiny of yours is to get back up one more time.
Take a lesson from the Last Samurai and do everything you can until your destiny reveals itself.