There’s no Red Sox baseball tonight. For most of the past month-and-a-half, this would’ve been a good thing. But now they’ve actually managed to win three of the last four, a number of key players are returning from injury, and we’re right on the heels of a throwback Sox-Yankees Sunday night game that has me at least a little excited to see if the team can put something together for next six weeks. I want to watch baseball today and you probably do, too. But the schedule is what it is and we both have to find something else to do tonight. My recommendation? A completely batshit crazy movie called 1492: Conquest Of Paradise.
There’s an argument to be made that Christopher Columbus is the single luckiest human being who has ever lived. As you (hopefully) know, it isn’t true that there was any dispute about the Earth being round when Columbus was trying to find funding for his westward voyages. All anyone has to do is watch a ship on the horizon, or look at the Earth’s shadow on the moon to know that the planet is round and, even back then, almost everyone who had ever thought about it for more than two seconds understood this. (Note: no, I will not be making a Kyrie Irving joke here! Stop asking me to!)
There was a dispute, however, about how far Asia was from Western Europe, and this was a major obstacle in Columbus’s attempts to secure financial backing. At the time, most scholars estimated that Asia was around around 10,000 nautical miles to the West of Portugal, a distance that was far too long for any crew to survive given the need for food and water. Columbus, though, believed Asia was only 2,400 nautical miles away, just a few weeks west of the Canary Islands.
Columbus was extremely wrong about this! The scientific establishment of Western Europe was extremely right! The east coast of Japan is in fact 10,600 nautical miles from Europe, and thus, on Columbus’s maiden voyage, he was only a few weeks away from running out of food and water, killing himself and his crew, and being completely forgotten to history, on account of his being very, very wrong.
Of course, it turned out that there was a giant hunk of inhabited land that no one in Europe knew about sitting right there in the middle of the ocean. So Columbus did not die, and instead became one of the most famous humans that’s ever lived, along with the holder of the title Admiral Of The Ocean Sea, which is an extremely badass honorific that is still held by his ancestors today.
This brings us to the aforementioned completely batshit crazy movie 1492: Conquest Of Paradise. This is not a good movie! There are a lot of reasons for this, but the primary one is that it paints Columbus as a righteous crusader fighting against a cowardly, close-minded scientific community who simply cannot understand his genius. He spends the first 40 minutes of the movie trying to convince everyone he talks to that Asia is only 2,400 nautical miles away. He is mocked for it, he is beaten up for it, and still, he perseveres. This is the central conflict of the first third of the movie, the thing that drives the entire narrative, and, again, I remind you: COLUMBUS WAS WRONG! The movie’s sneering villains who mock him and beat him up were right! This is an entire movie built on the premise that he was some kind of revolutionary thinker ahead of his time, when in reality, he was ignorant sailor who was too dumb to know how dumb he was, and, as a result, got extremely lucky when he tried something dumb.
And yet, here I am recommending you watch this movie for two reasons. First, it only costs $3.99 to rent on Prime. Now listen, I don’t know you, but I know you’ve spent $3.99 on a lot of really stupid stuff in your life. This isn’t a criticism, it’s just something that’s true about all of us who live in the age of the internet, when it’s dangerously easy to buy anything. But secondly, the scenes where Columbus does first make landfall and encounter the Arawak are absolutely sublime. This is an enormous, earth-shattering moment in human history, an incredible shift in human understanding that’s almost impossible to conceive. At one point, both the Arawak and the Spanish were certain about their understanding of the world, and then, just one second later, they were forced to recalibrate everything they ever thought they knew. Unless and until we discover intelligent life on another planet, this will never happen to any human being ever again.
To reiterate, this movie is not at all good. But it is interesting as a historical artifact, not of the 15th century, but of 1992, when apparently you could make a movie about a righteous, morally upstanding Cristopher Columbus without anyone telling you that it maybe wasn’t a great idea. So take this as an official OTM recommendation. Wait till the kids are in bed, pop an edible, and watch an insane movie that absolutely could not and would not be made today. The Sox will back tomorrow.