“The Finest Hours”: A Story of Human Dignity for Submerged Souls

“The Finest Hours”: A Story of Human Dignity for Submerged Souls January 21, 2016

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WARNING: Contains Possible Spoilers for Disney’s upcoming movie, The Finest Hours!

Is it easy to lose sight of human dignity and decency in the rat race to work in the morning, or when you consider the House of Cards-like drama of Washington, or mass shootings and terrorist bombs going off on the evening news? Last night, there was no time for the evening news, as my daughter and I went to see a screening of Disney’s The Finest Hours (The movie’s official release is January 29th). The light sprinkle outside paled in comparison with the deluge inside the theater, as we viewed the spectacle of an attempted Coast Guard rescue of the crew of a tanker split in two by a torrential storm off Cape Cod’s coast in the winter of 1952.

I will leave it to the movie critics to evaluate the film’s plot, characters, and special effects. I simply wish to focus on the affect the movie had on me. I kept thinking about human decency. Regardless of what some make of the debate concerning kin selection and group selection as it pertains to altruism, altruism was on full display in the movie. It is easy to lose sight of human decency and dignity as we are often submerged in biting seas of cynicism, having fallen overboard in the struggle with others in the life boat.

My fear in watching the film is that we can easily criticize this or that feature rather than take account of human features that we do not often highlight today. Actually, my daughter and I loved the movie, which is based on a real life rescue operation. Here’s why I loved it: instead of battling to stay on shore or to return to shore, coxswain Bernie Webber (played by Chris Pine) led his volunteer Coastguard crew on a certain-death coast guard mission to save the survivors of the sinking tanker. Instead of giving way to the survival of the fittest egoist, they battled it out with their fears and the elements to seek out and rescue their fellow humans and fulfill their calling as members of the Coast Guard.

Somehow miraculously or instinctively, they found the sinking tanker, even though they had lost their compass, as the sea waves beat against the small Coast Guard vessel. It is easy for us to lose our compass and give up the pursuit of human dignity, as we face the deluge of cynicism in our day. The Finest Hours’ recounting of the 1952 rescue operation can serve to remind us that human dignity will show itself at times in the darkest hours. We can fight against the onslaught of cynicism by ever searching for dignity and decency, wherever they may appear, and by placing a humane guard over our souls.


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