Edge of the World
By Alistair Lawrence,
Common Sense Media Reviewer
Common Sense Media Reviewers
Historical drama has colonial attitudes, racism, violence.
A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this movie.
Working with others, negotiating cultural differences, rejecting both racism and colonialism. Suppressing criminal activity. Story is about a White man "saving" indigenous people, which falls clearly into "White savior" territory, even though his actions are portrayed here as positive and welcome.
Positive Role Models
Sir James Brooke rejects both the violence and racism typically associated with colonial rule and local customs he views as harsh. He and his men work to learn and speak Malay, the local language, and take a sincere interest in the local environment. He's sympathetic and gives people the benefit of the doubt but talks of making mistakes in his personal life. He goes on to establish an independent state within Borneo, of which he becomes ruler. He is portrayed as being a good leader who prioritizes the welfare and rights of the local indigenous people, but the movie doesn't offer a diversity of perspectives on his role as a ruler and firmly plays into a White savior narrative. Also, while most of the indigenous people are depicted as peaceful, some are portrayed in a stereotypical way as barbaric. The cast is predominantly male, but characters represent a range of ethnicities and religions. Some characters use non-inclusive, misogynistic, and racist language.
Violence & Scariness
Many beheadings -- although the actual action isn't shown -- with severed heads held up, presented as gifts, or impaled on poles. Knives and guns drawn during a standoff. Suspected thief chased, apprehended, and bound by the wrists. Bloody marks shown. Characters come under fire from pirates who shoot them with arrows. Bloody wounds dressed afterward. Cannons fired in other altercations. Character stabbed to death by multiple assailants, bloody injuries and distress shown. Huts burned down. A character has their ears cut off; although not shown, the bloody injuries are seen. A mass fight sees people being hit with poles and spears. A severed head, charred by fire, is seen. A chicken is killed off camera; blood is seen running down the hands and arms of the perpetrator.
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
Kissing and brief sex scene between a couple, no graphic nudity. Characters bathe together in a lake. Lighthearted discussion different cultures' attitudes toward premartial sex; some sexual innuendo. Male characters are seen shirtless. Traditional clothing reveals some non-sensitive body parts. Character seen in bed with two other people before being attacked. Suggestion that a character holds romantic feelings for another.
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Use of the "N" word. Other language includes "swines" and "savages" to describe indigenous people. Use of "bastard."
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Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
Characters drink socially.
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that Edge of the World (known as Rajah in some territories) is a historical drama that takes a positive view of different cultures working together, but also has bloody violence, including many beheadings. Set in 1840s Borneo, the movie is based on the real-life events of a group of British explorers led by Sir James Brooke (Jonathan Rhys Meyers). Brooke is depicted as being compassionate and conscious of doing the right thing for the indigenous people. He's also portrayed as being positively received by the local people, but there's no doubt that the story is a 'White savior" narrative -- and since it centers on Brooke, rather than the indigenous people, we don't get a full picture of how people felt and what actually happened. Brooke and his allies battle pirates; while lives are spared where possible, there are bloody injuries. Heads are severed both as punishment and as warnings, and although the actual action is shielded from view, the heads are held aloft and impaled on poles. A relationship between two characters includes kissing and non-explicit sex. Some of the language used reflects the inescapable racism of colonialism, with some characters referring to the indigenous people as "swines," "savages," and the "N" word. On the positive side, some characters think critically about this behavior as they make an effort to negotiate cultural differences.
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Edge of the World
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What's the Story?
EDGE OF THE WORLD is the story of British explorer Sir James Brooke's (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) exploration of Borneo in the 1840s and his refusal to go along with the British Empire's colonial ideals. Settling in a part of the island where a local rebellion is taking place, Brooke gets to know the local indigenous people and becomes determined to bring peace to the area and establish it as an independent state.
Is It Any Good?
Based on the life of real-life explorer Sir James Brooke, this adventure drama addresses the oppressive environment of 19th-century Borneo and the colonialist British Empire that ruled beyond it. Rhys Meyers is perfectly cast as Brooke, a world-weary traveler who fears his best years are behind him. Like many biopic movies, Edge of the World feels duty-bound to cram lots of real-life events into two hours in order to do its subject justice. Unfortunately, this leads to a labored voice-over that adds little more than exposition, along with a slightly hurried opening and a plot that becomes muddled in places. Writer Rob Allyn struggles to balance competing storylines about the threat of pirate battles and Brooke's strained personal and professional relationships.
Director Michael Haussman recreates life in this place and time well, doing his best to work around budget constraints that limit the size of the cast and the movie's running time. But there's no escaping the issue of the "White savior" narrative. While Brooke is both portrayed, and received, positively, the film fails to look at his role as ruler objectively. It's a story that seems like it would have been better suited to a miniseries format, allowing more time to explore how the indigenous people felt about Brooke, for example. But -- like Brooke's voyage -- there just about remains enough here to capture the eye and the imagination.
Talk to Your Kids About ...
Families can talk about the violence in Edge of the World. What did it add to the story? Does exposure to violent media make kids more aggressive?
Discuss British colonialism as depicted in the film. How much did you know about this part of history? How did Brooke's attitudes, as portrayed here, differ from others? How can we be sure that's an accurate depiction? And does that make his role in colonialism any less problematic?
Talk about the way the movie portrays Borneo's indigenous people. Did you notice any stereotypes? How white parents can use media to raise anti-racist kids.
Do you consider Brooke a role model? What character strengths does he demonstrate in the film? How do you think he'd be portrayed if the story was written from the indigenous characters' point of view?
Did this movie remind you of any other movies you've seen? How did it compare?
- On DVD or streaming: June 4, 2021
- Cast: Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Dominic Monaghan, Josie Ho
- Director: Michael Haussman
- Studio: Samuel Goldwyn Films
- Genre: Action/Adventure
- Topics: Adventures, History, Pirates
- Run time: 104 minutes
- MPAA rating: NR
- Last updated: October 8, 2022
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