“I have risked everything. My entire life’s work.”
“For something you believe in. Nothing could make more sense than that, sir.”
– Phileas Fogg & Passepartout
Around the World in 80 Days
Outside the hilarious fight scenes, always a staple of Jackie Chan movies, this is probably my favorite scene in the movie.
It comes just after Phileas Fogg has made a wager most would call ill-advised. He hopes, if he wins, to become the new Minister of Science in England, and lead the world from the stagnating clutches of the current minister, forward into the future, into an age of progress and discovery. This is the cause to which he has dedicated his entire life, and it’s all he has. He doesn’t even have a family, apparently being the last survivor of his. All he has left is the house he resides in, and the inventions which are his passion, his reason for living. And that is precisely what he has put at risk in this bet: if he loses, he must destroy his own laboratory, never again set foot in the hallowed halls of the Academy of Science, and never invent anything ever again, to the end of his days.
It really is everything he has, and everything he does, and everything he has left to love. Take that away from such a man, and he might as well be dead. The cost of losing this bet could well kill Phileas inside.
Though he finds other things to live for as well, by the end of the story, this does not diminish the danger of his journey around the world, or the cost if he loses. He’s betting his life, in more ways that one, as he puts his dreams to the test.
After making such a bet, he has to take a moment to absorb the implications, as the weight he has taken up is falling heavy on his shoulders. He is afraid of losing, yet he cannot pull back now. He can’t win if he doesn’t try. So he needs some help standing up again and moving forward.
His new friend and valet, Passepartout, has already endured the trials of leaving his homeland, in a desperate attempt to save his village. Phileas does not know any of this, but Passepartout has already risked everything, and he still is. He does this because of what he believes in, and he has the resolve to see his task complete.
Seeing Phileas, both his friend and his means of getting back home in time to save it, sunken low, Passepartout offers this simple statement, and it’s simple enough that it leaves little to be translated. Phileas may be risking everything he believes in, but it is for the sake of that belief that he has is taking such a risk in the first place.
Win or lose, Phileas, at least, will know he fought for his beliefs. The risk is great, but so is the reward. And I cannot think of a single historical figure who gained anything without risking anything. Quite the contrary: it’s because they took risks that they succeeded in doing incredible things, and changed the course of history. That holds true both for those who make it into the history books, and those who don’t.
Now, I’m not saying we should take rash, haphazard risks, diving headlong into unnecessary dangers, especially when there is little to gain from it. There is a difference between courageous vision and rank stupidity. However, when we are brought low with fear and doubt, it does us good to remember why we are taking such risks, and why we should, even must, take those risks.
Madness, you say? I disagree.
To do something is automatically dangerous, but to do nothing is to automatically lose. Who in their right mind wants that?
Nothing ventured, nothing gained, as the saying goes.
And Passepartout is right: whatever the potential cost, nothing makes more sense than to fight for your beliefs.
To do otherwise… that is madness.