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The Legend of 1900

Guiseppi Tornatore
Starring: Tim Roth, Pruitt Taylor Vince et al. Length: 125 minutes
Rated: R
Studio: Warner Home Video

To appreciate this film, you must be willing to live in questions. This is a film that I haven’t stopped thinking about since I first saw it.

The Legend of 1900 is a beautifully rendered fable of a baby, found by a worker in the engine room of the ocean liner, The Virginian, long after all the passengers have disembarked. Named “1900” for the year of the ocean crossing, the baby grows up aboard the ship, and crosses the Atlantic all his life. He learns what he knows from the passengers who get on, and get off. As an adult, 1900 is a musical genius who, with fingers flying across the piano and an admirable ability to capture a person’s mood, entertains the passengers on board.

The story is told in flashback from the point of view of Max, a trumpet player in the ship’s orchestra, who, over the years, becomes friends with 1900. Max and others on board (including, I presume, many viewers) can’t understand why 1900 won’t leave the Virginian to make it big in the music world. As a pianist, 1900 seems to be able to play any kind of music, and Max sees that the two of them could make a fabulous living if only 1900 would get off the ship. But this doesn’t interest 1900…and, we wonder why.

There are some fantastic scenes in this film. Famous New Orleans pianist Jelly Roll Morton hears of 1900 and buys a ticket to England just to challenge him to a piano duel. This scene is worth the price of the movie rental – two very opposite personalities – 1900 being quiet, meek, and seemingly naïve; Morton being ego-driven, bigger than life, arrogant, and scared to be dethroned. The piano playing is emotional. The scene brings up questions of what it means to ‘win,’ ‘be oneself’ and ‘be grounded.’

As a coach, I found myself thinking that the ship is a metaphor for all of our lives. We all live on our own ships in ways similar to 1900. We can wonder what kind of a person would want to live aboard a ship all of his life?  Is he content or fearful? Is he grateful or resigned? Is he authentic, living big, or living small? Does he have an identity or is this a film about the loss of identity? What does he know of love? Would love make a difference to 1900?

As a coach, I’ve always thought that the universe of possibility that a client can see is best if it’s an expanding universe. Now I am not sure. This film left me wondering about the value of an abundance of possibilities. Watch it and see what you think.


  1. In what way is your world like 1900’s world on the Virginian? What would it take for you to step from that world into an unknown one that holds many possibilities?
  2. Imagine the scene with Jelly Roll Morton. Who is your Jelly Roll Morton? How do you manage yourself in the face of this person’s desire to be large by making you small?
  3. What does being content mean to you?
  4. What does it mean to live large? Live small?

Click here for a coaching practice related to the theme of this movie.





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