Reflections on a variety of films and topics - Seven Samurai, It's a Wonderful Life, Don Quixote, We're no angels, War for the planet of the apes, Dunkirk, The African Queen, Babette's Feast, Dances with Wolves, The Prisoner (1967), Inherit the wind, humour in drama, nature of regret, the influence of multimedia, memoirs of a teacher of French.
Please scroll down or find on the right links to articles, pages of reflections on films, books, TV series (including "The Third Man", "Finding Forrester", "The Outlaw Josey Wales", "Untouchable" (2011),"Unforgiven", "The Manchurian Candidate", "The Wild Bunch", "The Treasure of the Sierra Madre", "Papillon" (1973), "Public Eye", "Existentialism in society today", "Seven Samurai", "It's a Wonderful Life", "Don Quixote", "We're No Angels", "The African Queen", "Babette's Feast", "War for the Planet of the Apes", "Dunkirk", “Dances With Wolves”, “Inherit The Wind” and “The Prisoner”), and occasional pieces of flash fiction. These are additions to similar pages which may be found at www.stuartfernie.org .
A link to my YouTube channel with video presentations of a number of my pages.
Having retired from teaching fairly recently, I thought I’d write my memoirs, “What have I done?”, and present them online. Please find links to the various chapters on the right, though chunks of the text (but perhaps not all) may also appear below. If you suffer from insomnia, this may help!
Click on the arrows to access links to 2016 and then December.
I can be contacted through the comments sections or at firstname.lastname@example.org
Joseph Cotten, Alida Valli, Trevor Howard and Orson Welles
A video presentation of this material is available here.
Post-war Vienna can be
seen as something of a metaphor for battered and exhausted Europe shortly after
WW2. While much remains intact, there is plenty of evidence of the Nazi-led
conflict which plunged Europe and half the world into physical, emotional and
Judged to be one of the
first victims of Nazi expansionism, after the war Austria was declared an
independent nation but was occupied by forces from the United States, Russia,
the U.K. and France in order to rebuild the nation but also, presumably, to
enforce rule of law and to protect against a Nazi resurgence. This was an area
where political, social and moral systems had been undermined or even destroyed
and the potential for humanitarian crisis, crime and corruption was readily
recognised. The international character of this operation serves to underscore
the potential universal nature of the themes touched upon, while linguistic problems
emphasise the importance of communication and understanding.
It is against this
background of existential crisis, pain, disillusionment, loss, distrust and
confusion that pulp Western writer Holly Martins investigates the sudden death
of his good friend Harry Lime. On the face of it this is a fairly
straightforward matter but Holly’s dogged determination and persistent
questioning bring him in contact with a series of dubious characters whose
contradictory evidence and suspect accounts eventually lead to the revelation
of truth and then to unexpected consequences.
Holly encounters several
of Harry’s Austrian friends and acquaintances and while each has his own
reasons for being involved with Harry, his schemes and his death, they all
share a variety of characteristics. They all give the impression they are
giving a false or incomplete account of themselves, may be involved in some
chicanery, seem untrustworthy while trying to ingratiate themselves and seem to
have little or no respect for truth or morality. They may be viewed as amoral
pawns willing to participate in schemes that will benefit them without regard
for others and it has been implied that Harry Lime was a master of such
Other citizens, onlookers
rather than participants, are keen not to involve themselves in the affairs of
others. Having undergone years of dictatorship and moral, physical and political
threat, they are reduced to adapting to whatever circumstance will best ensure
Major Calloway and
Sergeant Paine represent authority, law and order. They, along with their
international counterparts, enforce regulations. While they may appear
officious, cold, inflexible and uncaring at times, we discover the fundamental
purpose and humanity of their work as they try to protect against tragedy and
defend the inhabitants of Vienna from scheming black-marketeers willing to put
people’s health and lives in danger in order to make a quick and substantial
It is interesting to note
that religion plays no part in this affirmation of order, apart from nuns
caring for sick children. Clearly thought out rules and regulations, based on
fairness and fact, are to be applied assiduously in order to combat potential
crime, corruption and unfairness.
Anna, Harry Lime’s
staunchly supportive friend and lover, must have known duplicity, disillusionment
and fear during the war years, but she has opted to be almost simplistically
and insistently idealistic in terms of love, at least as far as Harry Lime is
concerned. Her idolising love for Harry remains virtually unaltered even when
she seems to accept evidence of his wrongdoing – she affirms that because she
loved him in the past, she can and will do him no harm. At one point she even
suggests that a person does not change just because you learn more about him or
her. She appears to cling to this idealistic and blinkered form of love because
she needs to believe in something positive, but surely this begs questions as
to the validity and worth of such love or infatuation. It is worth noting that
she is an actress by profession and she refuses to play tragedy. Is she trying
to exercise control and avoid reality and pain by clinging to hope and making
Harry a repository for her love?
Such complete and resolute
devotion to love and idealism is surely indicative of denial and can lead to
harm to both oneself and to others. She even turns against Holly when he
eventually yields and agrees to aid the authorities in the capture of Lime,
accusing him of base deceit and betrayal despite ample evidence of Lime’s
crimes and selfish conduct. To carry devotion to this level is surely self-deceiving
Much is made of the fact
that Holly Martins is a pulp Western writer. Unlike actress Anna who attempts
to control her own response to events and people, Holly is a writer who tries
to understand and steer events and others’ perceptions. The fact he writes
Western fare may reflect his core values.
In keeping with cowboy
tradition, he may appear somewhat guileless at times – he falls for Anna almost
instantly, is loud, brash, unruly and has a somewhat breezy approach initially,
suggesting self-confidence and a certain lack of understanding and compassion
for the time and place in which he finds himself. He shows loyalty and devotion
toward his friend and cannot accept the authorities’ version of Harry’s motives
and activities so he sets out to investigate the circumstances of his death,
which he finds suspicious, in the hope of clearing his name. He is
unpretentious, principled and honourable, if inexperienced and perhaps naïve
Eventually, Holly meets with
Harry and Harry confirms the truth of the authorities’ accusations. Rather like
Anna, Holly reluctantly accepts his friend’s guilt but will not take action
against him until he is forced to confront the consequences of Lime’s latest
money-making enterprise when he is shown the victims of Lime’s selling of
diluted penicillin. He has also learned to act less like a principled cowboy
and more like an astute participant in this game of life by setting a price for
his involvement in Lime’s apprehension – Anna’s freedom to leave Vienna. Of
course, this he does out of love and principle rather than for selfish reasons,
though he clearly feels Lime is no longer worthy of his loyalty. That said, he
agrees to act merely as bait and not to participate in his capture.
Reality and truth finally
win out over brotherly love, devotion and idealism as Holly takes decisive
action to stop Harry, with Harry’s shooting of Paine being the final straw.
Holly acts out of humanity and disillusionment. He is visibly shaken, perturbed
and upset but he has evolved as a human being. He has learned to respect doubt
and truth above love and friendship, and that there comes a time when decisive
action must be taken.
He is undoubtedly
disillusioned in the end but is perhaps more fulfilled and complete. Of course,
he will also learn that not everyone shares his newfound and hard-won outlook
on life as Anna walks past him (and away from her own past) without a flicker
of recognition, once again exercising control and demonstrating her continued commitment
to blinkered love.
Before we meet him, we
hear a great deal about Harry Lime, both good and bad, from a variety of
characters, reflecting different aspects of Lime’s character and different
perceptions of him. We see him for the first time more than halfway through the
film and by that time we are thoroughly intrigued – is he the boyish extrovert,
the faithful and jovial friend or the master criminal we have heard about?
The answer is that he is
all of these things and more.
When Harry meets Holly at
the Ferris Wheel, he exudes self-assurance and oozes charm, casually ignoring
Holly’s questions and asking questions of his own. He takes control. He
displays a disarming openness and self-belief that is persuasive and
manipulative, leaving the audience quite breathless and charmed while he
casually tries to convince Holly of his case…..
As he looks down (both
physically and figuratively) at the “dots” of people scrambling around below
their carriage, Harry suggests that the loss of a handful of humans is
insignificant in the grand scheme of things and he clearly feels no remorse or
sense of responsibility in making use of these “dots”, even indirectly causing
their deaths, in order to benefit him financially.
With these outrageous
affirmations pronounced with casual conviction, Harry reveals himself to be something
of an existential thinker. He has reached the conclusion morality and order do
not exist but has such an ego that he seems to regard others as his playthings
and has lost all sense of humanity, if he ever had one.
He shows no regard or
genuine feeling for his lover Anna whom he clearly charmed and manipulated and
is now using as a pawn vis-à-vis the Russian authorities to ensure his own
escape. Holly recalls incidents from their youth which he presumably found
amusing at the time but which he now sees differently, realising they revealed
selfishness and callousness in Harry. Unlike Anna, Holly does see a person differently
the more you learn about him or her.
It appears, then, that
Harry has always harboured such feelings of humanitarian indifference and moral
disorientation but presumably these have been enhanced by his wartime
experiences. He is, however, a cynical hypocrite willing to manipulate and take
advantage of those who believe in love, friendship, humanity, justice and
freedom. His brilliant speech about the Borgias producing misery, murder and
bloodshed but also genius while peace-loving Switzerland merely produced the
cuckoo-clock is his final attempt to justify his stance and persuade his pal
Holly to join him. This speech underlines his charm and eloquence as well as revealing
his nihilistic mindset.
Harry Lime is a warning.
He represents what man can become if he is selfish and has no respect for
others and values. Love and idealism may have taken a battering and man may
have been led to question the existence of God and morality in the course of
the war, but the same experiences gave rise to fighting for values, defending
truth and showing humanity toward others.
“The Third Man” is
frequently referred to as a film noir. While it clearly depicts the
consequences of amoral actions and motivation and warns against the result of
excesses in love and loyalty, it also establishes the principles of humanity
and integrity which lead to Harry’s downfall and which offer hope for the
Director Carol Reed
creates a tremendously noirish atmosphere. While darkness is used to convey lack
of clarity and confusion, and is used ever more regularly as Holly becomes more
deeply embroiled in the plot, light is used to accentuate understanding and
clarity and is used to its greatest effect when Harry is revealed to us for the
first time – the revelatory light offering a chink of comprehension and
lucidity in the surrounding darkness of incomprehension.
Reed fills the screen
with menacing close-ups, buildings reduced to rubble, ominous shadows and
pursuits (often moving downhill, perhaps suggesting a descent into moral
uncertainty) set in damp dark alleyways, all reflecting insecurity, doubt and
uncertainty, both physical and spiritual, culminating in the pursuit through
Perhaps representing the
depths of humanity, this unsavoury underworld is a suitable setting for the comeuppance
of one who has proved to be the lowest of the low, and it contrasts with other
encounters with Harry - on the Ferris Wheel where he is cocky and superior,
literally looking down on mankind, and as he approaches his final rendezvous with
Holly, again looking down on the scene. Many shots of Harry are taken at an
angle which suggests his superiority and even the shot of the cat licking his
feet might be taken to suggest his power and charm.
The famous (and
tremendously catchy) zither music by Anton Karas captures Harry’s playful,
charming and domineering personality.
The script by Graham
Greene is dense and largely character driven, and contains any number of sly,
engaging and thought-provoking observations on life (the Viennese inhabitants’ desire
to keep to themselves, Sergeant Paine’s unquestioning implementation of duty in
striking Holly while cheerfully engaging with him, Harry’s friends who will do
whatever they have to do in order to survive, Anna’s refusal to give up her bedazzled
view of Harry and Holly’s slow abandonment of blind loyalty in the face of
reality). This he manages to achieve while developing both the plot and the
The acting is excellent
throughout, though I would suggest that the scenes with Orson Welles in his
playful, charming and challenging role, lift the whole to another level of
entertainment and engagement.
My thanks for taking the
time to read this article.
Sean Connery, Rob Brown and F. Murray Abraham
A video presentation of this material is available here.
This is a story of
friendship (arising from dubious beginnings and circumstances), evolution and
principle set in the Bronx and extending to a prestigious school in Manhattan.
This gentle drama focuses on character development and relationships, with a
relatively restrained and realistic conflict used as a dramatic device to
provoke reflection and growth in the two principal characters.
16-year-old Jamal Wallace
has a raw writing talent not hampered by his relatively impoverished social
background, though his abilities could be honed and developed with focused
tutelage of quality. Jamal has concealed his talent for and desire to write, jotting
down his thoughts and observations in a series of notebooks he carries around
with him in a backpack. Indeed, he has concealed his academic abilities in
general, gaining no more than average grades in assessments. However, he does
well in national testing and is offered a place at the prestigious Mailor-Callow
school where he will encounter support, discipline, academic demands and privileged
Jamal has learned to use
his sporting prowess in the field of basketball as a means of achieving
acceptance, success and communication. Mailor-Callow is, of course, happy to
offer Jamal an academic education in exchange for sporting success, along with
the attendant publicity and glory such success will bring them. Apart from
displaying skill on the basketball court itself, Jamal uses a basketball almost
as a prop, bouncing it regularly as a means of maintaining reassurance or to
divert attention. He even bounces the ball during a conversation with his
mother who appears to be incapable of exercising influence over his behaviour. It
is interesting to note that later in the film, when he starts to act similarly in
a conversation with Forrester in his flat, Forrester sees through his device
instantly and brings Jamal’s diversionary tactic to a halt with a single look.
William Forrester is the
author of a much-loved, highly praised and enormously successful book but
apparently never wrote another and has led a reclusive life since shortly after
his book’s publication.
We discover, after a
number of conversations with Jamal and considerable soul-searching, that
Forrester was profoundly affected by the death of his brother followed by, in
the space of some five months, the deaths of both his parents. We learn of
Forrester’s trauma and the key to his reclusiveness when Jamal invites him to a
baseball game but the outing goes horribly wrong. Forrester fails to cope with
crowds and the social encounters associated with such an event and he
collapses, triggering a recounting of the circumstances surrounding his brother’s
death and the catastrophic effect this had on Forrester and his attitude to
life. Having made his brother’s post-war experiences the focus of his highly
successful book, exploring his situation, feelings and the deterioration of his
health, the loss of his only brother in a road traffic accident for which he
feels in good part responsible, had a devastating effect on Forrester’s outlook
and the conduct of his life, leading to social anxiety.
These feelings were
exacerbated by the fact that a nurse caring for his brother at the time of his
accident wished to discuss Forrester’s book and its significance to her rather
than deal with the death of his brother. This seems to have triggered something
of an existential crisis in Forrester, possibly prompting doubts concerning the
value of art (in the form of his book), and perhaps his fame as its author, and
questions as to how his work could take priority over reality. He appears to
have been desperately disappointed in people if they are capable of casting
aside understanding, compassion and interest in others and their genuine
experiences for what amounts to a copy of life or an abstraction. This may have
led to his rejection of the status of a famous author whose position derives
from the work he has produced rather than his character, beliefs and actions.
Like most good writers,
this intelligent and sensitive man (despite appearances) is adept at reading
character and understands motivations, purpose and thought processes, as Jamal
learns in his initial meetings with him, meetings in which Forrester is testy
and provocative, but also insightful. Due to his trauma and his subsequent rejection
of society, he is untroubled by the desire to be accepted or popular,
especially as the continued success of his book provides him with the means to
live while writing (though not necessarily publishing) provides him with
stimulus and satisfaction. He rarely leaves his flat, preferring to insulate
himself against the dangers, insecurities and disappointments of the world
outside. Yet he continues to observe life outside, rather than participate in
it, cleaning the windows regularly to ensure clarity of vision. He has
preserved a natural curiosity and social intelligence which he has satisfied
through surveillance of the local area by way of powerful binoculars and a
video camera which enabled him to become vaguely acquainted with Jamal even
before the dare from Jamal’s friends and his consequent breaking into Forrester’s
Forrester cannot hold
himself back from reacting to the pieces of writing he finds in Jamal’s bag
which he left behind in panic when Forrester disturbed his tentative and
furtive exploration of Forrester’s flat. Their common bond of writing paves the
way to friendship as they explore common curiosity, abilities and backgrounds,
leading to shared thoughts, feelings and even affection, and then a willingness
and desire to play a part in one another’s lives, to the point where one friend
is willing to put the other’s interests above his own.
They have much in common:
Both are inspired to
write due to family traumas – for Forrester, it is the return from war of his distressed
brother and his descent into alcoholism and, for Jamal, there is the struggle
with drug addiction of his father, the disintegration of his parents’
relationship and his father’s eventual departure from the family home.
Jamal hides his writing,
scribbling in notebooks kept in a backpack, while Forrester keeps his writing hidden
in a file in his flat.
Both use writing as an
outlet for their feelings and a method of understanding and coming to terms
with the world around them.
Family is essential to
each of them. Jamal is clearly emotionally close to his mother and brother,
even if he does not share his literary aspirations with them, while the loss of
Forrester’s family had a catastrophic and deeply emotional effect on his life.
The fact that neither of
the main characters has left his familial roots or neighbourhood may also be
worthy of note. Each of us is deeply influenced by our background and family,
and although ability and opportunity may lead to changes in circumstance and
geography, our hearts remain tied to “home”. This may explain why one of the
production companies listed in the film’s credits is “Fountainbridge Films”,
undoubtedly named after the area of Edinburgh in which Sean Connery was born
Our two main characters
are drawn together by writing and shared character traits and circumstances.
Almost despite himself, Forrester recognises Jamal’s potential and offers him advice,
while Jamal recognises the value of what is on offer and wants more. And so,
Forrester becomes Jamal’s mentor.
Comparisons may be drawn
between the teaching Jamal receives at Mailor-Callow and the mentoring
undertaken by Forrester.
According to Jamal’s new
friend Claire, teachers at Mailor-Callow are fonder of hearing their own voices
than hearing those of their students and this is confirmed by our encounters
with Robert Crawford, Jamal’s English Language tutor. He appears to take
pleasure in vaunting his own knowledge and in so doing implies the relative
ignorance and inferiority of his students, demoralising them in the process.
His purely knowledge-based and lecturing approach to teaching is far more
restrictive than the mentoring approach adopted by Forrester which depends on
engagement. Although knowledge is incorporated, emphasis is laid on the fluid
exchange of ideas and discussion, allowing the evolution of the student and
quite possibly the teacher too, if he or she is open to it.
Jamal’s skill in
basketball opens a pathway to acceptance and achievement in society. He is
literally following the rules, playing the game and building a career and a
place in society through developing his skills and putting them at the use of
others. However, Jamal’s writing is where his true aspirations lie. Through his
writing he can express himself and give value to his own thoughts and ideas,
leading to his independence.
There comes a point where
he must make a choice between the two pathways. After entering a writing
competition, Jamal is accused of plagiarism and faces possible expulsion from
school. His piece was indeed partially inspired by an article written by
Forrester but Jamal went on to make it his own, though he retained the original
title. Forrester happily recognises it is Jamal’s own work and is probably
proud of the fact he exercised some influence in the development of the piece,
but Forrester has asked Jamal to remain discreet about his identity and so
Jamal will not reveal the source of his inspiration, leaving him in this
difficult position in the school.
Certain authorities at
the school are willing to use this situation to apply pressure to ensure
sporting success, assuring Jamal his problems will disappear if he gains victory
for his team and his school in an upcoming match. Of course, acceptance of such
conditions could lead to perpetual blackmail so Jamal chooses the pathway of
principle and shows he is willing to abandon a burgeoning career and education
to protect the identity of his mentor and inspiration while insisting his
writing is his own work.
Though he initially
refuses to defend his friend because of the impact such action would have on
his life, Forrester is forced to re-assess the direction he has allowed his
life to take and the values by which he has been living. Because of his
friendship with Jamal, the influence Jamal has exercised over him and the
rediscovery of humanity Jamal has kindled in him, Forrester realises he must conquer
his social anxiety, sacrifice his anonymity and appear in public to support his
friend. After all, Jamal’s problems have come about as an indirect consequence
of their friendship and he is facing life-changing repercussions due to his
willingness to protect Forrester.
As suggested in the title
of the film, Jamal found Forrester and that find changed his life. Sharing and
developing his thoughts and aspirations with a kindred spirit gave him strength
and confidence and allowed him to value his own efforts as an individual. Jamal
was already a thinker but his relationship with Forrester not only helped
evolve his talent but encouraged him to remain true to himself.
It is also true that
Forrester re-found Forrester. Through sharing his love of writing, observation
and thought with Jamal, Forrester also learned to share his innermost feelings,
emotions and fears, allowing him to rediscover humanity, the warmth of
friendship and a taste for life.
In the end, we discover
that Forrester has died and has left his flat and its furnishings to Jamal. He
has also left in his care a final novel for which Jamal is to write the
foreword, completing, in a sense, his mentorship of Jamal.
At the heart of the
plagiarism debate was the question of copying, but Forrester inspired Jamal
through his writing and his counselling to produce his own work, thus
encapsulating the means and purpose of art – to observe, consider and express
ideas in order to inspire similar thoughts or ideas in others.
Jamal becomes not just
Forrester’s friend and mentee but also his heir. Forrester bequeathed to Jamal all
his worldly goods but also, and perhaps much more importantly, the essence of
his writing spirit.
This is a film to which I
can return again and again, and I consider that quite an accolade.
Writer Mike Rich and
director Gus Van Sant created a slow-burn character piece that is entertaining,
engaging, touching and thoughtful. The principal characters and their
development are the stars here and the evolution of their friendship is
logical, sensitive and emotive.
Rob Brown, making his
debut at just 16, had a daunting task but coped remarkably well, giving a
mature, rounded and natural performance.
F. Murray Abraham,
totally controlled and self-assured, did his usual excellent job and made you
dislike his superior, condescending and at times oily Robert Crawford.
Sean Connery, in what is
almost certainly his penultimate film role, gives one of his best performances
as the crusty yet vulnerable Forrester. Indeed, the multi-layered nature of his
performance plays a pivotal part in the re-watchability of the film. Various
aspects of the role may have resonated with him and Mr Connery is engaging,
affecting and at times quite moving.
My thanks for taking the
time to read this article. I hope you found it of some value.
by Phil Kaufman and Sonia Chernus from the book by Forrest Carter
by Clint Eastwood
Clint Eastwood, Chief Dan George and Sondra Locke
A video presentation of this material is available here.
“The Outlaw Josey Wales”
is something of a revisionist western in two parts. The first part is a grim
and realistic representation of war and its horrifying, painful and unjust
Josey Wales is a simple
farmer going about his business when his wife and child are brutally violated
and murdered, and his property is destroyed by an unruly group of Unionist
soldiers known as “redlegs” under the command of a Captain Terrill. Josey
survives the attack and joins a group of rebel soldiers who have presumably
suffered similar fates and who seek to avenge themselves, leading to further
violence, death, destruction and undoubtedly further injustices.
Eventually, when the
rebel cause is all but extinguished, Josey’s compadres, exhausted and
demoralised, are persuaded to surrender to Unionist forces but they are
betrayed, mocked and massacred by ambitious and unprincipled officers and men,
including Captain Terrill, who will not be held accountable for their actions.
Josey manages to rescue a young but gravely wounded friend, Jamie.
Josey is declared an
outlaw by the complicit Unionist authorities in order to protect their
positions and to justify their actions. By manipulating facts, fabricating
stories and exaggerating rumour, they hope to incite the interest and greed of
bounty hunters and gunmen, but they also help create a figure of legend or myth
in the process.
After a series of
adventures in which our two heroes outwit their pursuers, imply criticism of
merchants whose sole objective is to make profit from both sides of the
conflict, and kill a couple of bounty hunters who reduce everything to the
financial value of their prey, young Jamie dies and Josey heads for Texas in
the full knowledge he will be pursued and he will have no recourse to reason,
justice or honour.
Under the auspices of
war, terrible crimes may be committed. One of the central and recurring themes
of the film is that those who do not respect rules of engagement or common
human decency on or off the battlefield cannot hide behind the uniform, cause
or legitimacy of their faction. Atrocities carry personal responsibility and
guilt and may incur personal enmity and a desire for retribution. War cannot be
viewed as giving free rein – one remains responsible for one’s conduct and the
consequences that may entail.
The second part of the
film starts with Josey’s encounter with an ageing native American played by
Chief Dan George. The rain, grime and melancholy of the war scenes gradually give
way to brightness, lightness of tone and no small amount of humour.
Although far from free
from his past, Josey does not dwell on it – it is there but he is able to focus
on the present. As he crosses Texas, he encounters and attracts a number of
“strays”, people whose lives have gone awry for a variety of reasons and whom
Josey is able to help or defend from profiteering or threat, giving him purpose
and a means of living with the past.
Josey appears unafraid.
He is willing to face and accept death as a consequence of his actions but he
will not shrink from defending those under threat. He has no fear of, or
automatic respect for those who claim authority. He has seen that policies, positions
and laws are all man-made and may be self-serving or open to interpretation,
abuse or corruption. He is ready and willing to defend himself and others if
such is the case.
The group he gathers
round him is disparate and diverse (long before this recent trend in Hollywood)
– culture, race, creed and age appear to be immaterial as they unite to combat
common enemies or help one another in a time of need or peril. They become a
family of sorts. They may bicker and disagree at times but they are willing to
overlook foibles, idiosyncrasies and the past as they pull together to help one
another build a new life and resolve problems.
As demonstrated in the discussions
between Josey and Ten Bears, an Indian chief who is equally willing to defend
himself and his followers, they seek to live in peace and harmony which, it is
suggested, appears possible if negotiations are left to ordinary men and women
as opposed to governments or figures driven by political ambition, commercial
enterprise or greed.
Society is what we make
of it or, alternatively, what we allow it to become. As reasonable and
peace-loving citizens, we must be willing to defend ourselves and those who
share common purpose against those willing to impose their will on us or
disrespect us. There is therefore a sense of satisfaction, completion and hope when
Captain Terrill gets his karmic comeuppance, allowing Josey to put the
injustices of the past to rest and focus on the present and the future.
This is something of a
deceptive film – I remember going to see it on its release, expecting an
entertaining Eastwood action film, and indeed there are several exciting action
set-pieces but it is also a film of surprising depth, texture and engagement.
Clint Eastwood clearly wanted to depict the horrors of war and the shattering
lasting effects it has on individuals, but he balances that with a tale of
stoicism, hope, positivity and society in the face of opposition and
difficulty, man-made or natural. This is undoubtedly a highlight in his
directing career. He retains the classic Eastwood elements of over-the-top
confrontation, audience complicity and focus on the taciturn hero’s
communication through long, meaningful looks, but these elements are
complemented by close attention to atmosphere, sympathetic secondary characters
and performances, the unlikely inclusion of humour and the appeal of an
underpinning “message” about war, trauma, justice and the importance of society,
which is accessible to us all.
My thanks for taking the
time to read this page. I hope you found it of some value.
and directed by Olivier Nakache and Eric Toledano
François Cluzet and Omar Sy
memory of my friend, Alfie
A video presentation of this material is available here.
The opening scene encapsulates
the film’s dynamic and provides insight into the character and relationship of
the principal characters, plus their interaction with society.
Two men are driving in an
atmosphere of melancholy, even depression. Passenger Philippe is in low spirits
and driver Driss is concerned as they drive aimlessly through the Parisian
night, following the constraints of traffic and the highway code. They are dully
going nowhere and this reflects Philippe’s frame of mind and, as we shall
discover, his physical limitations. Suddenly, Driss breaks free from the
traffic and powers away, breaking speed limits and several other laws at the
same time, but supplying a sense of exhilaration, defiance and a taste of life.
Naturally, the police become involved very rapidly but Philippe (who is quadriplegic)
and Driss act together to manipulate the figures of authority so they gain
their sympathy and pity, thus not only avoiding punishment but gaining an
escort to a nearby hospital in the process. Philippe and Driss take great
satisfaction in this result as, together, they have managed to profit by
Philippe’s disabilities and limitations to outwit the system and society which
have conspired to write him off due to his condition, while seizing a few
moments’ escape from Philippe’s highly restricted existence.
Philippe is a very
wealthy quadriplegic who belongs to the economic and social elite. It appears
that he was so accustomed to what he regarded as life-numbing security that he
took risks to furnish thrills and excitement and so, as he went ever higher and
faster, he eventually took a risk too far and lost feeling below the neck as a
result. He also lost his beloved wife to illness. In such circumstances it
would be easy to slip into negativity and depression but, recognising the essential
value of life, Philippe has focused on cerebral or intellectual pursuits such
as art and music in his physically diminished life. Surrounded by a helpful and
devoted staff, he makes the best of things, though spiritually he may be doing
less well as his somewhat restricted daily life appears rather clinical,
uninspired and lacklustre.
In contrast, Driss and
his family lead a somewhat crowded chaotic hand to mouth existence, and may be
struggling both economically and emotionally. Driss is physical, spontaneous,
open, friendly, shows common sense and has principles, though we discover he
has a prison record (due, we imagine, to desperation to provide for his
family). He displays a caring attitude toward his sister and his mother, and he
is highly protective of his younger brother who is leaning toward joining a
gang. He also displays a natural effusiveness and dynamism which, combined with
his openness and frankness, could easily lead to conflict or discord.
When he presents himself
for interview as Philippe’s personal assistant, Driss is entirely open about
the fact he is required to apply for a number of jobs in order to qualify for financial
assistance from the state, and so all he needs from Philippe is a signature to
indicate he has gone through the motions of interviewing him. Driss makes no
attempt to ingratiate himself, shows no real consideration or understanding of
Philippe’s situation and responds to questions without guile or hope of gaining
the position, yet they engage in some banter and, despite being a less than
obvious choice, Philippe offers Driss the job on a trial basis - exactly
because Driss displayed spontaneity, frankness and a willingness to challenge
the perceptions and attitudes with which Philippe is surrounded. In other
words, he offered a spark of life and energy in what had become a dull and
For Driss, this position
offers stability, independence and security as well as a fruitful, insightful
and highly amusing introduction to modern art, classical music and opera. Driss
continues to share his incisive and challenging observations on Philippe’s
cultural pursuits, offering down-to-earth alternatives to Philippe’s abstract
and artistic interpretations, and a mighty slice of amusement and energy in the
process. He approaches his physical care of Philippe with the same openness,
innocence and spontaneity, potentially causing Philippe considerable injury but
at the same time injecting the process with life and energy, but also, most
importantly, without pity. Driss treats Philippe as an equal – he does not
affect compassion, tolerance or sympathy, and Philippe greatly appreciates this
quality. He is treated like a man and consequently he finds Driss’s company
stimulating and enjoyable.
Their status of
companionship evolves when Philippe struggles one night and is clearly pained
both physically and spiritually. Driss responds instinctively, asking what he
can do to help. The relationship they have built so far allows Philippe to
confide he needs air, or simply to get out. Driss then seizes Philippe and
takes him out in Paris in the middle of the night. They hold a relaxed and open
conversation in which they share events of the past and emotional responses, a
discussion which forms the basis of their future relationship. This is no
longer an employer-employee relationship. Personal interest, sharing and
emotional commitment raise their relationship to the status of friendship.
And so, they help one
another. Philippe gains physically, spiritually and emotionally. Apart from
movement, Philippe gains experience of different types of music, is immersed in
humour-laden discussion of art and learns to assert himself as a father when he
disciplines his haughty adopted daughter. But most importantly, he regains a
sense of hope, purpose and appreciation which had been slipping away from his
Driss experiments with
modern art, is exposed to culture, learns some self-discipline and to conduct
himself with greater finesse, while retaining common sense and principle. This
is amusingly demonstrated in the contrasting ways in which he deals with drivers
who have parked in the entrance to Philippe’s driveway. More importantly, Driss
derives a sense of purpose and self-respect from their association, and hones
his quick wit and charm to reflect a more cultured and reflective approach or
obligations and duties, readily acknowledged by Philippe, mean that eventually
Driss and Philippe must part company. Driss has evolved and moves ahead with
his life, applying for jobs with new-found confidence and poise. However, having
developed a reinvigorated outlook on life, Philippe is dreadfully disappointed
and misses the friendship and emotional engagement he has come to value so much.
It is at this point that his friend returns briefly, but only to transport him,
unknowingly, toward hope, positivity and the next emotional stage in his life,
for which, in a sense, his friendship with Driss paved the way.
The film’s huge surprise
success is due in no short measure to the sharp script which balances sympathy,
humour and emotional engagement, and the crisp, involving direction, both the
responsibility of Olivier Nakache and Eric Toledano. However, the natural,
touching, amusing and thought-provoking performances by François Cluzet and
Omar Sy transport the material to another plain.
Although the film touches
briefly on themes such as integration and understanding of the handicapped,
family, discipline, seizing the moment and savouring life, whatever it may
bring, this is undoubtedly above all else an uplifting hymn to friendship and
the mutual benefits emotional engagement can bring, even in the most surprising
and doubtful of circumstances.
My thanks for taking the
time to read this article. I hope you found it of some value.