Friday, December 21, 2012

Film Pairings — Intrigue In The Tropics, Politics And Strange Bedfellows

As cold weather approaches, this might be the time to entertain a couple of politically challenging films set where perspiration is more likely than goose pimples and a dramatic glimpse into recent history provokes thoughts about how our actions in foreign lands are more serious than we might think.  What does our government do when we’re not paying attention?

The Extraordinary Linda Hunt
The Year of Living Dangerously tells the story of an Australian journalist (Mel Gibson) who arrives in Indonesia during increasing public unrest, which finally results in the overthrow of its corrupt President Sukarno.  The question pits a hungry, get-the-scoop journalist against understanding the deeper issues that affect a population being undermined by its leaders.  Not too incidentally, he must choose between his career and the woman he loves.  Tough choices.  Linda Hunt gives her academy award performance as a young male dwarf concerned about the victims of corrupt leadership and Sigourney Weaver is the woman in the ambitious reporter's life.  The steamy, smart sexy, adventurous film directed by Peter Weir was released in 1982.  It was based on the book by Christopher Koch.

The parallels between this film and the film of Graham Greene’s The Quiet American are worth noticing. Director Phillip Noyce initially wanted to do The Year of Living Dangerously before losing out to Weir.  Here, we have CIA intervention in the affairs of 1950s Vietnam while the French were struggling with colonizing it, all supposedly part of domino theory that would again raise its ugly head in the 1960s with the U.S. trying to get rid of the “red menace.”

In this case, Michael Caine plays a cynical journalist posted to Saigon during the French occupation.    The U.S., which escaped culpability in Weir’s version of the Sukarno affair, doesn’t fair so well in The Quiet American.  In fact, this is a remake.  The first film, (1958) starring American war hero Audie Murphy, was virtually disowned by Greene as an American propaganda film.  This one (2002) was more faithful to Greene’s intent.  When we meet Brendan Fraser’s character, we believe he is an innocent do-gooder, a contrast to the older, wizened character played by Caine.  Things, we learn, aren’t always what they seem and right and wrong, as it is in both movies, aren’t necessarily easy to discern. The idea of “collateral damage” is brought up here and is just as serious and controversial today as are CIA dirty tricks. Both films have, a their heart, both doing right on a deeply personal level with those we love and doing right for a cause greater than ourselves.  And when are abominable acts justified in order to achieve a so-called greater good? Do Thi Hai Yen is the beautiful Vietnamese woman who symbolizes both the personal and the universal.

These are two perfect films for those who love history and politics mixed with a little steamy sex.  And if cold, gray winter has descended on your household, take a trip to places closer to the equator.  Turn up the heat and drink something that requires ice and a lime or a lemon.


Richard L. Pangburn said...

I'm going to send for THE YEAR OF LIVING DANGEROUSLY and watch it now, thanks. You should read Pico Iyer's analysis of THE QUIET AMERICAN in this year's THE MAN WITHIN MY HEAD. Marvelous stuff.

By the way, I read STONE VEIL earlier this month and it was excellent. Before I review it on my own blog, I'd like to read another book or two. Should I turn to the next book in the series, or do you have a favorite you might suggest turning to next?

Ronald Tierney said...

Richard, thanks. I'll check into Pico Iyer's piece.

I think the second book in the Shanahan series is pretty solid -- Steel Web. Iron Glove may be stronger. My favorites are a more comedic Nickel-Plated Soul and a darker Asphalt Moon. Problem with these two is that they sold out almost immediately and the publisher didn't reprint nor publish in paperback. I don't have many copies either or I'd send you one. However, one or the other might be picked up used on e-bay or Amazon. Let me know if you strike out and I can send you something.