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Movie Review: “Papillon”

Based on the book by Henri Charriere.

Version: 1973; starring Steve McQueen; Duston Hoffman

Genre: adventure; survival; based on true story.

Plot Summary: In the 1930’s, two convicted criminals are sentenced to life imprisonment and arrive in the French penal colony of Guiana where they soon forge an enduring friendship through the many years, adventures, and tortures to follow.

My Review: Disclaimer*: I have not read the original book, so this review will not by comparing it to that novel.  Only as a story in and of itself, totally unrelated to the book.  

This was a story I did not know I needed to know about.  I had never heard of the book, or of the movie, and it was not until writing this review that I learned of a new remake starring Charlie Hunnam in McQueen’s role.  There’s always some room for tales of imprisonment and escape in my strange soul, so when I happened across this older movie it did not wait long on my watch list.

This is nearly a three hour film.  The pace is slow and mostly quiet, as to be expected when your hero spends 5+ years in solitary confinement.  Don’t worry, it’s not as painstaking to watch as it sounds!  Henri Charriere, wrongly accused (as far as we trust our main character’s POV) of murder spends all of his time from the very first minute scheming his way out of captivity.  We, the viewers, are right along with him each step of the way.  The time and detail it takes for these real life persons to plan an escape which their very life and sanity depend on is suspenseful and has us glued to the story instead of watching the clock.  Our emotions are invested into the very human characters we watch who try so hard to live.

If you’re looking for a clean flick, this isn’t going to be for you.  Death, starvation, and madness are the order of the day.  Men are killed as a matter of course, and sometimes there is quite grisly detail.  In an atmosphere such as this, it would be unrealistic for the script not to include swear words.  So of course, that factors liberally into the movie as well. One prison guard has a hankering after one of the prisoners and wants to sexually abuse him.  The prisoner appears to go along with it for a time, but only as a means of eventual escape.  It is common for the inmates to smuggle their belongings in places where the sun doesn’t shine.  If I remember correctly, there may have been a brief scene of backside (prison context) nudity.  What actually bothered me more than that was an island setting in which all the tribeswomen wore nothing at all and we see full frontal nudity.

Despite all of this, I came away doing a lot of thinking about this movie.  The thing that stood out the most to me was comparing the two main characters: Henry Charriere (or, “Papillon”) and his friend Louis Dega who was sent to Guiana for forgery.  Their friendship is begun for survival’s sake.  Papillon can easily handle himself in any situation, with quick wits to boot but not much clout among other prisoners or guards.  Dega on the other hand, is physically undersized with round glasses that couldn’t possibly get any thicker which produces a wrong-end-of-the-magnifying-glass-effect when we look at him.  However, his secret weapon is literally the stash of cash he sits on and he is able to bribe for opportunities.  In one of the most touching parts of the story, Papillon risks his life to protect Dega when he is being beaten.  This action lands him longlasting consequences.  It brings Dega to tears to think that an innocent man would be willing to put his life in jeopardy for him, who is justly convicted of his crime.  It made me think of Jesus, the innocent lamb who was slain for us, the real sinners.  It was an eloquent portrait of biblical truth.

Eventually, through many trials and hardships, the two men are brought together once again where they have to face a decision: remain in captivity, or attempt escape (quite possibly ending in death or worse, recapture).  It is rather pitiful the situation they are in, yet in some ways it could have been worse.  Will Papillon be content to live the remainder of his years on Devil’s Island where he could live in comparative peace?  Or will he convince Dega to risk the dangers of escape and perhaps be able to attain true freedom once again?

SPOILER ALERT:  Papillon never once abandons his idea of the pursuit of freedom.  I believe giving up his busy mind over this matter would have consigned him to insanity.  Dega on the other hand, was never strong of body or mind.  He found a little piece of joy right where he was and made it into his own.  He had nothing left to go back to.  Was one view right and the other wrong?  I don’t think so.  Two different temperaments, different personalities, with different limitations.   Each did what they could with what they had and what they were made for.  This, of course, is taking the question of guilt out of the equation.  END OF SPOILER.

I know this film will not be for everyone.  But I found some redeeming aspects of it that I encourage anyone so inclined to give it a try.  I am looking forward to seeing a newer version, but Steve McQueen was very good in his role, and Dustin Hoffman provided some comic relief.

 
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Posted by on August 11, 2019 in Movie Reviews

 

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2018 ATC Seneca Awards

Like audio dramas?  Audio Theatre Central has announced the nominees for the 2018 Seneca Awards, which recognizes the best in the audio drama production industry.  Winners will be announced in July.  As a plus, these are all family friendly stories, so they can be enjoyed on those long summer vacation road trips!  There are so many exciting things happening in the audio world.  I’m really looking forward to The Adventum!  Posts to as many trailers as I can find are below:

Operation Mosul (The Brinkman Adventures)

The Treasure of the Secret Cove (Lamplighter Theatre)

The Adventum, Vol. 1

Black Rock (The Shadow Remake)

Escape from the Eagle’s Nest (Lamplighter Theatre)

Come and See

Heirloom Audio Productions have also come out with St. Bartholomew’s Eve and For the Temple, but unfortunately I could not find trailers for those.  And Lamplighter Theatre’s quality seems to be improving every year!

 

 
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Posted by on June 29, 2019 in Audio/Radio Dramas

 

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I’m Starting “Top Ten Tuesday”

Hi!  I’m taking a deep breath and doing something completely new on the blog– something I’ve been wanting to do for a long time.  I’ve discovered the Top Ten Tuesday topics posts on others’ book review blogs and it appeals to me because of the combination of books + lists!  I wanted to start doing it since the beginning of the new year, but I wasn’t sure how to fit into my schedule because I know I’m not quite dedicated enough to get it out every week and especially not every Tuesday.  Finally I realized the year was going to pass me by if I didn’t just start doing it, so I’m just going to without knowing how I’m going to work this and that’s that.  Just know in advance it won’t be regular so you’ve been warned.

I think I will start off with tomorrow’s topic since I’ll feel like I’m already ahead of the game.  Ha!  And that topic is: PLACES MENTIONED IN BOOKS THAT I’D LIKE TO VISIT.  Ready?  So here we go!

 
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Posted by on February 26, 2019 in Top Ten Tuesday

 

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Random Books: Fall’s Hurrahs

And then… 🙂  I went to two more book sales over the weekend and came home with EVEN MORE!

 
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Posted by on October 22, 2018 in Book Shopping

 

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Book Review: “A Season of Shadows,” by Paul McCusker

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Genre: Christian fiction; historical fiction; suspense; intrigue; WWII; espionage

Plot Summary: When the rich, beautiful Julie Harris finds herself a widow during the early days of WWII, she decides she needs to find out the truth about her late husband.  Was their marriage a sham ever since they met?  Was he true to her, or did he live a double life?  The only way she can answer these questions is by going undercover herself, as one of America’s first agents of the war.  Working in London, she gets to know a small circle of people who seem to be her friends.  But who can she really trust?

My Book Review: It’s been a long time since I’ve ever read a book by Paul McCusker.  I remember I loved his Passages series when I was a kid (spin-off novels from Adventures in Odyssey, which McCusker helped create).  What would one of his novels for adults be like?  This one grabbed my attention, as espionage always does!

I found that I enjoyed this suspense story very much. Although I suspected the one character all along, I was never quite sure enough and I kept going on the edge of my seat.  Some great plot twists I didn’t see coming, and different love interests for our beautiful heroine that kept me guessing, too.  🙂

But more than that, I really learned a lot about England (esp. London) during the air raid bombings in 1940. I love fiction books that can teach me about a certain era, and this was definitely one of those.  Everything from what civilian daily life was like, how they coped, their attitude during the most difficult of days, and the everyday heroes of the war such as the emergency volunteers, the doctors and nurses, and the priests.  I even learned some things about Churchill.  To confirm all of this, I ended up watching a documentary on Netflix (“Winston Churchill: Walking With Destiny”- narrated by Ben Kingsley) that went over the same timeline during which this book is set and I got to hear and see photographs of the very things “Julie” would have witnessed.  I also watched a brief documentary on the first spy training camp the US set up in Canada, where our heroine also would have been sent to.  It made the book feel all the more real and I know it was well researched.

Some drawbacks to the book are that some readers may find it predictable. Sometimes I wanted it to be a tad more cloak and daggerish, but that’s probably just me being unrealistic!  I did find it somewhat unbelievable that Julie would run off to be an agent to spy against the very people her husband supposedly sympathized with, so soon after his death.  That part just didn’t make a lot of sense to me.

But I still enjoyed it, and stayed up late nights trying to finish it in time to send it back to the library. Those are the good ones, aren’t they?  So, if you’re up for burning the midnight oil, I think you’ll like this one!

I also recommend…

 

 

 
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Posted by on October 1, 2018 in Book Reviews

 

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Characters Series: Heroines in the Worst of Times

When I was a kid, I wished that I could do something really BIG and dramatic that would save the day.  I think that I still do have this desire, and I think it is a common one.  We humans want to know that our lives have a purpose and meaning.  It’s all very well to talk about character when things in life are going so nicely.  Of course, character is needed in everyday life.  But it’s so much harder when you’re in the midst of scary events. 

We’re usually not aware of these kinds of heroines until we put them in the context of history.  The real-life heroines are the most admirable, for they show us that it is possible to have integrity for real and that it’s not just for fiction.  One of my personal favorites ever since I was little has been Queen Esther—Persian queen (Jewish commoner) in disguise!  Even though she was in the prime of life and could easily talk herself out of it, she felt a duty to go to the king on behalf of her people because she could do something. 

One our favorite Lord of the Rings quotes goes something like this: 

“I wish it need not have happened in my time,” said Frodo. 

“So do I,” said Gandalf, “and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”  

Thinking of history not that long past, there are the character role models of Diet Eman and Corrie ten Boom.  They were also both women in the prime of life who did what they could while their country was occupied by the Nazi regime.  I cannot think of anything more terrifying than facing a concentration camp, yet that is what they risked experiencing (and did experience) because of their belief that all people matter.  What heart, what courage these women modeled!  Come to think of it, why else do heroes do what they do, other than because of their value for human life and freedom?  In the moment of their action, they put aside their safety and sometimes very lives for the treasuring of another. 

I have never read the book, but I recently watched the movie The Help for the first time.  This story is full of women in a particular place (deep Southern America) in a particular time (violently racial 1960’s).  Some did what was popular and easy in the community—letting others bully them as to their personal decisions and relationships.  Others saw their neighbors as human beings with souls.  And still others decided to take a stand, to say ‘enough is enough’, and try to help each other in the middle of what was impossible conditions.  They were scared; they were hesitant at first or said no at the beginning, because they were risking so much.  But each decided that their friends and family were more important than their present fear and took the step forward that eventually became fruitful.  No longer ‘Strange Fruit.’ 

Sometimes heroines will never see the fruit of their labors.  In Tangled Ashes (Michele Phoenix), Marie is a seventeen-year-old girl living in an obscure village in France during WWII.  She is just an ordinary teenager, but living in extraordinary times.  She is forced to serve in a nearby manor house where strange and secretive things are taking place under the German occupation.  She “hears nothing, she sees nothing”– until she is forced to face the facts that her best friend is pregnant with an enemy soldier.  Suddenly, she cannot live for her preservation alone.  She has a tiny, innocent life to look after and it ends up costing her dearly.  But her love puts others first, and she has to trust that her courageous actions are more important in the long run. 

What becomes of the people we have influence over?  Maybe we will never know.  Or maybe their lives will touch others in a great, wide ripple effect that never stops.  All we can do is strive to pass on a heritage that will be life-giving and honoring for others.  And maybe this idea is not relegated to the big, grandiose acts of queens, but starts with the everyday little yeses and considerations in this world. 

“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves.  Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.” (Philippians 2: 3,4) 

 
 

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Free Jane Austen course

A few months ago I was alerted by an email from Hillsdale College of a new free online course they’re making available on Jane Austen.  As I keep slowly working on the C. S. Lewis lectures, I haven’t tackled the newest ones yet.  But I’m looking forward to it and am finally getting around to passing the link on to anyone else who is interested.

While browsing the Hillsdale website, I notice there are several other excellent courses available for free as well.  Lots of American civics and history lectures, Churchill homage, and many literature courses besides.  Among them are talks elaborating on: Shakespeare’s Hamlet; Great Books 101 & 102, and Mark Twain stories.  Enjoy!

 
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Posted by on July 12, 2018 in Uncategorized

 

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