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The Constant Gardener
novel and movie
I love leCarré’s novels. My favorite was The Little Drummer Girl. There’s a Lebanese terrorist in it who recommends that everyone should spend a couple of years in jail. I quoted that a lot while in jail myself, at least partly agreeing with it. For sure, until you’ve been in jail, you don’t know what kind of a society you live in.
My least favorite may have been my current subject: The Constant Gardener. It’s good, they’re all good. It’s very good, it’s great. But it isn’t all together clear. Actually that may be one of its virtues. It’s about the world, and the world is a place notoriously far from clear. It’s politics, and politics are clear only to the blind, the patriots.
I’ve attributed both human and political honesty to Conrad: in the same vein I extend it to Graham Greene and to John leCarré.
If the latter is sometimes a bit murky, the cold war was more than a bit murky.
I haven’t read the novel since it was new, but Jan and I just saw the DVD. So: I refer to The Constant Gardener: the movie:
The main characters are Justin and Tessa Quayle. He’s a diplomat: he’s supposed to represent other people’s views but still have his own. She’s a loose cannon, a trouble maker. She knows a lot, sees a lot, speaks her mind: trouble.
Right at the beginning she speaks her mind about the basic political reality of the 20th century: oil, the Arab lands have a lot, lands of the Christian kleptocrats (and Japanese) have only a little: and we were hell bent on wasting what we had. So now we have to devise ways to force the arabs to sell us their oil, at the price we want to pay, in the way we want to pay it, because conquering them would cost even more.
Tess sees that, says that. Justin sees it, we see it, Chamberlin, TE Lawrence, Churchill, Stalin, Hitler saw it, Nixon saw it, Al Quaida saw it … but only Tess says it: outloud and clear.
That kicks off the film. But then Tess sees something else: big Pharm muscling bad drugs past real science with bad government safety tests. The fatal tests are performed against Africans, black and poor, so no one gives a shit: including a lot of black Africans who were poor until yesterday. Like Jews, the dead get mass graves, erased from history. They weren’t murdered because they never existed.
Now: how should a plot with those elements — Arab oil, big pharm, and giant klep — be clear?
Do you also love Rachel Weisz? (How could you not?) Check out her Hypatia in Agora!
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