Tuesday, January 12, 2010

The Constant Gardener

Day late on the Movie Monday again 'cause I needed help writing this. I mean, until this minute I was calling the movie The Constant Gardner - which cute hubs pointed out might be fine if Jennifer Gardner (or to be accurate, Garner) was in it. But no, it's Gardener. Got it hubs, I put the vowel in. So since he's so damn smart, he can help me write this. I'll start.

Me: Let's start with the title, no matter how you spell it, I'm still trying to decide if it's a good title or not. I took a great screenwriting class from the dude who wrote Save the Cat and his claim is that a movie title should 'say what it is!' Ah yes, just found a little article of him talking about it here.

So while our protagonist does quite a bit of gardening in the movie, and you know, it's pretty, I never found a real compelling reason for this phrase to be on the marquee. I kept waiting for that 'gardener of souls' business or somekind of deeper metaphorical-ee type entrance into why this is the title. And shoot, Rebecca voted for this movie 'cause she thought she'd hear some valuable tips about some veggies and dirt. See what I mean? Not so much. It's more of a espionage, love triangle, thriller type dealee with some killer-diller filmmaking. But maybe the hubs saw the deeper meaning for the title.

Hubs: Thought about fibbing here, but no - I didn't see the title as a strong point either. Sure, I got the broader reference and all. But when referring to the movie, I've needed a couple of seconds for it to pop into my old mind. I neglected to ask my mom about it - she is a true constant gardener and likes Ralph Feinnes. She would've expected a HGTV epic.

But then, this isn't a Hollywood movie and came from a English novel - an artsy martini with a fartsy garnish. My suspicion is that John le Carre (the author) might've used Save the Cat to swat a roach, but likely hasn't cracked the cover in the other sense.  Want a Hollywood, Save the Cat title? Howzabout 'Take My Wife, Alive, Please'. But with the title and the trailer and Ralph as the lead and a foreign settng, I was in deep, dark, sweaty fear of being tortured by another The English Patient (or The English Not So Patient), another movie to make Catholic Mass look like Cirque du Soliel. I knew if I saw anything like another panning shot of a damned plane soaring over desert to orchestral masturbation, I’d go Elvis on our television.

I liked English Patient fine. I can see why it struck a fear chord in the hubs though, here's a poster comparison:

Btw, I didn't know Elvis shot his TV, did you? Huh. That's fun. So while I did not share the EP fear that he did, I will say I have my own espionage-shoot-em-up-in-another-land movie fear. Well, to be honest I don't like guns. I know, you're thinking - boy your Hollywood career is going to be short. Yea, I know. I really love it when filmmakers can make a movie that keeps the stakes high without the lethal piece of metal. It's just such a shortcut, you know? Anyhoo. What's interesting about this movie is that despite the aforementioned potential pitfalls for me, I thought it was an excellent piece of filmmaking. Oh sure the academy did too since it was up for four oscars and some golden globes n' shizzle so I'm not exactly providing a uniqe POV there. What was cool is that I turned it off at one point and thought, "oh it's that type of movie..." but when I was compelled to finish watching once tiny boy was in bed, I was really impressed by the way it developed in really surprising ways and my once opinions about the characters was 180'd.

By the way, I'm being super vague so that if you decide based on our vaguities that you want to netflix it, you won't be robbed of the goodies. If I ever bust into a spoiler alert, I'll be sure to say so. So yea. I really liked it. It's the type of movie that haunts and wanders through random thought moments and daydreams. It was beautifully shot. So, two rattles up from me.

Hubs: Ditto on the rattles. And nice investigative work on those posters, baby!

I've come to really appreciate films like this. The movie - in script, direction, and editing - is an elegant mess that capitalizes on our minds' ability to cobble together disparate images and details to form a story. I love this style, dammit. It mimics the movies we see in our heads. And as Jane hinted, it felt like a sometimes dream/sometimes nightmare. There's a precision to it (that I wish I fully understood) that fuels the chaotic essence at the heart of the story. The world is disquietingly random, even on a good day. Relationships - and our imaginations within them - are not under our control, no matter how passionate or defined they seem. And Africa has become a dusty and brutal political clusterboink - though mostly degrades to a simple and horrible anarchy - that the rest of the world could conceivably be sucked into.

The added beauty is that I'm not sure it would be considered a political story. And that's brilliant. No preaching. The basic story is the struggle of a complex love, and the political turbulence is the vivid backdrop. Yet it's more powerful because of it's gravitational dance with the characters from a slight distance. It's a beautiful thing to observe. And I'm picky - a preachy movie with an upfront agenda is as interesting to me as Ann Coulter bitching about the price of cocaine.

The movie is haunting after the credits. But as a new dad, a film like this haunts me again because of nurturing a 9-month-old boy into this wondrous and fucked world. Love and hate. I love brave movies like this with their necessary realism. And I hate stories depicting the world as a place where people (not shown in the film, thank god) will hang a man upside down from a tree, skin him alive, then stuff his own genitalia into his mouth during his last breaths. Christ, that was hard to write. And it was hard to hear in the story. And I wish I could believe that it never happens, or even that it's just distant, heinous evil that can't touch us. What can I say? How can both this story and the BHB's sweet face both exist, here and now. And how will I explain those shitty things? Will I be able to prepare my guy to find some comfort amidst these conditions? Will he he understand that this place is perfect, even though there is no such thing as our concept of perfection? Years and years to go. Then tomorrow is today, and the answers won't be easier. Nevertheless, in the end, he'll have to find him for himself. I wonder if, and pray that I can lose fear to provide an example.

Me: Aw. Good. Now you can see why I love him so, what an awesome brain.

Putting the poll up for next week now. Vote on over there to your left, as you can see I (ok, we) are having fun with this.

Happy Monday (ahem) to you!

P.S. - If you are a link follower at all, you'll notice I'm amazonin' it alot. I've decided to become an 'associate'. Full disclosure seems like a good thing.


  1. Garner, or course. Even more of a reason why Jane and I are together. Double doh.