Wednesday, March 11, 2009
#128: Hell in the Pacific
Hell in the Pacific
Directed by John Boorman
Written by Alexander Jacobs and Eric Bercovici (story by Reuben Bercovitch)
Released December 18, 1968
All you really need to know: Toshiro Mifune and Lee Marvin, together.
If you must know more, Marvin and Mifune play -- respectively -- a marooned American pilot and Japanese naval captain. As the movie begins, the two men awaken post-battle on a deserted island and must decide whether to kill their enemy or work with him to survive.
A movie plot really can't get much more simple than: 2 enemies stranded on a desert island.
The movie itself is pretty primal. Amidst some beautiful scenes of nature, there is very little spoken between the two characters (obviously, there is no shared language), and the first act plays out like a bit of real life "Tom and Jerry," with Marvin and Mifune tricking and chasing each other like cartoon characters.
It's not too much of a leap to see the basis of the movie itself as a sort of two-man play about culture and war. Here we have two men representing two very different worlds fighting over a finite amount of space and natural resources. What little communication they do have is violent or threatening, even though both men possess things the other needs to survive.
Of course, the literal translation in which two men from two warring factions see beyond what they've been taught and find the humanity inside of his enemy is just as powerful.
Hell in the Pacific may require a little patience from a viewer who is looking for a more gimmicky storyline. It brings to mind a movie like Cast Away, where you might spend 4 or 5 minutes just watching a character build a fire. For those willing to give Boorman time to set up his premise, you will be rewarded. Mifune and Marvin (both of whom actually fought on opposing sides in World War II) give believable transformations as their characters gradually begin to bond and work together. It's fun two watch these two very physical presences come clashing repeatedly into each other on this little stretch of beach.
One of the most interesting and effective choices made by Boorman in the making of Hell in the Pacific was the decision to not use subtitles, leaving most of the audience (whether Japanese or English-speaking) in the dark about the other character's thoughts, while essentially giving both audiences the same experience.
Boorman and the film's writers hide the movie's ultimate message -- that sometimes it may just be too late to begin treating each other like human beings -- in a shocking, abrupt climax that I obviously will refrain from spoiling for you here. Seeing the progress these characters have made, you may find the ending frustrating, but I doubt it's anything less than intentional.
For more on Hell in the Pacific:
- Movie information at IMDB
- Buy the DVD
The trailer for Hell in the Pacific: