Monday, February 13, 2012
(December 1982, U.S.)
Before we begin, if you're unfamiliar with the life of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi and have NOT seen Richard Attenborough's triumphant epic biop on the great man who led the nonviolent resistance movement against British colonial rule in India during the first half of the 20th Century, then I suggest you look it all up. I'm here to discuss films and tell my own stories, not give history lessons.
GANDHI, in its own way, was a real turning point in my moviegoing experiences. For starters, it was the first epic motion picture (three hours plus) that I'd ever seen on the big screen (Zeigfeld Theatre, New York City). Second, it was perhaps also the first real serious adult drama of its kind that I'd ever seen. Up until then, then so-called "adult" films I'd see had consisted mostly of romantic comedies and the occassional thriller. GANDHI, for all practical purposes in the eyes and mind of a fifteen year old boy, was the first true grown up art film I was seeing on screen for the first time. And by the way, the moviegoing experience in itself is a story to be told. It wasn't just another weekend excursion to the movies. THIS, my friends, was a high school field trip. No joke. My tenth grade social studies teacher decided to take his classes into the city to see this monumental epic film on the big screen as a day of film leisure and practical historical education. At the age of fifteen, you're just happy to be getting out of school for the day and going to the movies. However, when the lights went down and the film started I suddenly found myself captivated by not only the life and struggle of Gandhi, but the incredible and astonishing performances displayed on the screen (Ben Kingsley be praised!). This was no longer the year of 1982 that I'd experienced with the sci-fi wonders of E.T. and STAR TREK II and the outrageous comedy of TOOTSIE. No, this was now a 1982 that was being capped off with a true piece of film making worthy of every Oscar award it was to inevitably receive.
There are two particular points about GANDHI I'd like to mention. The first is a particular sequence when Gandhi is setting off on his march to the Indian Ocean where he'll make salt. There is a particular moment where a young Indian boy is climbing a tree to get a glimpse of the great man. The camera takes a second to get a close up of his face. Why this boy? Why throughout the entire film does the director take the opportunity to show us HIS face? I can't help but get the feeling that it is THIS boy who will eventually grow up to be the man who will assassinate Gandhi in 1948. The film gives no indication of this whatsoever, but it's a theory of mine that I like to entertain. The second point is a particular characteristic trait of Gandhi's that the film touches upon here and there (but I can't honestly claim its accuracy without looking it up) and that's his laughter. When you follow Gandhi's life in this film, it's pretty clear that it's filled with struggle and sorrow. However, every once in a while, he has a irresistable tentancy to enjoy a good joke and express joyous laughter. It's a very minor point, indeed, but it does have the capacity to put a smile on your own face when you're watching it.
Speaking from a personal view of Gandhi's philosophies, I can only say that while they're truly admirable and did seem to win the freedom of India, they're not philosophies I personally agree with. Turning the other cheek and loving thy enemy don't exactly conform with my own beliefs and feelings. If I had to lend my agreements to a historical figure's beliefs and opinions, I would likely go with those of Malcom X, who considered it quite unintelligent to not strike back at those whom would seek harm against you. Gandhi said (paraphrasing), "An eye for an eye only makes the whole world blind." Perhaps he was right. But we're all only human, and human nature (like it or not) has a very ugly side, and that ugly side often says hurt those who would hurt you first. Can't say I disagree with it. Can you?
GANDHI won the Oscar for best picture of 1982. There are still those out there you feel E.T. should have taken home than honor. To that I can only say that as incredible as E.T. was, how could it possibly win the big prize over a piece of serious adult film making depicting the life of one of the most important historical figures of the 20th Century. It can't and it didn't.
Favorite line or dialogue:
Brigadier: "You don't think we're just going to walk out of India!"
Gandhi: "Yes. In the end, you will walk out. Because one hundred thousand Englishmen simply cannot control three hundred fifty million Indians, if those Indians refuse to cooperate. And that is what we intend to acheive; peaceful, non-violent, non-cooperation...'till you yourself see the WISDON of leaving."