Friday, August 24, 2012

Graham Greene's The Comedians, Part III

In The Comedians (the 1966 Graham Greene novel and 1967 Peter Glenville film), every primary and secondary character is placed into a precarious situation. Not a single one can remain complacent and each must do something. Faced with existential choices and much to lose, they do act. It's not always pretty how things turn out, but the important thing to Greene is that real decisions are being made. Within the overall framework of Papa Doc's Haiti, there doesn't seem to be much effective that any of these characters can do, and indeed, it often comes down to either fleeing for safety or fighting against hopeless odds.

The South American ambassador (played by Peter Ustinov) and his German-born wife (Elizabeth Taylor's character) have diplomatic immunity up to a point, and can be of limited help -- until ultimately they must depart the country or be imprisoned. Mr. and Mrs. Smith (Paul Ford and Lillian Gish) have come to Haiti to establish a vegetarian center, but their naïveté is quickly blown away by what they see and experience. Major H.O. Jones (Alec Guinnes), a flim-flam man (and self-proclaimed World War Two veteran of Burma), is a disaster from start to finish, but even he makes definite choices along the way. Dr. Magiot (James Earl Jones), Henri Philipot (Georg Stanford Brown) and barman Joseph (Douta Seck), all Haitian born, decide to attempt direct opposition against Papa Doc's Tonton Macoutes, regardless of the extreme danger in so doing. Brown (Richard Burton) is the manager of a quaint hotel bequeathed to him by his mother. His world, along with the other Haitian characters (who are also his compadres to varying degrees), is on the chopping block if he remains in country. To further complicate matters, he's been having a love affair with the South American ambassador's wife. His decisions are made on a more willy nilly basis as push comes to shove.

Greene seems to be asking this not only of his characters but of all of us: What would Jesus do? What would the Buddha do? What would Marx have you do? How about Papa Legba? Or Mary? In your life when confronted with such choices, what will you do?

Today's Rune: Fertility/The Mystery Rune.              

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