Tuesday, January 18, 2011

The Emerald Forest (1985)

Title: The Emerald Forest (1985)

Director: John Boorman

Cast: Powers Boothe, Charlie Boorman, Meg Foster


Some real life stories are so outlandish that they simply beg to be made into a film. For example, John Boorman’s The Emerald Forest is a film based on the real life events of a man who worked as a lumberjack in the forests of Brazil. One day, while this man was with his family in the forest, a group of natives attacked the family and kidnapped his 10 year old son, Ezequiel. The father spent ten whole years looking for his son deep in the Brazilian jungle, going to depths where not many people dare venture. He asked about the different tribes that lived in the jungle and actually went looking for them.  His search continued  for years until finally, after ten years of searching he found him. Ezequiel was now 21 years old, and had been raised by the natives as one of their own! Would his son want to return to the modern world? Or would he stay with the tribe that raised him for the past ten years? When confronted with these questions Ezequiel answered: “I will not leave my people”.

John Boorman’s film was based on this story that appeared in a newspaper article and though its not 100% accurate to it, it has a lot of it in the film. It’s still a story about a boy that gets kidnapped by aborigines in the Amazonian jungle, but it has an added eco friendly message attached to it. To the films credit, this added element gels perfectly with the story which takes place in a forest meant to be taken down by the powers that  be. The big changes made to the original story involve Power’s Boothe character. Boothe plays the father who looses his son to the aborigines; the change is that instead of him being a lumberjack, in the film he is in charge of the construction of a gigantic damn that will enable a more effective destruction of the rain forest, in this way making room for the proverbial “progress”. Since his son ends living in the forest that he is helping to destroy, a conundrum is created. How can he help destroy the forest that has become his sons’ home?

This is a really interesting concept, and its one that has been played with before, thing is that this time it was based on real life events. Films like A Man Called Horse (1970) presented us with the premise of an English aristocrat who gets captured by Indians. He lives amongst them for various years and learns to understand and accept their life styles and traditions, going through many of their rites of passages until he actually becomes one of them. This theme has also been used in films like Dances with Wolves (1990), The Last Samurai (2003) and most recently Avatar (2010). What this type of film does is, it takes the modern man, the one always looking for progress and ‘civilization’ and puts him in the natives/aborigines shoes. It lets the modern man see what it is to be one of them, lets him see what he is so voraciously trying to destroy. By the end of the movie, the “modern man” sees the beauty of the aborigine’s lifestyle; he sees their connection with nature and the simplicity of their lives. Only by living with them can the modern man truly understand them. By the end of the film, the once modern man is now a changed man, having practically transformed into one of them. This type of film usually  emphasizes the emotion of sympathy, or putting ourselves in the shoes of another to try and understand them.

In eco friendly films like this one, the main theme is how much the modern lifestyle, with its streets and buildings and cars clashes with thae simpler lifestyle that the aborigines live in the forest, one that’s more in connection with nature. In this film,  the tribe that abducts the child is called “The Invisible People” because they live so deep in the forest that no one knows that they even live there. But civilization is catching up to them and soon they begin to realize that the ‘edge of the world’ (where the forest ends and the modern world begins) is getting closer every time. The tribe depicted in the film are a beautiful and simple society that loves to enjoy the pleasures of nature and community. They practice their own religion, and their own traditions. They also love to take their peyote! The scenes of The Invisible People going on peyote trips allowed the filmmakers to play with surreal imagery and dream sequences where the characters connect with their spirit animals.

It’s interesting to not that the kid who gets snatched away by the aborigines is played by Charlie Boorman, director John Boorman’s own son. It felt to me as I watched this movie that by casting his own son in the role of Tommy, Boorman was putting his own son through a rite of passage as well. In the film, Tommy is raised by The Invisible People to the point where he becomes one of them. And at a certain point he has to go through these rites of passage so he can become a man. The point being that if he manages to survive that ordeal, he will then become a true man, ready to take on the real world. Boorman’s son was in his late teens while making this film, so maybe Boorman cast his own son as a cinematic rite of passage. In real life, Boorman was seeing his son turn into a man, so he cast him in a film where the same thing happens to the character. Filmmakers often reflect their own life experiences in the films they make; it wouldn’t surprise me if that’s what Boorman was going for with The Emerald Forest. Not a bad idea either, Charlie Boorman pretty much nails the complex role which included playing a character that spoke in the tribes language for the whole duration of the film.

This film won awards for best cinematography, and I can’t argue there, the film is beautiful to look at. The Invisible People wear very little clothes, but on special occasions they wear lots of colorful bird feathers that make for some very colorful visuals. The shots of the forest and the Amazonian landscape are amazing, especially because a large part of the film was really shot in the amazon, giving the film a bit of a Herzogian feel to it. My thanks go out to John Boorman who chose the most beautiful actresses to play the tribes females, who I might add are half naked for most of the film. So what we got here ladies and gentlemen is a very eco friendly film that was beautifully shot and acted. It has some very heartfelt moments in it. Many people hold this one close to their hearts because it’s both visually beautiful and has a great message against the destruction of the Amazonian forest which gets smaller by the day. I remember having seen The Emerald Forest as a kid and loving it, and now, many years after I originally saw it in 1985 I revisited it and loved it even more. Highly recommended.

Rating: 5 out of 5


Unknown said...

Interesting choice! I haven't thought about this film in years but I do remember liking Powers Boothe in it a lot. Such an underrated actor but I'd watch him even in the most dicey material (of which he has done). This would make a good double bill with THE MOSQUITO COAST, I think.

Neil Fulwood said...

John Boorman's work has always been a bit hit and miss for me. For every 'Deliverance', there's an 'Exorcist: the Heretic'. But when he gets material he really believes in, Boorman just knocks it out of the park. And 'The Emerald Forest' is one of his best. Certainly a career best from Powers Boothe, and Boorman's own son is excellent in what must have been a challenging role.

Terrific review, Franco. You've really nailed the aspects of the film - its primivitism/modernism subtext and its environmental message - that make it such a key work in Boorman's filmography.

Franco Macabro said...

@J.D. Strange that you should mention The Mosquito Coast, I just watched that movie a couple of hours ago! I'll be reviewing it this week, along with another similarly themed film called Vinyan. I guess this weeks was nature themed without me even noticing it.

@Your right about Boorman being a hit or miss. He was also responsible for Excalibur which I enjoyed, but he also made Zardoz, which I think has to be one of the oddest movies Ive ever seen. A sci-fi hippie flick is what I would call it. But hey, it entertained, I never expected to see flying Mountains that look like heads in any movie. That imagery was freaking awesome!

I saw Vinyan after this one and it was like such a shift in tone! One was so positive, while Vinyan was just all sorts of dark and morbid and psychological, but more on that on my coming review tomorrow for Vinyan.

Thanks for the kind words and thanks for commenting!

Bob Ignizio said...

Even at his worst ('Exorcist II'), Boorman always at least delivers some great visuals. And 'The Emerald Forest' is by no means one of Boorman's worst. Not only is it every bit as good looking as all of Boorman's films, it has some great acting and a pretty good story as well. Good review of an oft forgotten gem.

Franco Macabro said...

Agreed, Exorcist is definetly his worst moment cinematically speaking. What the hell was he thinking? Still, even that one had some of his trippy visuals...

You ever seen Zardoz Bob? Weird movie! But worth a watch for its craziness alone.


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