Thursday, January 20, 2011

The Mosquito Coast (1986)

Title: The Mosquito Coast (1986)

Director: Peter Weir

Cast: Harrison Ford, Helen Mirren, River Phoenix, Martha Plimpton


The Mosquito Coast is a film about a guy who has had it with the American way of life as it is. He packs up his bags, wrangles up his family and takes off. He loves the American principles of free enterprise, but hates how everything seems to be made in Japan or China. He looks upon the American landscape as “a toilet”. He is constantly spewing hatred towards the way things are, criticizing things whenever he can. Problem is you can’t really say the guy is wrong. The world is one big messed up place, with many things wrong in it.

If they were going to make a film like The Mosquito Coast today, where the main character points a finger at society, the main character would criticize how people are growing further apart thanks to technology, IPods and the internet. He would complain about billboards reaching as far as the eye can see, trying to sell you something every second of your life. He would lambast fast food joints that are selling bad food that is killing people. He’d mention how car exhaust contaminates the atmosphere and our lungs every second of our lives and he would definitely comment on how toxic waste is being dumped into our oceans and rivers. He’d say a thing our two about despotic governments that are on the rise every day, stomping on their people. He’d certainly mention how children are used in slave labor in some parts of the world, all the while religion has everybody thinking that God is going to come down one day and make it all better. Speaking of religion, it plays a big part on this movie, but more on that later.

So basically, what we got here is another film that criticizes the status quo of humanity circa mid eighties. Some of the complaints and fears the film addresses are still relevant to this day, while others are distinctive fears that arouse from the particular day and time in which the film was made. For example, the fear of nuclear holocaust was a big thing in the mid-eighties. I remember because I lived through it. People were afraid the Russians and the Americans were going to blow each other out of existence. This is one of the main fears that the main character, Allie Fox has in this film. Can’t say I blame him for wanting to get away from society to start his own. Allie Fox wants to create a society that would make some sense to him,  a society that would try to improve and evolve in a positive way, for everyone’s benefit.

Leaving society as it is behind, going up stream, against the current

And I I tell ya, there is a part in The Mosquito Coast when Harrison Ford’s character Allie Fox finally gets to start his new society somewhere in the Jungles of Central America and you feel like the guy finally achieved his goal, you feel like he did it. His dream of a better, simpler life for him and his family have finally worked. He manages to build a beautiful little community, complete with their own food and their own peaceful way of life. Where people build their own homes, make their own furniture and grow their own food. They live happily, disconnected from the chaos happening in the outside world. Unfortunately, happiness doesn’t last long. As is the case in many films like this one, paradise will always become contaminated with the dark side of human nature. In that sense, The Mosquito Coast has some similarities with Danny Boyle’s The Beach (2000) because it is also about a group of people who look to get away from modern society by building their own in some distant, isolated location, far away from the ‘modern world’.

Allie constructs his own society, somewhere in the middle of Central America

But same as in The Beach, this isolated happiness doesn’t last long. In The Mosquito Coast darkness begins to descend into Allie Fox’s paradise in the form of a trio of thugs who invade their little paradise. But this isn’t the only problem that arises in their new society. Once things start to fall apart, Allie himself begins to get increasingly more violent, his behavior less focused and more erratic. He seemed to me like a misunderstood soul, desperately trying to run away from the way the world is. Like a scared animal running away from its predator. Some will look at Harrison Ford’s Allie Fox as a certified nut job who dragged his whole family down into madness and poverty. But in my opinion, you have to see past that. You have to see what the movie is trying to say with a character like Allie Fox. The film isn’t telling you to run away with your family to the jungle, of course not. Its all a metaphor. Its simply using this tale to make a point. To try and tell us something.

Allie Fox is an intelligent individual, he isn’t stupid. He knows how to build and invent, he is after all a scientist. His intelligence has led him to realize that things in the world are not moving along to improve society, but to enslave it, dumb it down. Humans are here to contaminate, destroy the world instead of making it a better place. In one scene he says “It’s an absolute sin to accept the decadence of obsolescence. Why do things get worse and worse? They don’t have to. They could get better and better” This is the reason why Allie turns his back on the way things are, he knows humans have the capacity to make things better in this world. Can you really say you blame him for wanting to get away from it all? For wanting something better for himself and for his family? I bet many of you out there have at some point in your lives stopped during the day and wished you could just go away to some far away land and just sit in the beach, bask in the sun and live on coconuts and fish. True or not? I know its happened to me, I live right smack in the middle of the city, and trust me, the noise, the crowds and the car exhaust can get to you after a while. Sometimes, I do wish I lived a life that was more in contact with nature. Would your lives be better without your computers, your television, your X-Box or your IPod? What would you do with your time then? Have we become useless human beings because of the way society has evolved?

This film was not popular at the box office for various reasons. One of them being that it blatantly criticizes the status quo. Same as Joel Schumacher’s Falling Down (1993), the main character is there to tell us what is wrong with the world we are living in. He isn’t a person who hates America, he questions himself how things have gotten like this, same as Michael Douglas’s character “D-fense” in Falling Down, Allie Fox hates what America has become. He hates that its not what its supposed to be. And let’s face it, who likes to be told their way of life is wrong? Who likes to be told things like “We eat when we are not hungry, drink when were not thirsty, we buy what we don’t need and throw away everything that is useful. Why sell a man what he wants? Sell him what he doesn’t need! Pretend he’s got eight legs, two stomachs and money to burn! It’s wrong, wrong, wrong!” “Look around you, how did America get this way? Land of promise. Land of opportunity. Have a Coke. Watch T.V. Go on Welfare. Get free money. Turn to crime, crime pays in this country!” Not many people like for their way of life to be criticized this way, so the movie got lambasted by critics.

Another reason it got shafted by the masses was because it openly criticizes religion and makes their leaders look like business men looking to expand their franchise. In the film, Allie and his family meet a preacher who goes by the name of Reverend Spellgood, he lives and runs a church in a nearby town. When he hears that Allie is building a new community nearby, he goes visit them to try and spread “the word of God” to them. Allies response is: “I didn’t know the lord was franchising in this area!” In the film, Allie criticizes religion every chance he gets. For example in one scene Reverend Spellgood gives one of Allies kids a bible as a present and Allie says “Look kids, exactly what I’ve been warning you about!”, then returns the bible to the reverend. The film constantly makes Reverend Spellgood look like a villain who brainwashes people. Allie obviously sees religion as something negative. Since the film takes this stance against religion, of course it got the shaft at the box office. Religion and its teachings have been so successfully implanted into the minds of the masses, that anything that attacks it is shot down immediately and seen as evil.

River Phoenix played Allie Fox's son in the film.

Now when a movie like this comes along, it always divides. Those who feel the film attacks them write it off as garbage, as boring, as pretentious and preachy. Those who agree with the films views will devour it and love it. I loved it. I agree with the films points of views and its critiques on modern life. Its true, we are messing up the world. Bigger, better decisions can be made by the powers that be to make the world a decent place to live in, but greed doesn’t allow them to. They way I see it, life could be so much better for everyone if leaders really got together to organize the masses in a more positive way instead of feeding off the masses like leaches, and using them to their own personal benefit. The governments of the world seem only interested in lying to the people and taking their money. They ignore the things that really matter and let greed decide what they are going to do next. Who doesn’t want to turn their backs on that? Another thing thats worthy of mentioning is that the film isnt one sided with its themes. Even Allies own family turns against him because they see his way of thinking as troublesome and different, they'd rather leave him behind. Life is too unstalble for a man like Allie, their is no place in this world where he can settle down, every where he goes is contaminated with society. But at the same time, his own family doesnt want to be completely cut off from society. His kids want that hamburger, they want their television. But they also enjoyed life in Allies society before it was destroyed, so the film seems to say that what we need is a common ground between the two. 

Harrison Ford got a lot of heat for making The Mosquito Coast. It is one of the few movies he made that didn’t make its money back. He made it even against his agents wishes. Yet in spite of all the heat he received for making this movie, he constantly defends it and says that of all his films, it’s still his favorite. “I’m still glad I did it. If there was a fault with the film, it was that it didn’t fully enough embrace the language of the book by Paul Theroux. But I think it’s full of powerful emotions” I agree with him, it’s a film with a heart and with something to say. Sadly, this world is so upside down that when something says the truth, something is made to wake the masses up from their complacency, it is considered bad, wrong, or crazy. If Allie turned into a nut job, it was because the crazy world we live him made him that way. When you really look at the world, and really look at the way things are moving along in our society, it really is a grim social landscape. There's lots of evil out there. Tons of it! What I enjoy the most about films such as The Mosquito Coast, is that they make you think about what you can do to change things, make things better. This film is recommended for those who like their films with a relevant message that is all the more necessary in the increasingly crazy world we are living in today.

Rating: 5 out of 5


Unknown said...

Ah, glad to see you saw this and also liked it. Isn't a great film that really gets under your skin? Harrison Ford is so incredible in this and it's too bad that he and Weir haven't worked together since. They really worked well on this film and WITNESS but I guess MOSQUITO COAST's failure scared them off of working with each other again. Oh well...

Franco Macabro said...

Im sure thats the reason why they havent worked together again. But the film wasnt bad, it wasnt badly directed or acted or written, I think it was just the subject matter.

The movie has what I like to call "electrifying dialog" where a character says certain undeniable truths...its like lightning coming down and hitting you in the forehead, I love that.

Im sure a lot of people took the same position that Reverend Spellgood took in the film when he called Allie on repeated occassions a "communist". That scenes awesome, the kids as Allie "Are we communists?" and Allie answers "Were not communists honey"

I need to check out Witness, I've never seen that one. Harrison Ford and Peter Weir both didnt attend the Oscars that year because they were busy making The Mosquito Coast. And they had even won Oscars for Witness!

Unknown said...

WITNESS is a good one. I think I prefer MOSQUITO COAST over it but it is still a solid film. Keep your eyes peeled for a young Viggo Mortensen who has a minor role in the film.


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