I watched ‘Papillon’ (1973, Franklin J. Schaffner) last night. I mean wowser. It’s gottah be the ultimate Bro-Mance movie (I know y’all thought it was ‘Bad Boys 2’, but they made other stuff before we were born with like original ideas and stuff. Who knew?). Steve McQueen (butch hottie of the time) and Dustin Hoffman (quirky character actor, not much has changed non?) star as the unlikely buddies, in a bizarre-but-apparently-accurate old prison system set on ‘Devil’s Island’ in French Guiana. That’s bizarre to us by modern standards, but probably ‘normal’ to Americans, who have cleverly evolved their prison system into a new form of slave labour. And I ain’t even gonna start on Guantanamo or the treatment of Iraqi prisoners described by the wacky genius of Jon Ronson in his book ‘Men Who Stare at Goats’ (please don’t mention the Clooney vehicle, it’s a touchy subject).
Anyroad, I digress (that’s posh for ‘get distracted by other brain mush’).
Papillon is at heart a wacky movie despite the subject matter being awfully deep, and the spread of the film being epic (long but worthwhile). McQueen is the innocent murderer determined to escape from Devil’s Island et al, Hoffman is the squinty weed with a lot of bribes in his poop pipe, who thus needs beefy protection. The story charts their friendship, and escapades, from youthful and desperate, to crazy old men swearing at pigs and refusing to give up on the ultimate goal of freedom.
Freedom, that favourite of abstract concepts, muddled with a little Isolation, marinated with the meaning of Existence. All topped off with a life-long Friendship in which death and starvation are risked for one another’s sake. Heavy dude. Three o’clock in the morning spliffs & whisky heavy. But the wacky tone of the film, and the relentlessness of stuff happening (something lacking in many other films that make the top one hundred films of all time) carries it along at a jaunty pace, a bit like riding a VW van down a bumpy Cornish road. No time to dwell on Existentialism ta, too busy getting narked that the Cornish don’t measure anything (1 ½ miles my arse!). Apologies for my casual racism, my Dad’s a Plymouthian, it’s in my blood! Bygones.
Also in Papillon, there is a reoccurrence of coconuts, which along with the island location, made me wonder if The Mighty Boosh’s ‘The Ballad of Milky Joe’, might not be a tribute? It featuring the other great Bro-Mance of our times Vince and Howard. And in many respects their ‘unusual’ adventures could be likened to those of McQueen and Hoffman (Papillon and Dega), wrestling crocodiles, surviving on centipedes, and romancing scantily-clad Mexican ladies (of the type that may’ve existed before the Whiteys ruined Mexico, dunno specifically how we ruined Mexico, but doubtless we did…and then we ruined popular music *sigh*). In fact I’m still not sure if the bit with the muchly idealised Mexican beach tribe was a Papillon dream? This part of the film also draws me to the moral conclusion ‘Never trust a Nun’, (spoiler alert) as said nun sends poor McQueen back to his doom with the words ‘If you are sinful, you have paid for some of your sins (with the pearls he gave her to hide him), if you are innocent, God will see that you are looked after’. Back to solitary confinement for our innocent protagonist then.
In fact, the more I think on it, if this film was recast with a few other familiar faces (Michael Palin, how I love thee, let me count the ways), it could easily be a Monty Python outing. Almost. No it wasn’t quite that silly. But for the sake of a digested review, Papillon = Monty Python does Existentialism. Y’know, a cacky quote for the film poster, which basically misleads the potential audience into seeing a film they didn’t want to see. That’s what they do these days.
Over & owt