September 19, 2005

The Constant Gardener

The Constant Gardener is one of those wonderful films that takes on a global conflict and presents it on the smallest, most delicately personal scale. I have seen few films that present real life human crises so powerfully — and yet in spite of (or perhaps the reason for) this is that it never makes an attempt to preach.
Much of the film revolves on an impassioned and enigmatic woman named Tessa who kisses the title character good bye and then promptly turns up dead on the continent of destination. The man left behind, Justin Quayle, relives her time with her as he slowly unravels exactly who she was. A mid-level diplomat with limited opportunity for advancement, Quayle meets her when she hijacks his presentation with an impromptu rallying cry against the current war in Iraq. The movie never reveals its own opinion on that matter, only that the spirit behind it is a major factor in Quayle's attraction to her.
Trailers for the film made it appear to be about Africa. This reputation comes from the film's painting its setting with unflinching realism. But Africa is important to the movie only because of its interaction with the characters. Africa moves Tessa to action. Justin loves Tessa. His love for her ultimately moves him to action as well. Though an interesting political thriller plays out on the edges of the stage, the film never looses focus on its themes of love, passion, and connection. Tessa's death propels a meek man into political action, yes. But more importantly it allows him to connect with his wife in a way that they never could in life.
Each successive wave makes us re-evaluate their marriage. One moment I'm certain that she's just using him as a key to the people and places that matter for her cause. The next moment I'm certain that nothing else in that world was so right and pure. Indeed, the only character that's never put under the microscope is Tessa's cousin Ham. It is his purity of emotion if not intention towards his relative and as a result his relative's husband. Since he is the only honest character, it is only through his correspondence with Tessa that we get an honest look at what she really felt.
As Justin wades through the human impact of the crisis in Africa to piece together the truth, my faith in humanity is alternately shaken and reaffirmed. As a political thriller, this is one of the most cynical movies I've ever seen. As a romance, it is one of the most optimistic and uplifting I've ever seen. In a world as dark as this one, the fact that true love can not only survive murder but transcend it is a particularly beautiful thing. ()


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