The Constant Gardener
What parents need to know
Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that the movie begins with an abrupt, violent car crash scene resulting in two deaths. The film features complex betrayals (personal, corporate, and political) that will be difficult for younger viewers to follow. It also includes images of impoverished and ailing individuals in Kenyan villages and hospitals, violence (men on horseback chase after villagers), chase scenes, and brief sexuality (a soft-filtered, loving scene with the couple nestled in white sheets). Some language (uttered in anger), and much discussion of disloyalty, lies, and greed on the part of British government officials and international drug corporations.
What's the story?
After his wife Tessa (Rachel Weisz) is killed in a car crash, Justin (Ralph Fiennes) shifts from being a trusting, go-along bureaucrat to skeptical, resolute, and increasingly fervent investigator. His investigation reveals that her death was no accident, but the result of her own investigation into the collusions of international drug corporations and first world governments to use African populations as guinea pigs.
Is it any good?
THE CONSTANT GARDENER is often lovely, sometimes harrowing, and always perceptive. Brazilian director Fernando Meirelles' film traces Justin's shift from trusting, go-along bureaucrat to skeptical, resolute, and increasingly fervent investigator. While this part of the plot is rooted in the film's source, John le Carré's 2001 novel, it doesn't lead to the usual action-packing. Indeed, Justin is more melancholic than heroic, and The Constant Gardener is more meditative than thrilling. Instead, the film focuses on his emotional and political awakening (shown in flashbacks) and his changing responses to Tessa's death.
When Justin travels to Kenya, where Tessa was working with a doctor, Arnold (Hubert Koundé), the movie takes off visually. It contrasts the interiors of urban, well-heeled London with Africa's vast landscapes and poverty, at once breathtaking and oppressive. Justin's memories of Tessa are all shimmery and lovely (except when he accuses her of betrayal, and they argue). And Justin blames himself for not keeping her "safe," making himself miserable, but also pushing him to pursue whatever "truth" he imagines exists. As much as Tessa and Justin work as characters (thanks to subtle performances by both actors), they are troubling as bits of the larger context as they appear to be yet another set of white figures used to dramatize, and frame a black African story.
Families can talk about...
Families can talk about love and betrayal and how the movie begs questions of individual, institutional and political trust. How does the film use "Africa" as an idea as much as a location? How does the film indict bureaucracies and champion individual acts?