The Constant Gardener


in Films and movies, Politics

I saw The Constant Gardener with the European Film Society tonight. I found the film to be very powerful, and thoroughly dispiriting. While the specific evils portrayed are obviously fictional, there is a grim plausibility that accompanies them. Humanity has a long way to go.

The pharmaceutical plot was actually the weakest part of the film. Not to spoil it for anyone, but you can’t license a drug in the rich world on the basis of unsupervised clinical trials in Africa. That said, the portrayal of machine-gun wielding horsemen terrorizing villagers in the Sudan is probably quite accurate. Hopefully, it induced at least a bit of reflection on the part of various audiences about the moral responsibilities people in the developed world bear towards those elsewhere facing genocide or other forms of large-scale violence. Likewise, some of the depictions of the horrific toll of AIDS formed part of the realistic backdrop for the film.

Appropriately enough, immediately before the film started, I began reading the copy of Race Against Time that my mother sent me, along with some extra illumination for my bike. Written by Stephen Lewis, it is a printed version of the Massey Lectures that were delivered across Canada, and it opens with the line: “I have spent the last four years watching people die.”

I will probably finish it tomorrow, then lend it to Emily. I feel as though I should say more, but I am thoroughly overwhelmed.

{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

Milan April 26, 2006 at 10:38 pm

On a trivial side note, The Economist is also right to say: “The Constant Gardener” is the film that will make you fall in love with Rachel Weisz.

I tend to read their reviews of things after I see them, in order to make sure they are still being fairly intelligent.

R.K. April 26, 2006 at 11:33 pm

Best thing about the film is the totally believable car chase. It was a brilliant in-your-face rebuke to every film where a scientist or diplomat suddenly becomes an action star.

R.K. April 26, 2006 at 11:34 pm

Oh, and the haunting theme music. And Weisz.

Milan April 26, 2006 at 11:39 pm

Agreed, on all counts.

Anonymous April 27, 2006 at 4:59 am

The plot is not that far fetched as I was informed by a sibling who works for a major drug company.

Weisz was magnificent and deserved the Oscar.


B April 27, 2006 at 5:27 am

I suspect that a lot of these accolades are just a manifestation of the fundamental male appreciation for the super-curvaceous pregnant female form. That said, I’ve only heard the film described and never seen it myself.

Kerrie April 27, 2006 at 6:58 am

*spoilers alert here* I felt the film was also a little cheesy in some ways. After this woman’s death basically every single thing she has ever been perceived to have done wrong turns out to be totally not the case-they go out of their way to exonerate her of every possible flaw.

Also I felt there was a (I’m sorry but I watched this right after my Women in Literature final) cheesy gender subtext going on. Rachel Weisz is the principled saint (as women are so often portrayed) whose emotions and lack of control just keep her from acheiving her goals…I mean she is supposed to be an Amnesty Reporter and she starts crying in the middle of a press conference? come on! Do you think Alison Forges of Human Rights Watch just breaks down because she can’t handle a confrontation with those big, scary, smart men? I don’t think so.

Finally, have you ever noticed that when, in film (sometimes literature too), a man’s wife gets killed, they throw in a rape for good measure? (Happened in Gladiator, that film that went backwards I forget the name of, etc). This means he is EXTRA justified in seeking revenge on the baddies. But if the woman belonging to the man lives, she never gets raped, she always just manages to escape or be rescued. That way she isn’t ‘damaged goods’ for the man to have to deal with.

Maybe if we keep pretending the world works that way, men will NEVER have to confront global rape as a problem they are connected to? Because in Hollywood, every time it happens to a woman *belonging* to a man she just disappears, for his convenience-and all of ours.

R.K. April 27, 2006 at 12:04 pm

The portrayal of rape in film is quite the macabre subject. Even so, I suppose it’s analytically interesting. Remember how in ’28 Days Later,’ the female lead tries to kill both herself and the teenage girl under her protection, rather than be sexually assaulted by the soldiers? Perhaps that relates to the ‘damaged goods’ issue you raise.

Milan April 27, 2006 at 12:20 pm


People in the room actually laughed out loud at the cheesiness of the heckler to bedmate progression between Weisz and Fiennes. I also did not find her response to the Iraq war to be a particular clever one, or one suiting her supposed character. It reminded me of the Prime Minister’s speech at the end of Love Actually, which sounded like the wild fantasy of some anti-American British leftist, rather than something a politician would ever actually say. I also felt as though the scene and dynamic were inspired to some extent by the classroom interchange between Russell Crowe and Jennifer Connoly in A Beautiful Mind. There was a similar dynamic of spirited young female student and relatively wooden older professo. and subsequently husband.

As for Weisz’s character not achieving her goals because of emotion, she actually seems to do a pretty good job, doesn’t she? With minimal support she writes a report damaging enough to lead to all the rest of what happens. Her failure, as I recall, was the result of a not-terribly-implausible betrayal, followed by a less plausible and decidedly brutal corporate response.

Anonymous April 27, 2006 at 1:07 pm

Does anyone believe for a second that a big pharma company would release a drug that they knew was lethal in many cases into the American and Western European market? Especially in the States, the resulting lawsuits would doubtless negate any profits they might make.

One guy in this film says the pharma companies are bad as the arms traders, but aside from this murder – which I really don’t buy – they don’t offer much evidence for that. The sins of pharma are probably more neglect of the poor world than active harm being caused there – something Heckler and Koch or IMI really cannot claim.

S May 15, 2006 at 12:22 am

just came by through metafilter.
Thought you might also want to check out Lord of War (starring Nicholas Cage).
Race Against Time was quite a read — seeing the man himself delivering the lectures was a whole other thing. Mr Lewis is one of my heros.

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