Review: The Constant Gardener

September 24, 2005

I saw The Constant Gardener tonight.  I knew nothing about it; I was unprepared for the gasping shock of being torn outside of my world and shaken around by the ear, wildly grasping to find my emotional balance.

The story, told in simple scenes and colorful images, concerns a low-level diplomat and his activist wife.  Set in Kenya, the film dances with vivid backgrounds and unfamiliar activities – a crowded market, the ever-present chickens squawking their way through the streets, the garbage and filth running through rivulets in the dusty roads, and the relentless humanity living in row upon row of aluminum-topped shacks.

While at first there is the typical anti-American outburst by the woman ("why do we support this war that brings death to so many all for more petrol for our vehicles?!?") it is quickly eclipsed by the greater heart of the story – the constant struggle between caring too much and caring too little for a world in need.  In the characters of the husband and wife, we watch the wife, who sees each small opportunity to do something, and does it, without regard to the proper channels or precautions, and the diplomat, trained to help with the big picture, letting the little cogs grind away as they would.  Their conflict with each other over methods and ideologies drives the first part of the film, while the second half buries the diplomat deep into his wife’s world, where each "bleeding heart" moment is an opportunity to see what she has seen and learn her secrets. 

The film overall has an air of melancholy and desperation; fitting feelings for an area with so much gone wrong, where the big picture of change is so bleak as to be almost non-existent.  Yet the story is told in the immediacy of African culture; each shot emphasizes that this is life!  This is not the make-believe set of some movie made to dazzle, not the bubble of a westerner’s idea of Africa.  This is the constant resurrection of hope in the African world.

I walked out of the theater dazed; the feeling you get when your head doesn’t seem as though it’s quite attached to your body.  I cried, in regret for all the changes I cannot make. I cried in compassion for the people who suffer pain, and yet go on.  I cried to remember that even as they do, so do we all.

And then I laughed out loud; while there is love in the world there is hope.  Where there is hope there is faith.  Where there is faith, there is a new beginning.

Go see this movie.  🙂

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