Monday Movie: The Mosquito Coast, by David Bax
Every cinephile has a few movies they hold close, only to reveal them and their powers to those most worthy. These are movies that we consider unknown gems, great films that have somehow not broken through the surface of the canon. For me, Peter Weir’s The Mosquito Coast is one such treasure. It’s hard to imagine how it’s gone under the radar for so long. Not only is its director responsible for at least one of the greatest films of all time (Picnic at Hanging Rock), it boasts Harrison Ford and Helen Mirren as the leads, along with River Phoenix, Martha Plimpton and My Dinner with Andre’s Andre Gregory, as well as an early turn from Jason Alexander and the final film performance of Butterfly McQueen. It’s wildly intense and beautiful, with cinematography by the great John Seale (The Talented Mr. Ripley, Mad Max: Fury Road) and includes what has to be the most bizarre and most antagonistic protagonist Ford has ever played.
Ford’s Allie Fox is an idealistic paranoiac living with his wife (Mirren) and kids (Phoenix is the eldest of four) in the American South. Fed up with what he sees as poisonous consumerism and reckless pollution, he takes his brood and decamps to the undeveloped jungle of Belize in order to build his own utopia, powered by a giant ice machine he’s invented and constructed on the river’s edge. Allie’s combative and tenacious personality leads to friction with guerillas, missionaries (led by Gregory) and eventually, his own family.
Weir avoids dwelling on the obvious metaphors of colonialism and the history of technologically advanced cultures forcing their will on indigenous populations. Instead, he takes the man against nature elements of Hanging Rock and the idealistic leader character he would explore in his next film, Dead Poets Society, and twists them into something unique. Allie is the idealist who’s actually wrong; or, more accurately, his ideals aren’t his raison d’etre, as he would insist (and insist some more). He’s really an insecure megalomaniac and the more he tries to bend nature to his will, the more nature bends him, his family and scores of others, innocents or not. In fact, with that sort of man and the damage he can do in mind, it might be a good movie to watch before you enter the ballot box next fall.