Reel Matt

This blog started as my movie marathon — watching a movie a day for a whole year — and has continued as a place for me to write reviews about movies, TV, and various other items.

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Gandhi

Film #193

THE PLOT

Biography of Mohandas K. Gandhi, the lawyer who became the famed leader of the Indian revolts against the British rule through his philosophy of non-violent protest.

Year 1, Day 190

BEFORE: On the agenda for today is the 1984 Academy Award winner of Best Picture, Gandhi. This is also the first film of Oscar month that I have seen previously. The last time I saw this film was way back in Freshman year of High School where my primary focus was watching it for class. I remember enjoying the film but this re-watch is to give me a better idea of why I thought it was so good. Also notable about this film, it was nominated for a total of 11 Oscars, winning 8 including Best Director and Actor (Ben Kingsley).

AFTER: Even after all these years, Gandhi still holds up today as a pinnacle of filmmaking in every respect. The story, which is based off of real events that took place in Gandhi’s life, is well told and combats a problem seen yesterday in The Deer Hunter. And in addition to that, Gandhi also scores high in the visuals department even surpassing some of the epic shots seen in Lawrence of Arabia earlier this week.

As I mentioned yesterday with The Deer Hunter, the purpose of all films it not just to give you a good and entertaining time. There are a great deal of films that try to say something about the story they are telling. With The Deer Hunter it was trying to show the life of an average American during the Vietnam war. With Gandhi, the main point is to tell the story of his life but more importantly, what Gandhi (Ben Kingsley) believed, why he believed it, and how that affects our world today. The problem with eschewing a more attention-grabbing approach such as including action and explosions is that you can quickly lose interest and not care by the time the film tries to convey its message. Gandhi solves that problem by making that the first thing it does. The film begins with Gandhi’s assassination in 1948 and the aftermath of his death; how the entire world stopped in remembrance of this small man who inspired big change. Having some clue of what I should be paying attention to or why I should be watching the film to begin with helped me to maintain my interest throughout the film and never question why I’m watching it.

This does present another problem though, the one of still making the film interesting even though you know the ending. Christopher Nolan does this in a lot of his films like Memento or The Prestige for instance, and combats this foreknowledge with a big twist or surprise at the end. Gandhi is much different and doesn’t really take any steps to combat this issue. And yet, I was still very satisfied with how the film ends. I think the reason is I know what to expect. Even before watching this film I knew Gandhi was assassinated much like I knew the RMS Titanic sunk decades ago. And in a way, just by seeing Gandhi’s life unfold truthfully and seeing the tragic end is all that is needed to conclude the story. Creating conflict or drama to make the ending more “appealing” would have failed because that’s not the story here. The appeal is seeing Gandhi do what many thought was impossible and wouldn’t work: non-violent non-cooperation.

But for a film to border on perfection, it needs more than just a well-told story, the visuals need to be just as good to support it. And Gandhi sure does deliver in that regard. When I wrote my review of Lawrence of Arabia, I was utterly amazed at how large a scale the filmmakers went through to get such epic shots. Thousands of extras with the same number of horses, costumes, and props, all coordinated to get the intended look for the film. Gandhi matches these scenes for even the most simplest of shots and far exceeds them for the big shots. In fact, as a friend told me last night, Gandhi holds the world record for most extras in a film: 300,000 people appeared in the funeral scene. Not only does Gandhi succeed with the most grandiose images you’ve ever seen, but it also succeeds on the more basic and fundamental levels. In fact, the film won a bunch of the “technical” Academy Awards such as Best Cinematography and Editing and I would say rightfully so.

There’s a lot I didn’t discuss here, most notably Ben Kingsley’s wonderful (and Award winning) performance of the titular character, Mohandas K. Gandhi. But hopefully I’ve convinced you of the other merits of Richard Attenborough’s terrific film. Both story and visuals combine to make one of the most educational, emotional, and entertaining films you’ll ever see. I’d like to end by leaving you with words from the great Roger Ebert, as he sums it up better than I ever could,

What is important about this film is not that it serves as a history lesson (although it does) but… it reminds us that we are, after all, human, and thus capable of the most extraordinary and wonderful achievements, simply through the use of our imagination, our will, and our sense of right.

RATING: 5 out of 5