Under the Volcano Film Details
Overview: A day in the life of a self-destructive British consul in Mexico on the eve of World War II.
Tagline: One cannot live without love.
Review: “The novel explores the Consul’s past and present, relates his private doom to the tragic fatalism of the Mexican scene ” ~ Stephen Spender Under the Volcano was a novel written by critically acclaimed Malcolm Lowry. The book eventually became a film starring Albert Finney and Jacqueline Bisset, directed by critically acclaimed John Huston. Both the film and the book failed to reach a wider public despite the brash, braying praise of critics. Like Lowry, I lived in Mexico for a time, from fall 1980 till late 1981. During that time we traveled to a number of places including two trips to Cuernavaca. I loved Cuernavaca, the city where this story primarily occurs, the Land of Eternal Springtime where Cortez established his winter palace. Like Lowry and the tragic hero of his novel I, too, was present in Tepotzlan on a holy day when the dark-faced peasants in loose white clothes and wide hats brought out Christ and the Virgin from the shadows of monasteries, parading, holding high large displays and brightly colored pillars, burned incense, celebrating intently the blended religion of the peoples. This story covers 24 hours in the life of an alcoholic, his last 24 hours, with his singular preoccupation on where he will get his next drink, simultaneously immersing the reader into his internal despondency, hopeless self-wreckage, introspection and hallucination. It is a tragic life culminating in a tragic end, perhaps intended to be the mirror of a forlorn culture shrouded in apparitions of death. I originally took an interest in the book because I’d read that it was supposedly structured like the Cabala, the chapters being a series of steps toward enlightenment. My first effort to read it in the late 80’s left me flat, however, and I placed it back on the shelf for a couple years. I was not convinced that the effort would yield a sufficient reward. The second attempt ended about a fourth of the way through with the same frustration. A couple more years past, and upon beginning the story I was transported inward to the heart of the characters, the culture, and the bleak futility of the hero’s quest. John Huston took this very complicated bundle of soiled images and attempted to iron it out into its essential story. The film, inadequate to the task, did capture the book’s essence. There is no way it could capture the spinning surrealistic writing, compelling inner monologues, and painfulness of Lowry’s heartfelt bloodletting. Malcolm Lowry wrote the first draft in Mexico while living in Cuernavaca in 1938. Director Huston does an outstanding job of giving the feel of Mexico during this time frame. And the film brings to life many vivid memories of our time there Despite its shortcomings, I found myself still moved by the film. This is the second time I’ve watched it and this time I enjoyed the performances of Finney and Bisset, whom a few here have been especially critical of. Finney is nearly perfect throughout in his portrayal of a wrecked man. Bisset is equal to the task she must perform, confused, frightened, compassionate, pained. There are two scenes especially perfect. The one of Finney as Geoffrey Firmin searching desperately for a bottle, a search that leads him into the garden where he immerses himself in the object of his quest. This scene is a summing up of the man’s lost life. And the last scene revealing that his own self-destruction hurts more than himself… hurts all who are around him. The weakness of the film for me was perhaps the feeling that it was put together by a nostalgic older director who could have done more with the music, the camera work, the edits. Great films often grab you from the opening images, credits and soundtrack. Despite what a few have written here, I found myself having to overlook what I considered a weak appetizer that insufficiently lured me into the depths of our hero’s heart, mind, soul, struggle. Huston could have done more with the film, but did not. Perhaps it is because of the era. He did not feel it necessary? I can’t say. The grandeur of his foreign setting is hollow. I cannot blame the actors for this. Finney was remarkable throughout, almost over the top. Bisset’s broken heart shone through with clarity. It’s a good film based on a rich, but difficult, book. If it is too depressing or too convoluted and enigmatic, you’re under no obligation to finish either. If you find yourself stimulated by old Mexico, the companion documentary based on this film is wholly worthwhile. Watch the film first, though. “Time is a fake healer anyhow. How can anyone presume to tell me about you? You cannot know the sadness of my life . Alas, what has happened to the love and understanding we once had?” ~ Geoffrey Firmin, Under the Volcano
Country: Mexico, USA
Language: English, Spanish
Duration: 112 min
Also known as: Under vulkanen,Sub vulcan,Bajo el volcán,Debaixo do Vulcão,Au-dessous du volcan,Under the Volcano,Sotto il vulcano,Pod vulkanom,У подножия вулкана,À Sombra do Vulcão,A vulkán alatt,Κάτω απο το ηφαίστειο,Ve stínu vulkánu,Под вулканом,Unter dem Vulkan,Pod ognjenikom,Под вулкана,火山のもとで,Tulivuoren juurella,Pod wulkanem,John Huston’s Under the Volcano