Monday, October 7, 2013

BOUGAINVILLE'S GREAT EXPECTATIONS

                                                                           
 

A review of the film Mr. Pip

 

The Papua New Guinean soldier wants to know who Mr. Pip is. His men round up the villagers who are then severely interrogated. A little boy, as slow a learner as Mr. Watts is (for that is Mr. Pip’s real name), says he knows where Mr. Pip is. The boy points out a house and a white man is brought forward. The white man soon realizes the dilemma of fiction and discursive information and in the process of differentiating the two for the benefit of the soldier and his men, he, the soldier, shoots him twice on the chest, calling him a liar and a spy. His body is then dragged to the back of a house and hacked to pieces. To the soldier Mr. Pip is never that fictitious character from Charles Dickens’ novel, Great Expectations, but a master-mind controlling the BRA. The soldier’s next task is to find Mr. Charles Dickens himself and similarly execute him.  

 

Or so goes the story of this film, Mr. Pip.

 

When Lloyd Jones set out to publish the novel Mister Pip in 2006, he probably had in mind the Bougainville copper mine as not only the largest mine in the world in 1988 but also a complex multi-billion dollar corporation from which much would be expected, all at the expense of the ordinary Bougainville islander and those that came to live on that island. Schools and other government service agencies on the island were shut down, the people had nowhere to turn to but unto themselves for all possible means of survival as just a few meters next to them was a war raging between the BRA and the Papua New Guinea armed forces. But it was to the people themselves that all bruises and trauma of that war were left, with so many desolate hours of “great expectations” lying ahead of them somewhere in the distance of an unseen future. And the resultant revelation for all of that would be nothing but an abandoned crater, a hole in the ground not worth fighting for.

 

The journalist Sean Dorney looked at Bougainville and offered extensive reports over ABC and other media publications of atrocities on the island and for which he was threatened or deported.

 

But this film, Mr. Pip, needs to be understood not so much as a report on what happened on Bougainville as to its insistence on asking some of the greatest questions of literary merit since time immemorial, especially on the plight of ordinary people in extremely difficult circumstances. Miss Xzannjah Matsi and Hugh Laurie join forces to give not only Bougainville but also the whole of Papua New Guinea the best of performances since Abert Toro’s Tukana and the William Takaku-Pearce Brosnan portrayal of Man Friday. The casting was excellent and the use of organic material in the form of raw village talent deserves commendation. Who can judge between character and real life? Who can boast of who’s who in Hollywood or Bollywood but a remarkable piece of literary rendering of ordinary humanity on film, the big silver screen, like this one? There, and only then, do we hear voices of the masters, like Charles Dickens; like Mr. Watts aka Mr. Pip; and that little Buka girl that snaps out of a reverie, out of the strangeness of a long dream just to learn from the wisdom of the crabs and Mr. Dickens that home is where we all want to be and certainly not a thing to be ashamed of. Mr. Pip, the only white man in that village perishes. The other villagers, including Matilda, barely manage to escape. And when they do, there is much to look back to as reminder. In essence, the civil war was utterly senseless.

 

The film also carries some historical references, through dialogue, character flash backs and certain locations of filming, that trace and reflect upon those famous yet now forgotten black birding voyages of the 18th and 19th centuries. The island of Bougainville has once upon a time been a gold mine of black slavery. Not a single 19th century British novel, be it Dickens or Jane Austen, passes by us without a slight mention of slave trade whether from Africa or anywhere else such as the Pacific islands. Both the author of the novel and the film makers have been careful enough to remain faithful to their historical research data, by sparing us a little of that information. In this film, Mr. Pip, in particular, we are given the opportunity to trace those black birding voyages, when Matilda (the character Xzannjah’s portraying) makes her way from Bougainville to the Solomon Islands, to Australia and finally to Great Britain where she inherits part of a house that belongs to Mr. Pip. Matilda, of course, turns down the offer when she remembers she could not, much as she might have, save Mr. Pip from the PNG soldiers. She inherits rather a copy of Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations.

 

This is a good film. Get to see it soon. 



This review posted simultaneously by The Anuki Country Press.