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Papillon

A movie directed by Franklin J. Schaffner

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Papillon – butterflies ARE free and so is the soul

  • Mar 29, 2001
Rating:
+5
Pros: Acting, script, action

Cons: none

The Bottom Line: You can be contained but if your spirit is free you can never become a prisoner.

This movie is based on the lives of two gentlemen prisoners on Devil’s Island, longing for freedom. True, they deserve to be where they are, the committed their crime and are doing their time, but the lure of freedom never leaves their minds. The primary characters are Steve McQueen as Henri Charriere, aka Papillon, a murderer, and Dustin Hoffman as Louis Dega, a stock swindler.

McQueen is, as always, a bit of a rebel. Fighting the system, pushing to the edge, longing for release. When Hoffman is treated miserably by the guards, McQueen steps in to help him. That, and an attempted escape, lands McQueen in a long and lonely solitary confinement. However, he never gives up his dream of escape.

After many years, an older but not much wiser, McQueen is returned to general prison population and is greeted warmly by Hoffman. Hoffman, during McQueen’s absence, has managed to set himself up pretty well with the help of the money he had squirreled away – the same money that ended him in prison in the first place. McQueen still dreams of freedom, convincing Hoffman to front for him, he kills a trustee and makes flight for the boat that he has secured from a prison guard. Of course the boat is riddled with holes and has been sold many times over to unsuspecting prisoners. Hoffman, who has joined McQueen in his escape, ends up with a broken ankle while scaling the prison walls.

Another escaped prisoner, John Quade who plays Masked Brenton, has been waiting for them and takes them away to a leper colony. Showing they have no fear of contracting the disease, they after all have faced worse things in camp, McQueen and Hoffman get a boat from the leader of the leper colony, and attempt once again to set off from Devil’s Island.

And so the cycle continues, attempted escapes, secured captures, attempted escapes, secured captures, until finally Hoffman and McQueen are aged men, puttering away on their little piece of land that has been granted them, a garden, flowers, an herb or two, beans, a white picket fence. Not quite paradise, but not quite Hell either. But McQueen has never stopped dreaming.

Once more he dangles the lure of freedom in front of Hoffman’s eyes, may the circle be unbroken.

Sitting on the sidelines
There is so much more to this movie that I think it should be watched to be truly enjoyed. There are dreams of freedom and peace, camaraderie, determination and even the harsh reality of acceptance. Hoffman and McQueen are outstanding in their roles. I also enjoyed the time sequencing of their aging and their acceptance of their lives. The stark reality of this prison camp is thrust in your face with no qualms.

Released in 1973, this was a highly expensive movie with little return for the bucks. Costs exceeded $13 million yet it garnered a measly $22 million in return. Certainly a mild movie by today’s standards, it was considered violent and disturbing when released, earning it an “R” rating and deeming it unsuitable for children. Well, it’s true, it was violent and disturbing, however some children’s cartoon shows are worse today. Eventually it moved into the ‘PG” market, attesting to the fact that we have grown accustomed to evil.

Additional applause goes to actors in supporting roles that added so much to this film: Anthony Zerbe the leper chieftain and Victor Jory the Indian chieftain. In addition, Dalton Trumbo, the writer (one of two) joined in as the commander of the prison colony.

Nominated for best score by the Academy, the film lost that seat to The Way We Were, another deserving movie. However, I personally feel it was passed over unjustly in many categories, as this was a stellar movie. The acting, directing, makeup and story line all contributed to make this a movie well worth viewing again.

Director Franklin Schaffner, writers Dalton Trumbo and Lorenzo Semple, Jr – based on Henri Charriere’s autobiography, cinematographer Fred Koenekamp, music Jerry Goldsmith and makeup Charles Schram.

Thank You :)
Susi


Recommended:
Yes

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About the reviewer
Susi Dawson ()
Ranked #80
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Wiki

One man sentenced to life in the French prison system refuses to give up trying to escape even when transferred to the prison colony on Devil's Island. Despite years of degradation and horror, the undying spirit of "Papillon" never dies. Academy Award Nominations: Best Original Dramatic Score.
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Details

Cast: Robert Deman
Release Date: 1973
MPAA Rating: PG
DVD Release Date: Warner Home Video (December 14, 1999)
Runtime: 2hr 30min
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