I popped in the 2005 film "The Constant Gardener" into the DVD player, not really expecting much. By the end of the movie I was still not impressed, but I can't deny that the film left me thinking about, as one reviewer put it, "...how the world leaves Africa behind."
Justin (Ralph Fiennes) is a calm and reticent diplomat in Kenya. His wife Tessa (Rachel Weisz) is a feisty, passionate activist. Rumors run rampant, and Justin believes that his wife is having an affair with her Kenyan colleague. But when Tessa is brutally murdered, Justin discovers the real motive behind her death. She was working to uncover a global conspiracy: the illegal, unethical testing (with lethal side effects) that pharmaceutical companies were doing on innocent, unknowing Kenyans, and the organizations, governments and individuals that helped them do it. It is said that the film is based on true events that occurred in Nigeria in the mid 90s. Maybe so, but I would not be surprised to learn that this sort of thing had/has been going on for years in numerous other underdeveloped African countries.
To be frank, "The Constant Gardner" is just too Hollywood for me. If true, this conspiracy is absolutely horrific and deplorable. I wanted to know more; I wanted to know the truth. Unfortunately, all the Hollywood explosions and high speed chases sort of ruined it all for me. I also found it strange and ironic that, in a film that portrays how the "rich, white" world abused Kenyans, that not a single one of the film's protagonist was an African. I think that if this story were made into an investigative documentary, it would have been a much more interesting and powerful film (though unfortunately probably wouldn't have made a dime).
I'd be lying if I said that I didn't cry in the film. There were a couple really heartbreaking scenes. In one, Justin has just arrived on a plane dropping off food and supplies to a refugee camp. Soon after, the camp is attacked by rebels. The violent scene that follows includes rebels heartlessly shooting anyone that gets in their way, women being raped in front of their families, children running and screaming while the rebels chase and capture them to become child soldiers. In another scene, still during the rebel attack, all the white aid workers are whisked away on a plane. When one tries to bring a young Kenyan girl with him on the plane, a girl who has been by the aid worker's side since day one, the pilot refuses. The man and the pilot argue back and forth over the girl. Quickly and quietly, the girl simply jumps off the plane with this sad look on her face, as if saying "I know my place. I know I'm not wanted in your world." Within two minutes the aid worker apologizes for the scene he caused and forgets about the girl.
My appreciation of these two scenes had nothing to do with the film's direction or cinematography. Instead I considered these scenes, a daily occurrence in Africa, as a reminder of how damn fortunate and lucky I am. I easily could have been like the girl in the above scene, a child whose only misfortunate was to be born in the wrong place, at the wrong time, with the "wrong" skin color. Especially during the ridiculous hustle and bustle of the holiday season, the hundreds of dollars spent on frivolous gifts, it's nice to be reminded to simply appreciate life.